What are Special Marriages in India?

‘Marriage’ is considered a sacred institution in the Indian subcontinent.  It is an integral part of our culture. India is a diverse country and thus has people from a number of religions and cultures who call this country home. Two primary acts govern most Indian marriages: the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and Special Marriage Act, 1954.

What are Special Marriages in India?

Special Marriages in India
Special Marriages in India

For any marriage between two Hindus, the Hindu Marriage Act applies. An Arya Samaj wedding is convenient and speedy, but applicable only to Hindus. A person from another religion must convert to Hinduism before being eligible for it (similar for example, in traditional Muslim weddings, where the Maulvi can’t solemnize the marriage if one party is not Muslim).

However, anyone can opt for the Special Marriage Act, irrespective of religion. For inter-faith marriages, couples can get legally married under the Special Marriage Act.

Earlier, marriages were commenced where the bride and the groom were unaware of who they were getting married to, as every decision was taken by their respective parents and meeting of bride and the groom was not a practice that prevailed (though this was in the ancient times).

Times have changed and every decision relating to marriage is taken by the bride and groom themselves in this age of nuclear families and heightened individuality. We as Indians are all mostly aware of the extent of influence that caste and religion have in our country.

And when it comes to marriage, it is considered the most important criteria for a properly solemnized marriage. Parents select the prospective bride/groom for their children from the same caste as theirs, which is the general unabashed practice. Inter-caste marriage is still considered a taboo in many areas and states in our country. India still follows a very rigid structure of the caste system.

Things get extreme in certain cases where the families take inter-caste/ inter-religion marriage as a badge of eternal dishonor. The society has become numb to the term “honor killings” which are reported every year.

Unfortunately, the families take pride in indulging in such activities. Thus, there came a grave need for a law to safeguard the interests of those people who rose above these caste and religious divides, to marry for love.

The Parliament enacted the Special Marriage Act, 1954 which provides for a special form of marriage for the people of India and all Indian nationals in foreign countries, irrespective of the caste and religion they follow.

The basic requirement for valid marriage registration under this Act is the consent of both the parties to the marriage. If both the parties are ready to marry each other, that suffices it; here caste, religion, race, etc. cannot and do not act as a hindrance to their union.

Any two persons belonging to different religions may marry under this Act without changing their religions. Neither party should have a spouse living at the time of marriage. Widow, widower and a divorcee may exchange wedding vows under this Act. Neither party should be incapable of giving a valid consent in consequence of unsoundness of mind.

Neither party should be suffering from mental disorder of such a kind or to such an extent as to be unfit for marriage and procreation of children. Neither party should be suffering from incurable insanity. Parties should not be within degrees of prohibited relationship. Age: Bridegroom: 21 years &Bride: 18 years. 

To conclude, the procedure starts with the filing of a Notice in writing to the marriage registrar officer of the district where either of the parties has resided for the past 30 days. (Section 5) After receiving the application the Marriage officer gives a 30 days’ notice period to accept objections on the marriage of the intended parties.

(Section 7) The objections are entertained if they are solely on the conditions mentioned in Section 4. The marriage officers are required to maintain a marriage notice book which contains all the details of the intended marriage registration.

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