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Arya Samaj weddings don’t need registration under Special Marriage Act: SC stays MP HC order

Apex court prima facie accepted view of the Madhya Bharat Arya Pratinidhi Sabha, and stayed 2020 HC order that had directed it to amend its guidelines according to 1954 law.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court Monday prima facie accepted the view of an Arya Samaj organisation that weddings solemnised under the Arya Samaj tradition do not need registration under the Special Marriage Act (SMA), 1954. The court stayed a 2020 Madhya Pradesh High Court (HC) order directing the organisation to amend its guidelines in accordance with the Act.

The apex court was hearing a petition filed by the Madhya Bharat Arya Pratinidhi Sabha, which has jurisdiction over all Arya Samaj temples in Madhya Pradesh. 

In its petition which questioned a 2020 HC order that had directed it to amend its guidelines for registration of Arya Samaj weddings in line with the SMA the Sabha said that with respect to Arya Samaj marriage, the Hindu Marriage Act (HMA), 1955, and the Arya Marriage Validation Act (AMA), 1937, hold the field. 

Appearing for the Sabha, senior advocate Shyam Divan and lawyer Vanshaja Shukla argued that the HC had committed an error in transgressing into the domain of legislature it had directed the petitioner to comply with SMA provisions and solemnise all weddings performed at Arya Samaj temples in the state under the special marriage law, when no such requirement has been imposed by the legislature.

The genesis of the matter lies in a petition filed by a runaway inter-caste couple before the HC in early 2020. The couple had stated in their petition that they got married according to the Arya Samaj tradition, and approached the court seeking direction to the state to grant them protection. 

Before the HC, the Sabha had denied the couple’s claim that theirs was an Arya Samaj marriage, and said the organisation that helped them marry was not linked to the Sabha.

However, the single bench in December 2020 issued specific directions to the Sabha to amend its guidelines to incorporate sections 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the SMA which cite prerequisite conditions like giving notice of the intended marriage, publication of the notice, maintenance of a marriage notebook, objection to marriage and the procedure within a month. 

In December 2021, a bench of two judges upheld the 2020 verdict, and further directed that the marriage certificates will have to be issued by a competent authority in accordance with the SMA.

Such a direction, the Sabha argued, takes away the power to issue certificates for marriage from Arya Samaj temples.

The SC bench, led by Justice K.M. Joseph, not only stayed the operation of the HC judgment, but also issued notice to the state of Madhya Pradesh.

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Sabha’s guidelines have ‘inherent safeguards’

During the hearing, the Sabha’s counsel argued that unlike the SMA, the AMA and HMA do not have any prerequisite conditions for solemnising a marriage between two Arya Samajis. 

However, the guidelines of the Sabha on marriage have inherent safeguards, they further said, adding that while solemnising marriages, Arya Samaj temples affiliated to the Sabha strictly follow procedure with respect to proof of age of the parties, and their mutual consent.

Arguing in favour of setting aside the impugned judgment, the Sabha said the HC had failed to appreciate the legislative scheme of AMA and HMA. AMA does not invalidate a marriage if the parties belong to different castes or sub-castes of Hindus, or if both parties at any time before the marriage belonged to a religion other than Hinduism, the petitioner’s counsel said.

HC order ‘violates’ Sabha’s rights under Constitution

The HC judgment violates the Sabha’s rights enshrined under the Constitution, particularly Articles 25 and 26, that protect the rights of a religious denomination to conduct its own religious affairs, the counsel argued.

Moreover, it said that the HC had mistakenly equated certificates of marriage issued by Arya Samaj Temples and the competent authority under SMA. 

The certificate issued by the temple is a mere acknowledgement of the fact that the two individuals were wedded in the presence of authorised persons of the petitioner and does not, at all, intend to be recognised as a certificate under the SMA, the counsel said.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

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