Mandatory parental consent for love marriages untenable, say experts
Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel’s proposal to make parental consent mandatory in love marriages in the state, has not only been slammed as “regressive” by several sections of the public, but also deemed “unconstitutional” by legal experts.
Patel, while addressing a recent event organised by the Patidar community in North Gujarat, had said that his government will examine the constitutional feasibility of making parental consent mandatory in love marriages. Concerned over inter-caste and inter-faith marriages, a section of Patidars have been demanding that permission of parents be made mandatory in love marriages.
Interestingly, the chief minister’s statement was quickly supported by the state’s lone Muslim MLA, Congress’s Imran Khedawala, who wrote to Patel on August 1 year stating, “It is not a Hindu-Muslim issue but concerns two families.”
Unconstitutional, violates Article 14, say experts
Legal experts say the very idea of asking two consenting adults to seek permission from parents to get married, violates Article 14 of the Constitution which gives equal rights to every Indian citizen.
“Demanding parental consent in love marriage between two consenting adults is against Article 14 and hence unconstitutional. More importantly, the fight for women’s autonomy and rights has been quite a difficult road, the state cannot push back with its whims and fancy for political gain,” says Maitri Mazumdar, lawyer and member of Feminist Manch, a socio-political advocacy platform.
Demand to protect Patidar property, girls from ‘love jihad’
The Patel (Patidar) community, a traditional vote bank of the BJP, since 2022 has been demanding that the signature of at least one parent be made mandatory for the registration of a marriage if a girl from the community wished to marry a man of her choice.
“The entire Patidar community of the state is worried because girls from our community choose their life partners without informing parents and are getting married easily by arranging a couple of witnesses,” RP Patel, president of Vishwa Umiya Dham, a prominent religious organisation of Patels in Gujarat, said.
Patel says his community is concerned that the ancestral property that a girl will inherit will pass on to a non-Patidar family if she marries a boy outside the caste or religion.
“The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and Hindu Succession Act, 1956 recognise the legal rights of daughters to ancestral property. The community fears the ancestral property a girl inherits will go to her husband’s family once married. We have also observed that very often girls of our community are targeted for ‘love jihad’ (a term loosely used by the right-wing organisations to describe interfaith marriages),” added Patel, also the convener of the Patidar Organisation Coordination Committee.
‘Ban mobile phones, control daughters’
Thakors, the largest caste group under OBC in the state have backed the Patels in their demand. In July 2022, a public meeting was called by caste leaders in Banaskantha, North Gujarat, just to discuss how the marriages of girls without the consent of parents, are creating “social issues” for the community.
To prevent unmarried women from falling in love and choosing their partner, a ‘resolution’ was passed in the meeting of the Thakor community banning unmarried girls from using mobile phones.
Interestingly, in the Budget session this year, MLAs from both the BJP and Congress sought an amendment to the Registration of Marriages Act, 2009.
In March this year, BJP MLA Fatesinh Chauhan and Congress’s Geniben Thakor demanded that signatures of parents be made mandatory when adult children choose their own partners. Pointing to the growing number of elopement and love marriages by boys and girls, both the legislators agreed that the matter required the government’s intervention.
Chauhan, a BJP MLA from Kalol and a prominent VHP leader even demanded that the marriages solemnised without consent of parents be considered illegal, adding that the same will ensure a fall in crime rate in the state.
Congress MLA Geniben Thakor, had first raised the demand at a meeting of Thakor community in 2019 where she had stated that, “all parents must control their daughters.” In the budget session this year, she had raised the demand again and said that as girls tend to elope with their boyfriends and register their marriage in the court of some other district, it should be made mandatory to register marriages in the same Taluka where both the groom and the bride reside.
Talibanisation of Gujarat?
Ahmedabad-based advocate Meha Jain says it is disturbing to know that the above demands which violate fundamental rights of individuals are being blatantly endorsed by the state government.
“We are concerned about the idea of the Gujarat government. Love and marriages are deeply personal choices. Besides, it violates the individual rights under Article 14 of the Constitution,” she says.
Shamshad Pathan, a lawyer practicing in the Gujarat High Court, says the government is gradually squeezing fundamental rights and showing traits of a totalitarian state as seen in Arab countries and Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
“First the BJP government in Gujarat amended Disturbed Area Act that curbs sale of property amongst interfaith people of a certain area, then it amended the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act that guarantees inter-faith marriages. And now the state government wants to control marriage between two consenting adults. How is this government any different from Arab countries or even the Taliban?” he asks.
He says a love marriage is symbolic of a woman’s autonomy and agency over herself and by trying to take control of it, the government is violating the basic tenets of the Constitution.
“A love marriage among many other things, is a manifestation of the autonomy we have over ourselves. It is an expression of a consenting couple who wants to stay together. In our society where moral and social policing has deep historical roots, it is easy to get a consensus across political parties on an issue like this. Fortunately, our Constitution is more progressive than its lawmakers,” he adds.