Religious ceremony a must for the Hindu Marriage Act to apply: Supreme Court

The proper rituals must precede registration under the Hindu Marriage Act for it to be legally valid; simply being granted a marriage certificate by a registrar does not suffice

A Hindu marriage in progress
A Hindu marriage in progress

NH Digital

The Supreme Court observed that mere registration of a Hindu marriage in the absence of a religious ceremony does not result in a marriage valid under the Hindu Marriage Act. The Act recognises the rituals as a samskara, a sacrament to be followed assiduously, strictly and religiously, the court said.

The marriage rituals cannot be trivialised and turned merely into a social event for dancing and wining and dining, held a bench of justices B.V. Nagarathna and Augustine George Masih, stressing that marriage under the Hindu Marriage Act is a sacred, lifelong, dignity-affirming, equal, consensual and healthy union of two individuals.

The court was hearing a petition filed by a wife seeking the transfer of divorce proceedings. While the case was ongoing, the husband and wife had agreed to jointly apply for a declaration that their marriage was invalid as they claimed they had not performed any customs or rituals to solemnise the marriage.  

The petitioners stated that they were pressurised and compelled by certain circumstances to obtain a certificate of solemnisation from the Vadik Jankalyan Samiti (Regd.) and then this certificate was used to register their marriage under the Uttar Pradesh Registration Rule, 2017 and received a marriage certificate from the registrar of marriages. Noting that no marriage had actually been solemnised, the apex court ruled that there was no valid marriage and thus no divorce possible.

The court was critical of couples attempting to gain the privileges of marital status without conducting a valid marriage ceremony. The bench underscored that marriage was not a transaction but a sacred commitment between two individuals. The court advised young couples to reflect on the significance of marriage.

“A Hindu marriage is a samskara and a sacrament which has to be accorded its status as an institution of great value in Indian society. Therefore, we urge young men and women to think deeply about the institution of marriage even before they enter upon it and as to how sacred the said institution is in Indian society. A marriage is not an event for song and dance and wining and dining, or an occasion to demand and exchange dowry and gifts by undue pressure, leading to possible initiation of criminal proceedings thereafter. It is a solemn foundational event celebrated so as to establish a relationship between a man and a woman who acquire the status of a husband and wife for an evolving family in future, which is a basic unit of Indian society,” said the bench.

There have been instances where couples registered their marriage under Section 8 of the Hindu Marriage Act for practical reasons, such as visa applications, without actually solemnising any marriage, noted the bench. It cautioned against such practices, emphasising that registration alone does not validate a marriage.

“As we have already noted, any such registration of a marriage before the registrar of marriages and a certificate being issued thereafter would not confirm that the parties have solemnised a Hindu marriage. We note that parents of young couples agree for registration of a marriage in order to apply for visa for emigration to foreign countries where either of the parties may be working in order to ‘save time’ and pending (the) formalising (of) a marriage ceremony. Such practices have to be deprecated,” said the bench.

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