NIDA Rahman and Mohan Lal met in 2011 in a Delhi college and fell in love. Their religious identities never crossed their mind, but years later, it has become a central question in their lives.
Having decided to get married after a relationship of nearly nine years, the couple earlier this month approached the Delhi High Court with a petition seeking to do away with a legal procedure which many interfaith couples see as hindrance in getting their marriages registered.
The Special Marriage Act, 1954, is a law which allows registration of such marriages which may not meet conditions of customary laws. It allows any couple, irrespective of their religious/caste identities, to get married. However, registration of such a marriage under the law requires the marriage officer to first issue a 30-day public notice — with details like name, occupation, age and address — about the intended marriage for invitation of objections from public.
The objections are limited to technical aspects like soundness of mind, age and existence of any spouse of the parties intending to register the marriage but the notice at times becomes a reason for life threats for couples fleeing their homes and wanting to marry as per their own choice.
Nida (26) and Mohan (28) in their petition argued that the “objections can be mitigated on the basis of certificates issued by government hospitals” and that the procedure is discriminatory in nature, intended to discourage interfaith marriages like theirs.
When Nida, who coaches students, and Mohan, a pharmacist, told their families in December 2018 about their decision, there was an opposition on both sides. Nida’s parents said they would prefer she not get married at all. It, however, did not affect the couple’s relationship. Come lockdown, however, Nida’s parents started looking for a groom for her, compelling the couple to take a decision they had thought they would never have to take.
In August, they decided to marry without the consent of their families. A month later, they left their homes. They approached police for protection and also took an NGO-provided accommodation. When they came to know about the law and procedure for their marriage, the politics surrounding interfaith marriages hit home.
“The question of religion never came between us before… Marriage is not between two religions but two persons. It should depend on choice, compatibility alone,” says Nida, adding their major fear about the procedure is that a public notice will ensure everyone will know their address and there may be threats from relatives or anyone offended by their decision. “Our families may not harm us but when it comes to a marriage like ours, there is a major threat from those opposed to such matches,” she adds.
“The 30-day notice period is discouraging for a couple that leaves home to get married. You are expected to wait for a month, live together somewhere and then get married. It is not easy to find accommodation when you have left your home and are not married,” says Nida.
The petition contends it is “of paramount importance in the current scenario that couples opting for cross-community marriages are adequately protected”. Mohan says when they first applied to get married, they were made to withdraw their application as it did not disclose details about their religious identities.
“… It would have been easy for us if our religions are one but we want to maintain our religious identity,” he says.
The couple was advised by many people to change their religions only for the sake of marriage under any customary law. But they say they never even considered it. “I am a Muslim and will remain so. Conversion is not any criteria for marriage. He liked me as I was and I liked him as he was..,,” says Nida.
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