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Safeguarding Matrimonial Sanctity: Dolly Rani vs Manish Kumar Chanchal

In the recent case of Dolly Rani vs. Manish Kumar Chanchal, the Supreme Court, through Hon'ble Justices B.V. Nagarathna and Augustine George Masih, reaffirmed the necessity of ceremonies under Section 7 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. The Court criticized the trend of obtaining marriage certificates without proper solemnization, declaring such marriages null and void. This ruling emphasizes that a certificate alone does not confer legal marital status without customary rites, underscoring the importance of solemnization in validating Hindu marriages and preserving their cultural and religious sanctity.

Facts of the Case
Both the petitioner (wife) and the respondent (husband) are commercial pilots. They reportedly married and solemnized their marriage on 07.03.2021. They obtained their marriage certificate from Vadik Jankalyan Samiti (Regd.), and based on this certificate, the 'Certificate of Registration of Marriage' was issued by the Registrar of Marriages under the Uttar Pradesh Marriage Regulation Rules, 2017.

Although the marriage was reportedly solemnized on 07.03.2021, the date fixed by their families for the performance of Hindu ceremonies was 25.10.2022. The couple lived separately in the interim, and differences arose between them. On 17.11.2022, the petitioner filed an FIR against the respondent under Sections 498A, 420, 506, 509, and 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (hereinafter "IPC"), as well as Sections 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 alleging harassment for dowry by the respondent and his relatives.

The respondent subsequently filed for divorce under Section 13(1)(ia) of the Act, in the Family Court of Muzaffarpur, Bihar, on 13.03.2022. Since the divorce petition was filed in Muzaffarpur while the petitioner resided in Ranchi, she moved to the Supreme Court seeking a transfer petition under Section 25 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. During the pendency of this transfer petition, both parties agreed to file a joint application to the Supreme Court under Article 142 of the Constitution, requesting that the marriage dated 07.03.2021 be declared null and void and thereby both the certificates be also declared null and void.

Legal Issues Involved
The primary legal issue in the present case pertains to Section 7 of the Act, titled 'Ceremonies for a Hindu Marriage.' Clause 1 of this section states, "A Hindu marriage may be solemnized in accordance with the customary rites and ceremonies of either party thereto." The significance of the term "solemnized" lies in its indication that a Hindu marriage is considered valid under the Act only when it is performed according to the customs, rites, and rituals of either party.

Further, clause 2 of Section 7 states, "Where such rites and ceremonies include the Saptapadi (the taking of seven steps by the bridegroom and the bride jointly before the sacred fire), the marriage becomes complete and binding when the seventh step is taken." This highlights the necessity of Saptapadi, a crucial samskara, signifying that the marriage is solemnized only after the seventh step is completed.

Also, section 8 of the Act addresses marriage registration, noting it is not mandatory per Section 8(5), which states, "the validity of any Hindu marriage shall in no way be affected by the omission to make the entry." However, registering a marriage is advisable as it provides proof of the ceremony and can be crucial in case of disputes.

Arguments by the Counsel for Petitioner and Respondents
Counsel for both parties argued that the marriage was invalid under Section 7 of the Act, as the requisite ceremonies were not performed. Due to certain exigencies, the couple obtained a certificate without proper solemnization. Consequently, they agreed to a compromise in the joint application: the petitioner would drop maintenance and criminal cases, and the respondent would withdraw the divorce petition. The basis for these compromises was the acknowledgment that no valid marriage existed, thus negating any cause of action.

Decision and Reasoning
The Supreme Court, under Article 142 of the Constitution, disposed of the respondent's divorce petition and the petitioner's maintenance and criminal cases. The Court also declared the marriage dated 07.03.2021 null and void, consequently rendering both the certificates issued invalid.

The Court's decision was based on the finding that there was no legal marriage between the parties, as the marriage was not solemnized according to the required ceremonies and mere issuance of a certificate without proper solemnization does not confer the legal status of marriage.

The Hon'ble Supreme Court rightly ruled that no marriage existed between the parties, as it was not performed per the requisite ceremonies under the Act. A mere marriage certificate without proper solemnization does not confer marital status. This judgment emphasizes the precedence of Section 7 over Section 8 of the Act. While registering a marriage before solemnization might expedite visas or access social benefits, the Court criticized this practice, highlighting potential legal ambiguities if the marriage is not solemnized like What would be the legal status of the parties? Would they be considered husband and wife under the law and in society?

Undoubtedly, Hindu marriage, unlike a contractual agreement, is not merely a procedural step to be registered in advance and conducted subsequently. As a sacrament and samskara, it holds deep spiritual and cultural significance. Therefore, the Hon'ble Supreme Court aptly articulated that marriage should not be perceived merely as an occasion for 'song and dance' or 'dining and wining.' Instead, it should be understood as a solemn and sacred foundation for establishing a committed and enduring relationship between a man and a woman. This perspective underscores the inherent sanctity and gravity of the marital union within the Hindu tradition, which goes beyond mere ceremonial or social celebration.

While the Supreme Court correctly invoked Sections 7 and 8 of the Act, more could have been done in the present case. Despite deprecating such practices of marriage registration before solemnization, the Court should have adopted a stricter approach, setting a precedent by either punishing or imposing fines on the parties involved to counter this acknowledged trend.

Various provisions of the IPC, 1860, provide the legal basis for such punishment, including:
Section 182 of the IPC, which states: "Whoever gives false information to a public servant, intending to cause or knowing it likely to cause such public servant to misuse his lawful power to the injury or annoyance of any person, shall be punished with imprisonment for up to six months, a fine of up to one thousand rupees, or both."Furthermore, not only should the parties involved be punished, but also the person or authority issuing such certificates should be dealt with a heavy hand, as provided in:
  • Section 14 of the IPC, titled "Penalty for making, etc., false certificate." This section states: "Every person making or signing or attesting any such certificate containing a statement which is false, and which he either knows or believes to be false, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine which may extend to one hundred rupees, or with both."
  • Additionally, Section 197 of the IPC, titled "Issuing or signing false certificate," states: "Whoever issues or signs any certificate required by law to be given or signed, or relating to any fact of which such certificate is by law admissible in evidence, knowing or believing that such certificate is false in any material point, shall be punished in the same manner as if he gave false evidence."
From this, it is evident that merely deprecating the practice is insufficient; punishing the parties involved and the authorities responsible for issuing false certificates is crucial. This approach would reinforce the value of lifelong commitment between husband and wife, as noted by the Supreme Court. By doing so, the Supreme Court can ensure that the benefits of registering a marriage are availed by the rightful parties and not by those who fabricate a marriage certificate without solemnization.

The Supreme Court's decision in Dolly Rani vs. Manish Kumar Chanchal reinforces Section 7 of the Act, by criticizing the trend of obtaining marriage certificates without proper solemnization. By declaring the marriage null and void, the Court emphasized that a marriage certificate alone, without customary rites and ceremonies, does not confer legal marital status. This ruling underscore the crucial role of the solemnization of marriage, particularly the practice of Saptapadi.

While the Court aptly articulated the precedence of Section 7 over Section 8, a stricter approach could further deter this improper recent trend. Implementing punitive measures against those issuing false marriage certificates would be a stronger deterrent. These measures protect the rights of legitimate beneficiaries, who might otherwise be deprived of their legal entitlements due to such fraudulent certificates. This approach would also preserve Hindu marriage's sanctity and sacramental value, ensuring it remains a deeply rooted cultural and religious institution rather than a mere contractual arrangement.

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