Supreme Court Clarifies Requirements for Valid Hindu Marriages Under Hindu Marriage Act 1955

Supreme Court rules Hindu marriages must adhere to rites under Hindu Marriage Act 1955. Invalidates marriage without proper ceremony. Case: Dolly Rani v. Manish Kumar Chanchal.

In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court clarified what it takes for a Hindu marriage to be legally valid under the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955.

The Court stressed that for a Hindu marriage to be considered valid, it must adhere to specific rites and ceremonies, such as the saptapadi (seven steps around the sacred fire), if included. Additionally, proof of these ceremonies is crucial in case disputes arise regarding the marriage.

A bench consisting of Justices BV Nagarathna and Augustine George Masih remarked, "Where a Hindu marriage is not performed in accordance with the applicable rites or ceremonies such as saptapadi when included, the marriage will not be construed as a Hindu marriage. In other words, for a valid marriage under the Act, the requisite ceremonies have to be performed and there must be proof of performance of the said ceremony when an issue or controversy arises. Unless the parties have undergone such ceremony, there would be no Hindu marriage according to Section 7 of the Act and a mere issuance of a certificate by an entity in the absence of the requisite ceremonies having been performed would neither confirm any marital status to the parties nor establish a marriage under Hindu law."

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The Court further clarified that while the registration of a Hindu marriage under Section 8 of the Hindu Marriage Act helps in providing proof of the marriage, it does not confer legitimacy if the marriage was not solemnized according to the requirements specified in Section 7 of the Act.

"If there has been no marriage in accordance with Section 7, the registration would not confer legitimacy to the marriage. We find that the registration of Hindu marriages under the said provision is only to facilitate the proof of a Hindu marriage but for that, there has to be a Hindu marriage in accordance with Section 7 of the Act inasmuch as there must be a marriage ceremony which has taken place between the parties in accordance with the said provision."

The Court added that without a valid Hindu marriage, the Marriage Registration Officer cannot register such a marriage under Section 8 of the Act. Therefore, if a certificate is issued stating that the couple had undergone marriage, but the marriage ceremony had not been performed in accordance with Section 7 of the Act, then the registration of such marriage under Section 8 would not confer any legitimacy to it.

"In the absence of there being a valid Hindu marriage, the Marriage Registration Officer cannot register such a marriage under the provisions of Section 8 of the Act. Therefore, if a certificate is issued stating that the couple had undergone marriage and if the marriage ceremony had not been performed in accordance with Section 7 of the Act, then the registration of such marriage under Section 8 would not confer any legitimacy to such a marriage."

The Court criticized the practice of couples seeking to acquire the status of husband and wife without a valid marriage ceremony, emphasizing the importance of marriage as a sacred institution in Indian society.

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"A Hindu marriage is a samskara and a sacrament which has to be accorded its status as an institution of great value in Indian society. Therefore, we urge young men and women to think deeply about the institution of marriage even before they enter upon it and as to how sacred the said institution is, in Indian society."

The Court made these observations while deciding a petition filed by a wife seeking the transfer of divorce proceedings against her. During the pendency of the case, the husband and wife agreed to file a joint application for a declaration that their marriage was not valid. They stated that there was no "marriage" solemnized by them as no customs, rites, and rituals were performed. However, due to "certain exigencies and pressures," they were constrained to obtain a certificate of solemnization from Vadik Jankalyan Samiti (Regd.) and on the basis of that certificate, they sought registration under the Uttar Pradesh Registration Rule, 2017, and a 'Certificate of Marriage' was issued by the Registrar of Marriages.

The Court, after noting that no marriage was solemnized, declared that there was no valid marriage. It warned against treating marriage as a mere formality and stressed the significance of understanding the sacredness of the institution before entering into it.