Maharashtra Govt’s Decision to Monitor Marriages is Latest Push Toward ‘Othering’ Experiment
VIDE a resolution issued on December 13, the Maharashtra State Government has issued directions for the formation of a state level committee under the chairmanship of the Minister for Women and Child Development. The committee is to comprise thirteen members representing the State, civil society and the legal profession. The said committee is to review (1) the process of collection of detailed information regarding registered and unregistered marriages as also marriages that have taken place at religious places, and marriages that have taken place after elopement and inter caste/inter religious marriages; (2) collect information from newlyweds and their parents as to whether they are all in touch with each other; (3) obtain information about newly married girls/women who are not in touch with their parents because the parents do not consent to the marriage; and (4) counsel such girls and their parents and try to resolve the issues between them.
On December 15, a revision was made to the said resolution to the effect that inter-caste marriages were removed from the ambit of the said resolution. The revision also stated that the government was considering amending the committee that was set up under the original resolution.
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On reading this resolution, it would appear that the present incumbents of the Government of Maharashtra are so concerned about the welfare of newly wed women/girls that they wish to expend their already stretched finances, administration and workforce to conduct fishing enquiries into the thousands of marriages that take place every day in the state, find out which girl has eloped and/or married without her parents’ consent, and then counsel her and her family.
It boggles the mind to think of the amount of work entailed in pursuing every marriage that takes place in the state, contacting the newlyweds and their families, finding out about the lines of communication and the absence or otherwise of parental consent, and thereafter, counselling girls/women who have not obtained parental consent. How is this going to be achieved?
It boggles the mind to think of the amount of work entailed in pursuing every marriage that takes place in the state, contacting the newlyweds and their families, finding out about the lines of communication and the absence or otherwise of parental consent, and thereafter, counselling girls/women who have not obtained parental consent. How is this going to be achieved? How, for example, does the State get leads about un-registered marriages? Does the officiating priest or a family member or friend inform the State? Will the information provided by an onlooker suffice? Will consenting adults who wish to marry each other have to file additional forms to prove parental consent?
We have heard of the existence of States and nations where the citizens spy on each other, and the State thrives on the basis of the information provided to it as a direct result of such spying. The Maharashtra government’s resolution provides a spectacular example of how such results are achieved. For what else does it mean when the State wishes to know whether girls/women have their parents’ consent? It was sufficient until now for girls/women to be of legal age to marry. Parental consent up until now was a social requirement. The state of Maharashtra has given its blessing for it to become a tool for interference.
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What is the rationale of the resolution?
The resolution leaves us in the dark as to the reasons and the motives for carrying out such a colossal piece of work. Which altruistic motive drives this resolution? What is to be gained by it? What is the aim of counselling non-consenting parents and their newlywed female offspring? A resolution which envisages such far-reaching enquiries and intent ought to have explained the mind of the State with a few well-chosen words. The lack thereof only affirms what the common man thinks about the State: that the State is imperious and heavy handed, and that it will do whatever it needs to meet ends that are not always in the interest of the general public.
Why are newlywed girls/women in focus in this resolution? Are women incapable of making up their minds about marriage? Are they more gullible than boys/men? Are women indeed the weaker sex? Is the State ratifying that it is so by this resolution? There is no explanation offered. We must perforce rely on our knowledge of our social order and the place of women in it to understand why girls/women have been made the focus of this resolution. We may come, rightly or wrongly to conclusions which will reflect our social standing, sex, education, and understanding of the world and our experience of it. The State, perhaps, wishes it: that we come to certain conclusions and be assured or otherwise of the State’s stand as regards that conclusion.
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Monitoring inter-religious marriages runs afoul of Constitutional rights
This now brings us to the other focus of this resolution. The special mention of inter-religious marriages and whether girls/women who have entered into such marriages have the consent of their parents. What is so special about inter-religious marriages? There is no explanation about this either.
It is significant that the intention of the State is made known orally but there is reticence in committing to this intention on paper. We are left to draw conclusions.
This resolution gives a complete go-bye to the fact of “right to marriage” having been brought under the ambit of Article 21 of the Constitution, which ensures the right to life to the citizens of this country. The “right to marry” was legally articulated by the Supreme Court’s Justice (Retd.) Markandey Katju in the case of Lata Singh vs. State of U.P. & Ors. (2006). To directly quote him, “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.”
The sentiment contained in this judgement has been repeated and echoed in many judgements passed by our Supreme Court and high courts. The passage of the State of Maharashtra’s resolution in the teeth of these judgements focuses our attention on the mighty will and indeed, need of the State to bypass existing laws in ingenious ways so as to carry out its agenda willy nilly. Such acts of earlier governments were called ‘appeasement’.
News reports of other publications suggest that the Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, while speaking of the resolution on December 15, stated, among other things, that fraud in the name of ‘love jihad’ has to be stopped, and alluded to the Shraddha Walkar case as an example of increase in cheating in inter religious marriages. It is significant that the intention of the State is made known orally but there is reticence in committing to this intention on paper. We are left to draw conclusions.
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Yet another phase of a (bold) experiment
The post facto exclusion of inter-caste marriage from the resolution by a hurried revision reveals the existence of an insidious strategy to widen the ambit of the appeased. The inclusion, however, of inter caste marriage in the original resolution was a glimpse of the baseline. As is evident from the revision, the decision to move from this baseline depends on the goals to be achieved. As much as we would like the politics of our country to be based on fixed ideologies, reality, in the form of the revision in the present case and in other forms in other cases, proves that it is not so.
In the political life of a young country such as ours, we are in a phase (I like to call it a season) of bold experiment. As a nation we wish to see whether the othering of people unlike the majority bears fruit: fruit of the kind that we have never seen or tasted in our modern lives. We did taste them in our ancient golden past. We wish to see whether the invocation and harnessing of our base instincts of othering will be judiciously used. In this mood of experimentation, we have stopped blanching at lynchings, harassment and persecution of minorities, the attempts to cull inter caste/inter religious marriages, public statements degrading women and minorities, the attempts to cull the population of the minorities through family planning, the strengthening and glorification of an already entitled majority, and much more. This resolution passed by the Government of Maharashtra is one more push towards the conduct of that experiment.
As a nation, we once needed to know. Now, however, we watch as we hurtle towards an unknown destination. Whether that destination will be desirable, remains to be seen.
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