Compulsory marriage registration – Is Supreme Court being the law-breaker?

The Times of India reports that the Supreme Court makes marriage registration compulsory:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that all marriages, irrespective of their religion, be compulsorily registered and directed the Centre and state governments to frame and notify rules for this within three months.

Writing the judgment for the Bench in a matter that was an offshoot of a matrimonial case, Justice Pasayat directed the Centre and the state governments to incorporate “consequences of non-registration of marriages” in the rules, which should be formalised after inviting public response and considering them.

The court said the rules so framed would continue to operate till the respective governments framed proper legislations for compulsory registration of marriages.

Giving no room for appeasement or dilution of the objective to be achieved through such legislations, Justice Pasayat said all new laws to be framed by the governments have to be placed for scrutiny before the apex court.

Now, wait a minute! Is this possible? Can the Supreme Court (SC) do something like this? All I can remember from my basic Civics classes in school was that the Judiciary’s function was to ensure legal compliance. What is happening here is beyond simple compliance assurance. The SC appears to be laying down the law. Isn’t that the job of the Legislative (and perhaps also the Executive) branch of the government?

Judging by the above report, the SC seems to be quite powerful. It directs the state and central governments to frame rules, gives a deadline of three months and even asks the government to incorporate “consequences of non-registration of marriage” (in effect, making non-registration a punishable offence)! Is it power or is it naivete of the SC that makes it expect all state governments and the central government to come up with the rules in three months, including specific punishments!

Worse, the SC itself directs the governments to make such rules operable before they could be properly framed into laws. What the heck does this mean? Any government can come up with arbitrary rules and enforce them before they can be properly tabled, discussed and voted into laws in the national Parliament and/or state legislative assemblies? The SC encourages governments to act in such less-than-legal ways?

On top of all this, the SC also takes on the role of the reviewer of the law, asking the government to submit the laws to the court’s scrutiny. Does the SC review all the legislations which are passed into laws? If yes, this was another important function of the judiciary which was either not taught in my school Civics lessons or I was not paying enough attention!

What is the role of the citizens of the country in all this? Isn’t Democracy supposed to be the rule “of the people, by the people, for the people”? Shouldn’t the people (or their elected representative) be the ones to initiate such a far-reaching law which would affect almost every citizen of the country? Is the Supreme Court’s directive legally kosher?

Tricky legal questions, eh? Actually the legal questions are the easy part of this whole issue. The implementation of such a law will be the worse nightmare!

Even in today’s India, most transactions involving the government offices are some of the worst experiences a person can go through. The rules and the process are never clear. The officials and the clerks use this lack of clarity to their maximum advantage. They treat the general public with scant respect and act as if they are lords doing a special favor for you. Things never happen on time. Corruption is rampant. You have to pay bribes to get anything done. It is far too easy to imagine the following scenarios:

  1. Expect the whole process to be complex and hard to understand in its original legislated form. Expect the implementation of the process in the marriage bureau offices country to be even more complex and inconsistent. Expect the clerks, officers, various middle-men, agents and touts to take full advantage of this.
  2. Expect to have a bunch of additional paperwork, apart from filling the marriage application form. You will have to submit your proof of identity, proof of age, proof of residence, may be even proof of gender in original notarized certificates as well as triple notarized copies.
  3. Extra expenses in the form of official government fees plus bribes to the peon at the office door, the clerk who processes your marriage application, the officer who facilitates your marriage registration (assuming he is different from the clerk).
  4. Long queues at every step of the way from getting the application form to submitting it to having it processed to actually signing the marriage register.
  5. Long queues mean you probably can’t get married on the day and time of your choice! This would not be acceptable to the majority of Indians who are very particular about getting married on the auspicious day and time chosen by the elders and astrologers.
  6. In big cities, where there are a lot of people, there will be uncertainty at every step of the way. The long wait list of people wanting to get married will not only mean that you can’t get married on the day of your choice, you will probably not even know on what date you will get married. You will submit the application and then wait indefinitely and anxiously for the government letter which will tell you the date of your wedding. Or it will tell you that there was something wrong with all the paperwork you submitted, you will have to resubmit the whole thing as per point 2 above and you will be bumped back to the beginning of the waiting list.
  7. There will be especially long queues on auspicious days. Expect long wait times. Expect the very real possibility that you will wait all day and still don’t get married because it is closing time for the registration bureau office.
  8. Expect dirty, overcrowded marriage bureau offices with a lot of prospective couples, their friends and relatives. You will be shouted at and herded around like animals by the rude and irritable peons. You can expect a rules and limits stipulating exactly who and how many people can accompany you to the registrar office. (Probably nobody other than you, your fiance and the witnesses who will sign the register)
  9. Expect to deal with middle-men, touts and agents who can get you ahead of the line, who can get you time-slots on special days and times.
  10. Decide all of a sudden to elope and get married in a hurry? Forget about it!

