The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Madhya Pradesh Public Services Commission (MPCSC) to consider permitting a woman, forced into child marriage, to appear for the main exam for the state service, if she has qualified the preliminaries.
The bench headed by Justice HL Dattu, however, found no fault with the rule, introduced in 2000 to discourage child marriages that became rampant in the state.
"The Hindu Marriage Act (HMA) defines a valid marriage. It specifies the age for contracting a legal marriage. Anybody who violates this can be punished under the law. What is wrong in having a rule akin to this provision," the bench asked the counsel for the woman, who is before SC challenging the rule. It wants to make an exception for the petitioner in case she is found meritorious, the court added.
Ratnarshey Pande was barred from appearing in the preliminary exams under the MP Civil Services (general condition of service) Rules, 1961, which mandated that any girl or boy who had undergone child marriage was ineligible for appearing in the exam.
Pande was allowed to take the prelims thrice on the intervention of the Madhya Pradesh High Court where she filed a case, challenging the rule, in 2009. She claimed to have been forced into the wedding. Pande got divorced at 27 and has two children out of the 13-year-old wedlock.
The MP government subsequently deleted the rule in 2013, a year after Pande approached SC against the HC's refusal to give her relief. The state, however, doesn’t want to extend the benefit to Pande.
The bench asked MPPSC counsel to explore the possibility of allowing her to take the mains if she had qualified the prelims. "We would help you if only you are meritorious. There is no merit in your challenge to the rule," the bench told Pande's lawyer, Neera Gokhale. It fixed September 18 to hear the matter.
Gokhale said Pande has also challenged the HMA provision declaring punishment for those who marry while being underage.