Supreme Court seeks Centre’s reply on plea challenging provisions of Special Marriage Act

However, Chief Justice Bobde expressed certain prima facie reservations about the plea to do away with the publication of details

September 16, 2020 06:47 pm | Updated 08:53 pm IST - New Delhi:

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. File

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. File

The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked for the government’s response to a plea that wide publication of the personal details of a couple who want to wed under the Special Marriage Act is a violation of their privacy.

Also read | Plea in Supreme Court says secular marriage law violates privacy to marry

The details being publicised include their names, date of birth, age, occupation, parents’ names and details, addresses, pin codes, identity information and phone numbers. This was a peculiar requirement of the Act, intended to help consenting adults, especially those who belong to different religions or castes, to marry.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde issued notice to the government on the writ petition filed by Nandini Praveen, a law student from Kerala, who is represented by advocates Kaleeswaram Raj and Nishe Rajen Shonker.

However, Chief Justice Bobde expressed certain prima facie reservations about the plea to do away with the publication of details.

Also read | PIL in Supreme Court seeks uniform grounds of divorce for all citizens

“You don’t understand the purpose of the law [Special Marriage Act]... Normally they [people who want to marry under the Act] do not belong to the same community... You are saying ‘privacy,’ that the whole world will come to know... But what if somebody runs away with somebody’s wife or daughter... Why should they [the husband or father] not come to know? The people for whose benefit this is enacted will suffer the moment it is deleted,” Chief Justice Bobde remarked orally.

Chilling effect

Mr. Raj, however, responded that the publication of confidential details through a public notice has a chilling effect on the right to marry, particularly in the backdrop of honour killings and violence committed against those who enter into inter-caste and inter-religious marriages. “In other words, couples are asked to waive the right to privacy to exercise the right to marry,” he pointed out.

The senior lawyer said the petition was not challenging the authority of the Marriage Officer to conduct an enquiry into a couple’s antecedents. “But why publish the confidential details? We are only challenging the notification of these details, which certainly violates privacy... The publication is reminiscent of the Victorian age and morality... It has a whiff of the canonical to it,” Mr. Raj submitted.

Ms. Praveen, in the petition, said the publication of intimate details “infringes the rights of autonomy, dignity and the right to marry.”

She said marriage is “a private decision taken by two consenting adults and the Special Marriage Act was formulated to provide a secular form of marriage.”

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