Legal Advice

Right to choose life partner is a fundamental right

Question: Every person has the right to choose his life partner and it is a fundamental right. My friend loves his colleague, and they have decided to get married. They belong from a different community, therefore, cannot marry due to the customs of their society.  He is terrified because his uncle warned him that if he marries with his friend, then he should be ready to face serious consequences. Sir, this doesn’t seem right, and no one can force them to retract from their decision. Please tell me what they should do?

Advise

Don’t let your uncle’s threats scare you. As per Section 5(iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 (HMA), you and your partner have attained the marriageable age required by law. The HMA states that a bridegroom must be at least 21 years old, while a bride must be at least 18 years old. This means that you can get married without the need for parental consent or permission.

It’s worth noting that the Hindu Marriage Act allows for inter-caste marriages. While you and your partner belong to different Hindu communities, you still have the right to get married under the HMA. This law recognizes the validity of marriages between two Hindus, regardless of their caste or community.

Right to choose life partner is a fundamental right

In a recent landmark judgment, the Supreme Court in Shakti Vahini v. Union of India, (2018) 7 SCC 192, declared that the right to choose a life partner is a fundamental right. The court held that the freedom to marry a person of one’s choice is protected under Article 21, 19(1)(a), and 14 of the Indian Constitution.

Once the fundamental right is inherent in a person, then no one can scuttle such right by leaning on any kind of philosophy, moral or social, or self-proclaimed elevation.

Shakti Vahini vs. Union of India (2018) 7 SCC 192

The right to select a life partner is an essential aspect of the right to life and personal liberty, which are guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. The court stated that this right is not only a matter of individual choice but also a reflection of social dignity and individual autonomy.

The judgment also emphasized that the freedom of speech and expression are integral to the right to choose one’s life partner. Therefore, every individual has the right to choose their partner regardless of caste, religion, or community.

It’s important to note that threats and coercion against inter-caste marriage are illegal under Indian law. If your friend’s uncle is making threats, he may be in violation of section 504/506 of the Indian Penal Code. Your friend should not be afraid to seek legal recourse against him.

In fact, the Supreme Court has expressed its concern about growing incidents of threats and violence against inter-caste marriage in Lata Singh v. State of U.P., (2006) 5 SCC 475. The Court has held that

“However, disturbing news are coming from several parts of the country that young men and women who undergo inter-caste marriage, are threatened with violence, or violence is actually committed on them. In our opinion, such acts of violence or threats or harassment are wholly illegal and those who commit them must be severely punished. This is a free and democratic country, and once a person becomes a major he or she can marry whosoever he/she likes.

If the parents of the boy or girl do not approve of such inter-caste or inter-religious marriage the maximum they can do is that they can cut-off social relations with the son or the daughter, but they cannot give threats or commit or instigate acts of violence and cannot harass the person who undergoes such inter-caste or inter-religious marriage.”

Take protection order from the High Court

From a legal standpoint, it is advisable for your friend to obtain a protection order in the current scenario. The court can issue a protection order directing the local administration to provide adequate security to ensure the safety of your friend and their partner. With police protection, they can solemnize their marriage without any fear or threat from the uncle, as has been recognized by the Supreme Court in the Lata Singh v. State of U.P. case as:

“We, therefore, direct that the administration/police authorities throughout the country will see to it that if any boy or girl who is a major undergoes inter-caste or inter-religious marriage with a woman or man who is a major, the couple is not harassed by anyone nor subjected to threats or acts of violence, and anyone who gives such threats or harasses or commits acts of violence either himself or at his instigation, is taken to task by instituting criminal proceedings by the police against such persons and further stern action is taken against such persons as provided by law.”

Lata Singh v. State of U.P., (2006) 5 SCC 475

Again in the Shakti Vahini case, the Supreme Court has reiterated about the protection of such a couple as:

“The District Magistrate/Superintendent of Police must deal with the complaint regarding threat administered to such couple/family with the utmost sensitivity. It should be first ascertained whether the bachelor-bachelorette are capable adults. Thereafter, if necessary, they may be provided logistical support for solemnising their marriage and/or for being duly registered under police protection, if they so desire.

After the marriage, if the couple so desire, they can be provided accommodation on payment of nominal charges in the safe house initially for a period of one month to be extended on monthly basis but not exceeding one year in aggregate, depending on their threat assessment on a case-to-case basis.”

To protect his fundamental right to choose a life partner, your friend should consider filing a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution before the High Court to obtain a protection order. If his uncle continues to threaten him, he should file the petition. The court can issue a protection order if the petitioner is receiving apparent threats while exercising his legal right. Since the right to choose a life partner is a fundamental right, your friend can move a writ petition to ensure that his right is upheld and protected.

Shivendra Pratap Singh

Advocate

High Court Lucknow

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