What furious parents couldn’t do, the Punjab and Haryana High Court may end up doing. Couples seeking protection against relatives opposing their marriage have been told by the court that the man must make a fixed deposit running up to a few lakhs in his partner’s name “to test the bona fide of the boy as to whether he can keep the marriage surviving.” The court’s stand smacks of paternalism and a curbing of the basic right of a person to choose her/his partner. Eloping couples have to often start without any kind of social and financial support, and asking them to lock away a significant amount for a fixed period becomes a way of deterring their union. To be sure, there have been reports of men abandoning women they eloped with, and to that end, this may provide some leverage against this. But, the Court’s remit is not to test the resolve of the couple to remain together. It is to grant them police protection against murderous relatives. The Court must concern itself only with whether the provisions of the Special Marriage Act, if it applies, have been complied with or not.
By putting such conditions, the Court creates a rather fraught situation. If the man fails to come up with the money, the security of the couple—indeed, their lives, in states that have particularly bad records of honour killing—is endangered. Besides, the Court’s stand also implicitly emboldens those who think of violence as legitimate tool of opposition to inter-faith or inter-caste marriages. The High Court has, as per a report in The Indian Express, asked the police to probe “illegal marriages” performed “against the wishes of the parents of the parties and normal norms of society”. This arbitrary vesting of power over the matrimonial choice of an adult with the latter’s guardians/community is surely a violation of the fundamental rights of an individual and normalises regressive social attitudes.