I am sure there are lot more complications and difficulties I am not able to think of right now. Indian marriages involve a thousand complexities in the best of circumstances. The last thing Indian marriages need is a bunch of more government-induced complexities.

Granted that registered marriages is the way of life in many countries around the world. But those are countries where the culture of registration has been around for centuries. They have a system in place. Agreed that the kind of Western processes we are following in everything including legal processes, property laws, travel (think international travel and visa applications) actually necessitates registered marriages. So, having universal marriage registration in India would actually be helpful. I don’t disput or deny that.

However, the manner in which the SC has sought to initiate this is not right. The timing is not right either. And what’s with the three-month deadline? There are better ways of legislating and implementing this type of far-reaching laws. But none of it will work until the functioning in government offices is made easier, cleaner, better in every aspect.

Clearly, India is not ready for this right now. There are better things that the Indian governments can concentrate on at the national and state levels.

End note: People’s reactions to the SC directive: Many welcome, few oppose

5 Responses to “Compulsory marriage registration – Is Supreme Court being the law-breaker?”

  1. Me Says:

    Marriage licenses should be made mandatory. Registration is not the pressing need. I think having a stringent procedure to prove beyond reasonable doubt that a person is fit for marriage-especially medically- is the need of the hour.

  2. gagan Says:

    dear sir,

    i am in love with a girl named preeti but her age is 16 year old and now her parents do her marriage by force. i love her and she love me and we are agree for marriage so that my problem is that i want to stop her marriage so what i do please give me the solution for my problem. i think you understand my problem.

  3. Dharmistha Mistry Says:

    My husband left me in operated condition (as I was having a fracture in my left hand and got injured on left knee too,) due to dowry problem and property issues of my in-laws within 3 months of marriage. My husband has given me a notice by saying that this property is on my mother name and she don’t want to stay with you so you don’t have to come back and He told me that I am not capable to get rental house. I am staying with my widow mom. He is having good job in shipping company and he is a sport man. Now he wants to have a divorce from me and forcing me to give divorce. I am 38 years old. Pl. advise me what should I do? I requested him to do registration of our marriage. But he intentionally didn’t. My in laws and my husband cheated me by sending me at my mom’s place for the rest in operated condition. Now I am at my mom’s place and no financial support from my husband. I did case of Domestic violence by the help of NGO. But their process is very slow. And my husband is forcing me to do a divorce. Me in very bad shape of life. My mom having a heart problem. My papa expired. Brother is totally separated from us. Pl. help me.

  4. sai Says:

    you will be put behind bars first!
    below16yrs ,marriage is an offence to you, to her parents.
    pray to god

  5. TASHIF Says:

    dear sir,

    i am in love with a girl named FARHIN but her age is 16 year old and now her parents do her marriage by force. i love her and she love me and we are agree for marriage so that my problem is that i want to stop her marriage so what i do please give me the solution for my problem. i think you understand my problem

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