CHENNAI: Forty seven years after Tamil Nadu became the first and the only state to legalise suyamariyathai (self-respect) marriages, which radically simplified weddings by shunning mandatory brahmin priests, holy fire, saptapadi (seven steps) and mangalsutra, the Madras high court has refused to declare the system illegal.

When C N Annadurai became chief minister of Tamil Nadu in 1967, marking culmination of Dravidian movement founded by EVR Periyar in 1925, the first file he signed was to legalise self-respect marriages which then became an Act in 1968.

It sought to do away with saptapadi – the seven steps around holy fire in the presence of a brahmin priest – and said simple ceremonies conducted in the presence of friends and relatives, where garlands or rings are exchanged, would be valid marriage.

The present PIL filed by advocate A Asuvathaman said saptapadi was an important ritual, and added that the amendment had attempted to bring in the philosophy of a political movement.

Suyamariyathai weddings were not in conformity with the customary rites and ceremonies and hence the amendment providing for them should be declared unconstitutional, he said.

Dismissing the PIL against the state amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act, the first bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice T S Sivagnanam said: “The Hindu religion by itself is pluralist in character and thus various forms of marriage have traditionally existed depending on the area and the custom prevalent therein. Section 7-A (inserted by Tamil Nadu government in 1968) provides for a particular kind of marriage – suyamariyathai marriages – among two Hindus. It has also stood the test of time, now for half a century.”

The judges said the PIL had served the only purpose of raising a “divisive issue, as if we have any shortage of the same.”

“In such matters of personal law, the option given to the parties cannot be said to be one which is hit by any provision of the Constitution,” they said.

Quoting from the Supreme Court verdict in S Nagalingam vs Sivagami, the judges said the amendment inserted by Tamil Nadu applied to any marriage between two Hindus solemnized in the presence of relatives, friends or other persons.

“The main thrust of this provision is that the presence of a priest is not necessary for the performance of a valid marriage. The parties can enter into a marriage in the presence of relatives or friends of other persons, and each party to the marriage should declare in the language understood by the parties that each takes the other to be his wife or her husband, and the marriage would be completed by a simple ceremony requiring the parties to the marriage to garland each other or put a ring upon any finger of the other or tie a thali (mangalsutra).”

The judges further said any of these ceremonies would be sufficient to complete a valid marriage.

They said the PIL had not placed any material to dislodge the presumption with regard to the validity of the statute. In the absence of such materials, the question of striking down the state amendment did not arise at all, the judges said.

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Source: TOI-Che