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Special Marriage Act 1954: Facilitating Interfaith and Inter-caste Unions in India

Special Marriage Act 1954 is act provided a special form of marriage in certain cases, for the registration of such different marriages and for divorce. The Act allows interfaith and inter-caste marriages between two adults. The law is applicable to all citizen of India, a part of their faith. People of different culture and religion or ethnicities are able to perform wedding under this Act without having to convert to each other's religion. It allows individuals a means to get legally married without having to adhere to any religious traditions or practices.
  • Male- at least 21 years old
  • Female- at least 18 years old

Condition of a valid marriage under Special Marriage Act 1954

Sec 4
  • Marriage between any two persons
  • Neither party has a spouse living
  • Neither party must be incapable of giving a valid consent to it in consequence of unsoundness of mind
  • Valid consent has been suffering from mental disorder or such a kind to such an extent as to be unfit for marriage and procreation of children
  • The male has completed the age of 21 years and the female age of 18 years
  • The parties are not within the degrees of prohibited relationships unless customs of at least one party permits

Prohibited relationship under Special Marriage Act 1954

Sec 2(b): Degrees of prohibited relationship'
A man and any woman listed in part I of the First Schedule, and a woman and any man listed in part II of the First Schedule are considered to be within the degrees of prohibited relationship which stated that a man cannot marry a woman listed in part I of the first Schedule and woman cannot marry any man listed in part II of the First Schedule.

Relationship includes:
  1. Relationship by half or uterine blood as well as by full blood
  2. Illegitimate blood relationship as well as legitimate
  3. Relationship by adoption as well as blood

Procedural Formalities under SMA

  • Notice of intended marriage (sec 5):
    When a marriage is intended to solemnized under this Act, the parties must notify the marriage officer of the district where at least one of the parties has resided for a period of not less than thirty days prior to the date of the notice in writing according to the format specified in Second Schedule.
  • Objection to marriage (sec 7):
    Any individual may object to the marriage on the grounds that it would violate one or more of the conditions outlined in section 4 before the period of time of 30 days following the date on which any such notice has been issued. Unless there has been a prior objection and the marriage may be solemnized after the thirty day period has passed.
  • A new notice must be given if marriage is not solemnized within three calendar months of the day notice of it was submitted to marriage officer under section 14.
  • Declaration (sec 11):
    Before the marriage is officially recognized the parties and three witnesses must sign a declaration in the format outlined in the Third Schedule to this Act in the presence of the marriage officer. The marriage officer must also countersign the statement.

Voidable marriages under the Special Marriage Act

Section 25: Grounds under which marriage under SMA may be annulled by a decree of nullity.

Due to the respondent's willful failure to complete the marriage it has not been completed

The petitioner was not the source of the respondent's pregnancy at the time of the marriage; provided that court is convinced that:
  • The petitioner was uninformed of the alleged circumstances at the time of the marriage
  • The marriage was consummated within a year of the start of procedures.
  • Marital intercourse with the consent of the petitioner has not taken place since the discovery by petitioner.
The consent of either party to marriage was obtained by coercion or fraud as defined in Indian Contract Act, 1872; provided the court shall not grant a decree if:
  • Proceedings have not been instituted within one year after the coercion had ceased or the fraud had been discovered.
  • The petitioner has with his or her free consent lived with the other party to marriage as husband and wife after the coercion had ceased or fraud has been discovered.

Deepak Krishna v. District Registrar And Ors. AIR 2007

The legality of the thirty day waiting period mandated by section 15 (f) and 16 of the Special Marriage Act has been contested in a number of prior cases because of the hardship and inconvenience it would cause the parties.

  1. Whether the Special Marriage Act of 1954's Section 15 (f) should be interpreted liberally in light of the hardship and inconvenience it may cause the parties?
  2. Should section 16 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 be interpreted liberally in light of the hardship and annoyance it causes the parties or is it mandatory and requires strict interpretation?

Youngsters who wish to marry someone of a different race or religion may benefit from the Special Marriage Act as it offers them a legitimate means to perform marriage without having to adopt each other's religion. This may encourage interfaith and intercultural unions and contribute to the development of a more inclusive society.

End- Notes:
  1. Special Marriage Act 1954, s 9(1)
  2. Special Marriage Act 1954, s 22
  3. Deepak Krishna v. District Registrar And Others., AIR 2007 Ker 257
  4. Constitution Of India, Art 25
  5. Constitution Of India 1950

Written By: Prakriti Goswami

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