Inter religious marriages

Justice Markandey Katju-
Justice Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.

When I was a judge in the Allahabad High Court( 1991-2004 ) many cases came before me of inter-religious marriages. Almost all such cases were of a Hindu girl who fell in love with a Muslim boy, got converted to Islam, and married him by a nikah ceremony.

In such cases, the girl’s father would file an FIR ( first information report ) before the police stating that his daughter had been abducted forcibly, and against that a petition would be filed in the High Court by the young couple.

In all these cases I would summon the couple in court ( the girl invariably came wearing a burqa ), and ascertain only two things (1) the age of the girl. If she was above 18 years of age, the law regarded her as a major ( under the Indian Majority Act, 1875 ), and so she had the legal right to marry or live with anyone she chooses, and (2) the wish of the girl.

If I was satisfied she was above 18 ( which could be ascertained from her school record or medical evidence ), and wanted to live with the young man, I quashed the FIR, set the couple free ( if they were under arrest ), and gave them police protection, if needed ( see Lata Singh vs State of UP, which judgment I gave when I was in the Supreme Court ). If she was below 18 she was sent back to her parents, as the law regarded her a minor, and therefore under her parent’s custody.

I remember only one case in the year 2000 where a Muslim girl married a Hindu young man, and the girl’s father filed an FIR alleging abduction. Against that, a petition was filed by the young couple before my court.

I summoned the couple to court. The girl was about 23 years old ( as evident from her school record and also her physical appearance ) and said before me that she wanted to live with the Hindu young man.

The previous evening a Muslim friend had come to my residence and requested that I should order the girl to be sent back to her parents, whom he evidently knew. I told him I would not have double standards. The same principle applied, whether the girl was a Hindu or Muslim. If she was above 18, she had the right to live with and/or marry whom she wished.

Next day when the case was taken up the girl’s father, who was present in court, started sobbing incessantly. He appeared to be a respectable gentleman, bearded and dressed in a sherwani.

I told him that I could understand his grief. India is still broadly a conservative country, in which Hindus would like their daughter to marry a Hindu, and Muslims with a Muslim. However, I told him, my hands were tied by the law, and according to the law once a girl is a major she can live with or marry anyone she chooses. Having said that, I decided accordingly.

This happened in the year 2000, and I was informed recently by one of girl’s male relatives who messaged me on Facebook that her family members have had no contact with her ever since. He also mentioned that she had a court marriage with the young Hindu man after the court case, and had been seen by some family member in a shop buying ‘sindoor’, ‘mangalsootra’, and Hindu idols, which showed she had converted to Hinduism. He also said she has two children, and her Hindu husband died about 8 years ago.

I messaged back that the incident happened over 20 years ago, and surely the time has now come for a reconciliation between her and her family members, letting bygones be bygones. This was particularly so since she was now a widow with two children, and would be needing support.

He replied that she is living in the same town where her parents live, but does not know exactly where. I asked him to find out, and if possible send me her email id and contact number so that I can contact her, and if required, help her. I am awaiting his response.