The Bombay High Court has confirmed the conviction of nine men from a Raigad village panchayat who had forcibly married off a boy and a girl, both minors, 19 years ago after objecting to their meeting.
Stating that every person has a right to choose his or her partner, Justice Mridula Bhatkar observed, “In child marriage, on decision taken by panchayat, such right to choose is violated…”
The court was hearing the appeal of the nine accused who had challenged their conviction. These men had been sentenced under the Child Marriage (Restraint) Act, 1929 and for kidnapping the two youngsters. “The village folk had acted as a khap panchayat,” the prosecution told the court.
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“The accused unfortunately believed that meeting by young persons of opposite sex and talking with each other or having an affair is immoral and harmful to the society,” said Justice Bhatkar, adding that the villagers found it difficult to “digest” the youngsters’ friendship and compelled them to marry.
The accused did not approve of the boy and the girl meeting each other. They kidnapped the girl and forced her to marry the boy on January 9, 1994. Upset with the wedding, the girl’s mother filed a complaint with the police, which investigated the case and filed the chargesheet. The case went to the sessions court.
The lawyer of the nine accused argued that the proof of age submitted by the girl was doubtful. He also claimed that the sessions court had no jurisdiction to convict the men as only a magistrate court could have tried a Child Marriage (restraint) Act case. The lawyer also argued that there was no marriage in reality as per Hindu rites. However, the court stressed, even if it was engagement, called sakharpuda, the submissions were not convincing.
“The girl has said she was given a green saree; there was homam; they performed all rituals…before the priest…” observed the court, adding that she even started living at the boy’s house. Stating that the prosecution had proved beyond doubt that the girl, who was 15 years and three months old in 1994, was forcibly taken from her mother’s guardianship, the court upheld the conviction of the accused but modified their punishment to a maximum of one month’s jail term.