Tamil Nadu telling bride and groom to bring parents to register marriage sets a dangerous precedent

The new rule upholds regressive paternalistic notions, denies adults autonomy.

 |  4-minute read |   13-03-2018
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Tamil Nadu has made it almost impossible for two Hindu adults to get married without their parents’ consent.

What is more, the state has awakened into this heaven of sanskaar without fuss or fight, as if by sleight of hand. The requirement has been slipped in – through an internal “internal circular” from the office of the Inspector General of Registration – as a demand for identity proof documents, which seek to ensure couples to keep their parents in the loop.

According to a report in The Hindu, “In the four-point circular, the first permits the Aadhaar card as an additional identity proof for the couple, parents and witnesses; the second point says the names, initials and address of the parents given in the application should tally with the details contained in the accompanying documentary proof, and that registration should be done only upon such verification. The third point demands that the couple produce the original death certificate of any parents mentioned as deceased, and attach a photocopy.”

Hence, a marriage cannot be registered unless the couple’s parents give their original identity and address proof documents.

So far, three witnesses were sufficient for the law to recognise a marriage. Also, such an immense change in requirements has been brought in without any public discussion or debate, merely through an “internal circular”.   

This is another case of the state venturing into what is not its territory – the private lives of its citizens, at the cost of curtailing individual freedoms and upholding a society’s regressive notions.  

Curtailing liberties

Under the Constitution of India, a marriage requires no other consent except that of the couple, who should be of legal marriageable age. The state’s job is to uphold the law, not to make sure a couple’s parents are in the loop about their choice of partner.

The Tamil Nadu circular effectively states that the decision of two adults about their lives holds no value unless ratified by their parents. This infantilising of its citizens and erosion of their autonomy has no place in a democracy.   

Last year, the Kerala High Court displayed this same paternalistic tendency by nullifying the marriage of Hadiya and Shafin Jahan, both adults, despite them insisting that the marriage had been their choice. The HC judgment had said: “A girl aged 24 years is weak and vulnerable, capable of being exploited in many ways... Her marriage being the most important decision in her life, can also be taken only with the active involvement of her parents.”

On March 8, the Supreme Court gave its judgment in the case, where it said categorically that the legitimacy of the marriage of an adult woman cannot be questioned.

Also, by demanding additional proof where there is consent for marriage, the Tamil Nadu government is violating the privacy of couples, which the Supreme Court has ruled is a fundamental right.  

Reinforcing caste divisions

In a society like India, the law is the last recourse for those victimised by identity-based prejudices of caste, religion, gender. The new rule will hit hard “inter-caste” couples, who often lack parental and societal consent, and whose only option to formalise their union is the legal registration of their marriage.  

In 2016, a Dalit youth, Shankar, was hacked to death by the family of his wife Kausalya, who belonged to the Thevar community.In 2016, a Dalit youth, Shankar, was hacked to death by the family of his wife Kausalya, who belonged to the Thevar community.

The crux of this circular is particularly chilling in the context of Tamil Nadu, which has witnessed a number of honour killings over the years due to inter-caste marriages. The most gruesome of them all played out on TV screens across India in March 2016, when a CCTV camera on a street in Tirupur captured the hacking of a Dalit youth by the family of a Thevar (higher caste) woman he had married. Then again, with caste fault lines sharpening over the recent years, Tamil Nadu has seen increasing clashes between Dalits and dominant backward castes such as Gounders, Vanniyars and Thevars, and many of the most violent ones – which resulted in murders and the burning of hundreds of Dalit homes – have been over inter-caste marriages. “Honour killings” are at their worst in the state.

In the land of Periyar, who fought against caste all his life, the political parties that have emerged in the past few decades, such as the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), owe their existence to the flexing of caste muscles, and one of the major concerns they have been raising is Dalit men “luring away” women from other castes.

The PMK, in fact, at a party meeting before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, passed a resolution that women should only marry with parents' consent.

The government’s latest circular, thus, plays right into the hands of those propagating such a puerile notion. The Hindu report quotes “sources at the sub-registrar’s office in a western district” of the state as saying that “the circular was the result of a lot of complaints from parents”.

Many Indian parents believe that caste pride and purity are more important than their children's choice while deciding partners. The state is supposed to safeguard the rights of such sons and daughters. The TN circular, however, makes the administration an ally of such parents.

Tamil Nadu recently witnessed widespread protests when a statute of Periyar was vandalised in Vellore. Circulars such as this one attack the ideals that Periyar fought for. A similar outcry is needed to ensure that the values he stood for are not vandalised.  

Also read: A 20-year-old Chennai woman was killed by her stalker. This is why we're to blame


Yashee Yashee @yasheesingh

The writer is a journalist.

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