A couple in Punjab’s Tarn Taran, a 19-year-old male and a 24-year-old female, have been provided security cover on the court’s orders. They claim they are married and have a certificate from a gurdwara. The case rose to prominence after three members of the man’s family were murdered allegedly by the girl’s family in July this year.
What is the legal age for marriage, and what happens if the criteria is not met?
The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (which also applies to Sikhs) states that a girl must be 18 and a boy 21 at the time of marriage. But as per the Majority Act, 1875: “Every person domiciled in India shall attain the age of majority on his completing the age of 18 years and not before.”
Senior advocate Ramanpreet Singh Sandhu says that the Supreme Court has clearly specified that two adults, 18 or above, can live together with their consent as ‘live-in partners’, even if they are not married.
“There are two points: Firstly, the work of the court is to just protect life and liberty of the petitioners as enshrined in the Constitution, even if they are minors. Providing security has nothing to do with age. No marriages are solemnised in courts. Couples either move court to get security or register their marriages with executive magistrates,” he says.
“Secondly, as per the Hindu Marriage Act, a marriage can either be declared void (completely illegal) or voidable by the court. It can be declared ‘voidable’ if an objection is filed saying that consent of boy or girl wasn’t taken etc., but when it comes to living together, the concept of marriage hardly matters now because two adults above 18, can live together, with or without marriage as live-in partners,” adds Sandhu.
In an order dated May 7, 2018, the Supreme Court bench comprising Justice A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, in one such case where girl was 19 but boy was not 21, said, “It is sufficient to note that both of them are major. Even if they were not competent to enter into wedlock, they have right to live together even outside wedlock. The freedom of choice would be of the girl as to with whom she wants to live.”
The live-in relationship is now also recognised under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act and a debate has been ongoing on making 18 as uniform age for marriage for both men and women in India. Senior Advocate Ruchi Sekhri said that Anand Marriage Act which was notified in Punjab and rules were framed in 2016 only applies for separate registration of Sikh marriages but not in case of disputes.