Inter-Caste Marriage in India: Is It Legal?


Posted On : November 14, 2022
Inter-Caste Marriage in India: Is It Legal?
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“Religion wale column mein hum bold and capital letter mein #INDIAN likhte hain.”(Religion वाले कॉलम में हम बोल्ड एंड कैपिटल लेटर में #INDIAN लिखते हैं) Got it right…...it's the famous dialogue by Akshay Kumar from the movie Baby. But India is a country where religion is not the only classification. There are so many castes, sub-castes, communities, which add to the diversity of our country. However, such a diverse culture does play a major role not only in classification but separation among people and communities. Inter Caste Marriage in India is the vital culture shock despised by most regardless of whether they belong to the literate, wealthy, or mediocre groups. The blog hereunder discusses the intercaste marriage problems in India and the legal foundation behind the casual talks. 


In India, there are various caste based categorizations even among religions. Caste system mainly prevails among Hindus whereby the holy books (eg. Bhagwad Geeta) do mention about the Varna (Caste) system. What we fail to understand is that the holy books refer to such classification based on the profession a person engages in, and not the basis of birth in a family. Hindus are the most obvious example of such casteism where there exist upper castes and lower castes. However, inter caste marriage among any two upper castes is not as troublesome. In fact, intercaste marriage becomes a taboo when there are talks about one between upper caste boy and lower caste girl, or vice versa.

 

What is Inter-Caste Marriage?

There is caste wise segregation of communities among Hindus. When one person belonging to a certain caste marries outside the community with a person belonging to another caste, it is termed as an inter-caste marriage. For example, a Punjabi boy marrying a Brahmin girl is an inter-caste marriage between the so called upper caste. A Baniya girl marrying a Dalit boy is an example of inter-caste marriage problems since the so called lower caste is involved with the upper one. 

 

Is Inter Caste Marriage Legal in India? - Hindu Laws

Right to marry after a certain age is considered a societal norm, whereby the government has designated the minimum age for marriage. Choosing a spouse of one's own choice by an adult is considered one among various human rights. Since the caste system is a concept majorly concerned with Hindu religion, marriage laws applicable to Hindus hold relevance here. The courts have time and again levelled that consent of family or friends is nowhere required when two adults wish to marry each other.

The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 does not mention castes while providing the basic requirements of a valid marriage. Given below are such prerequisites of a valid marriage under the Act:

  • Against Bigamy - None of the parties should have a living spouse during such marriage.
  • Free Consent - Both the bride and groom should have consented to the marriage.
  • Majority Age - The girl must have completed the age of 18 years, while the boy must have completed 21 years of age at the time of marriage.
  • Sapinda or Prohibited Relations - The bride and groom should not share a prohibited or sapinda relationship with each other (ancestors/ siblings/ etc.)

There is no mention of gotras/ villages/ castes while deciding the validity of marriage. Excuse of customs is given only in case the bride and groom share a prohibited or sapinda relationship and their family customs prove a history of such marriages.

Section 29 of HMA 1955 lays that “A marriage solemnised between Hindus before the commencement of this Act, which is otherwise valid, shall not be deemed to be invalid or ever to have been invalid by reason only of the fact that the parties thereto belonged to the same gotra or pravara or belonged to different religions, castes or sub-divisions of the same caste.” Hence, the law related to intercaste marriage makes it clear as per HMA Act 1955 that it is legally valid.

The Supreme Court judgment of 2018 in Shakti Vahini vs Union of India and Others[1] has clarified that “Any attempt by Khap Panchayats or any other assembly to scuttle or prevent two consenting adults from marrying is absolutely illegal”. Through this judgment, the apex court also ordered the central and state authorities to designate specific courts to deal with matters of inter caste marriages and honour killings in a fast track manner. Trials pertaining to such matters be taken up on a day-to-day basis so as to wrap the case within 6 months’ duration. 

 

Inter Caste Marriage Registration - Court Marriages

Since in case of inter-caste marriages, families usually do not support/ accompany the couples to perform the wedding rituals. Thus, they are left with two options- first is to marry as per Hindu rituals and get their inter caste marriage certificate from the Registrar of Marriage. The other option is to go for marriage under the Special Marriage Act, 1954. The Act allows marriage among couples regardless of their religion, i.e. a secular law for marriages in India. The conditions for a valid marriage under SPA 1954 are the same as those under the Hindu Marriage Act as explained above.

Parties intending to marry under the Act have to notify the Marriage Registrar of suitable jurisdiction regarding intention to marry under the Act 30 days in advance. Such an officer publishes the notice in his/her office and Marriage Register. After completion of 30 days and absence of any objection against the party's notice to marry, they have to visit the Marriage Registrar for inter caste marriage registration with necessary documents and duly sign the inter caste marriage application form. They can also seek protection from the authorities who are duty bound to protect couples in inter-community or intercaste marriages. For inter caste marriage documents and other formalities, couples should apply through family lawyers for a convenient process.

 

Inter Caste Marriage Scheme

Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar’s ‘Annihilation of Caste’ can be quoted to catch the roots of inter caste marriage scheme whereby he suggested for termination of the evil practice of caste system in India. Dr Ambedkar opines with - “I am convinced that the real remedy is inter marriage. Fusion of blood can alone create the feeling of kinship, of being kindred, becomes paramount, the separatist feeling–the feeling of being aliens–created by caste will not vanish.”

 

In furtherance of such a mindset, the central government promotes SC/ST inter caste marriage benefits. The ‘Dr. B.R Ambedkar Scheme for Social Integration through Inter Caste Marriage’ grants Rs 2.5 lakh for marriages whereby one of the spouses belongs to the Dalit caste, while the other belongs to any community other than Dalits. There is no income bar for couples applying under the SC/ST inter caste marriage benefits. The mere idea behind inter caste marriage benefits is to promote marriages beyond castes, thereby causing the slow death of the caste system in India which is consistently corroding the Indian society.

Apart from SC/ST intercaste marriage benefits, some states also have their separate inter caste marriage scheme which supports such couples financially, for the purpose of business, land purchase, or house construction. In some states, there is direct transfer of funds regardless of the purposes mentioned above.

 

Upshot

The modern generation, also termed as the GenZ mostly supports the eradication of the caste system. However, such thoughts remain confined to love marriages. For an arranged marriage, the needle clocks back to its own community while other castes and communities are thrown out of scope. Even that does not hold relevance in some communities where even the younger generation supports honor killing when it comes to going beyond the community. However, it is not so late for mending the ways, to dream of an India where there is no caste system, where everyone is just a human being regardless of the caste and creed. Together, we can make it possible for the upcoming generations to be confined to the concept of ‘marriages’ and totally unaware of the term ‘inter-caste marriage’.


[1] Writ Petition (Civil) No.231 of 2010.

Written By:
Ridhi Khurana

Ridhi Khurana

Gurgaon

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