Much married men and former rebels in love are taking a stand over a recent decision by the Rajasthan high court to add riders to Arya Samaj marriages. This, they say, is a hostile takeover.
Vivek Prabhakar, a 33-year-old entrepreneur who also took the Arya Samaj route seven years ago, concedes such marriages will be tougher now, atleast in Rajasthan. “But people can simply hop across to other states. I think it (the decision) will not make a difference immediately but only in the long run.” Rajesh Kumar, 28, a school teacher, and a recent beneficiary, says “love marriages will happen regardless. People can even convert and marry.”
A Rajasthan HC bench has imposed new conditions on such love marriages. Justices Dalip Singh and Sajjan Singh Kothari, decided among other things, that parents of both the bride and bridegroom should be given at least six days to either approve or object to the union.
The bench also laid down that Arya Samaj marriages will not be solemnised unless approved and recommended by two “distinguished persons” on both sides. In case parents object, the couple will have to produce three witnesses each.
“It is the failure of the secular courts in providing safe civil marriage options which leads people to the Arya Samaj,” says social activist Madhu Kishwar. Indeed, for some couples, the decision could mean the difference between life and death; many approach the Arya Samaj when facing threat to life from their families.
Court marriages do not provide safety or anonymity for couples who want to marry outside their religion or caste as court notices are put up a month in advance inviting objections.
“Vigilante groups check these court notices daily,” says Kishwar. “If they find an inter-caste or inter-religious wedding announcement, they pressure the family to take action, which can at times be violent. Instead of building safeguards in this system, the court is imposing similar restrictions on Arya Samaj.”
The HC cited in its verdict that mismatched marriages between young women and older men are common through Arya Samaj and that the Samaj has become a tool for pacification of “lust and greed”.
These marriages, say the judges, leave permanent scars on the parents.
“Even we think that marriages between a 20-year-old girl and an 80-year-old man should not happen,” says Dr Rishipal Shastri, secretary of the Arya Pratinidhi Sabha. “But what about Fundamental Rights? You won’t force an 18-year-old to vote for a particular party. If someone can decide their vote, they can decide who to marry,” he says.
Kishwar echoes these concerns. “They (HC) are not looking at the dangers young people face.” Inter-religious couples prefer court marriages since they need not convert to another religion as with the Arya Samaj or Islamic nikah.
The restrictions being imposed by the HC, says Kishwar, will force couples to opt for a nikah to avoid the risk involved in court marriage procedures. The court’s decision, from a legal perspective, is restricting couples’ choices.
An advocate from Mumbai says, “If two people are legally entitled to make their own decisions and want to get married, no permission is needed from a parent, relative or even a law-enforcing body. It is a breach of fundamental rights.”
The HC’s conditions could set a precedent for Arya Samaj marriages across India. The Punjab and Haryana HC have passed an order restricting institutions in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh, in particular the Arya Samaj & Vedic Welfare Society and the Arya Samaj Mandir in Mohali, from issuing marriage certificates to couples on the grounds of questionable legality of these certificates.
If these rules were accepted or enforced on a national level, one could say the “pious purpose of the Arya Samaj mission”, as the Rajasthan HC puts it, would be lost.