The government and the judiciary have just reiterated their commitment to uphold the individual’s right to choose her/his marital partner.
The government and the judiciary have just reiterated their commitment to uphold the individual’s right to choose her/his marital partner. On March 7, the Supreme Court observed that “when two consenting adults get married irrespective of their background, no relative or third person can oppose or interfere with violence or threat to their life”. On March 8, it upheld marriage of Kerala’s Hadiya and Shafin Jahan—whose marriage the Kerala High Court had earlier annulled—though it directed the National Investigation Agency to continue its probe into the “love jihad” angle of the marriage. The Centre, for its part, requested the apex court to direct the states to ensure police protection and other measures to provide security to couples who face threats to life and property for marrying outside their caste or religion. It also told the court that it will soon be bringing a law against honour killing. This is expected to recognise such killings as different from murder and codify appropriate punishment. In 2016, the number of honour killings, as per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), fell to 69, from 251 in 2015. Strictly speaking, since honour killing is not recognised as a crime separate from murder, NCRB data is from cases where honour killing is listed as the motive for murder. There is also massive under-reporting due to fears of social stigma, potential ostracism, and even retaliatory violence. Thus, the actual number of honour killings could be actually higher. Against such a backdrop, the tone that the SC and the Centre have struck comes as measure of reassurance for individuals who wish to defy primitive social diktats. It will also serve to counter the hold caste councils have over social life in many parts of the country, given they also pronounce on the validity of marriages. The right to choose a marital partner is intrinsic to a life with dignity, that is protected by the Constitution. The government’s and the Supreme Court’s stands reinforce this.