Case Analysis: Safiya Sultana v State of UP (Uttar Pradesh) AIR 2021 All 56

Case Analysis Safiya Sultana v State of UP Uttar Pradesh AIR 2021 All 56

Safiya Sultana v State of UP case is a case that raises concerns and questions which are not only the need of the hour but a reality-check on where our laws and society are standing or maybe are now stagnant.

Cases of honour killings, couples eloping, vigilantism on couples, moral policing of couples and discontent with couples of inter-faith or inter-religious backgrounds can be found in almost all newspapers daily.

On one hand, when the Constitution of India talks about freedom and equality, how can India continue to see such behaviour towards people who wish to spend their lives together in matrimony.

Society’s pre-conceived notions and barriers are not the only obstacles that such a couple has to face, but the law also stands as a hurdle on the track.

Inter-faith and Inter-religious marriages in India can happen under the Special Marriage Act of 1954. This law was first introduced in India by the popular British Jurist and Legal Historian, Sir Henry Maine, who by the Special Marriage Act 1872, for the very first time in India, brought frontward a legislation for inter-caste and inter-religion marriages. The law almost 150 years back was strongly opposed and sadly the society to a large extent has not fully accepted and welcomed such marriages.

Khap panchayats, religious or caste extremists and recently a few state governments all have, in one way or the other, showed their opposition to the merger of two faiths/castes. In such a society, cases like Safiya Sultana v the State of UP are a breath of fresh air in a society that has taken air in a closed container as their habitat and comfort zone.

The case argues how mandatory notice under the Special Marriage Act [4]is an invasion of privacy, an opposition to fundamental rights and in totality a friction force to the evolution of society and humanity.

This case, which initially started as an obstacle faced by Safiya and her husband in their lives, makes this country retrospect its society, changes, mentality, privacy, safety and freedom.

Legislations referred

  • Special Marriage Act,1954
  • Special Marriage Act,1872
  • Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020

Cases referred

  • Safiya Sultana v. State of UP, 2021
  • Kashmir Singh vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors., 2008.
  • Lata Singh vs. State of U.P. and Ors., 2006
  • Re: Indian Woman says gang-raped on orders of Village Court published in Business and Financial News, 2014
  • Asha Ranjan and Ors. vs. State of Bihar and Ors., 2017
  • Justice K.S. Puttaswamy and Ors. vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors., 2017.
  • R. Rajagopal and Ors. vs. State of Tamil Nadu and Ors., 1995
  • Ram Jethmalani and Ors. vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors., 2011.
  • Navtej Singh Johar and Ors. vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors., 2018.

Facts of Safiya Sultana vs State of UP Case

Parties involved

The Petitioner Smt. Safiya Sultana who was renamed as Smt. Simran, after marrying her husband Mr Abhishek Kumar Pandey and converting to Hinduism.

Respondent no. 4, who is Safiya’s father, has not been named and is referred to as Respondent no .4.

Factual Matrix

Safiya got married to Abhishek as per the Hindu religious traditions and thereafter converted her religion to Hinduism from Islam. She also changed her name to Simran after converting. The marriage took place against the wishes of Safiya’s father.

Safiya’s father did not agree to the marriage and was not permitting her to love her husband. Under the recent unlawful conversion ordinance, Safiya’s father lodged an FIR against Abhishek. [1]

The couple then filed a Habeas Corpus writ petition and approached the Allahabad High Court seeking help. The High Court asked the couple that why didn’t they get married under the Special Marriage Act.

The Couple’s lawyer expressed how under the Special Marriage Act, a notice of marriage has to be on display for thirty days. [2] The couple feared that such a notice would only invite the objections of their family and intrusion into their personal lives.

They also expressed how this requirement of notice under the Special Marriage Act causes unnecessary social pressure/interference on the couple’s free will to marry.

Court’s interest in the case after conversation with the couple

 As mentioned in the judgement file, the case’s matter would have ended right when Safiya’s Father didn’t show any resistance and accepted his daughter’s inter-faith marriage.

The Petitioner’s counsel then expressed how the situation becomes more difficult for such couples after the notification of Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020 [3].

It was expressed how after the developments in law and society in the last decade, this mandatory notice requirement was against concepts of privacy, liberty, and free choice.

The counsel expressed the need for revisiting and looking into the requirement under the Special Marriage Act and then deciding whether the requirement should be treated as obligatory or directory in nature.

The Allahabad High Court then noted that since the issues raised by the petitioners involved the questions of the Right to Life and Liberty of a significant amount of people, the high court had to ponder the submissions of the appellants.

Arguments Advanced

Petitioner

The petitioners expressed how this requirement of notice under the Special Marriage Act causes unnecessary social pressure/interference on the couple’s free will to marry.

It was stated that the situation has become more dangerous with notification of the recent ordinance [4], as it prohibits conversion of religion by matrimony.

It was also highlighted that how inter-faith young pairs are not in a position to advance issues in courts because they are already at a vulnerable dynamic with the society and further litigations would only invite more social pressure and invasion of privacy into their lives.

The petitioners submitted the issues raised are imperative and include the right of life and liberty of a big number of people in the country, so the Court must consider their submissions.

Respondent

The Father in the Court accepted Safiya is a grown-up and has married with her individual autonomy. The Respondent didn’t express disagreement in the Court and gave his best wishes to Safiya and Abhishek.

  1. Whether the society and the law has progressed since the 1872 Act [5] and thereafter 1954 Act [6] till the present, would influence the understanding of Sections 5, 6 and 7 of the Act of 1954 [7] and if with transformation the aforementioned sections are no more obligatory and binding?
  2. Should the requirement of notice under the Special Marriage Act be treated as obligatory or directory?

Considerations of the Court

The High Court took into account the fact that societal and legal changes must be kept in mind while interpreting the Act of 1954. The court relied on the Supreme Court’s decision which talked about how the higher courts always should keep in mind an eminent principle that the Court, while interpreting or understanding a current statute, essentially must consider the changes in the society’s condition. [8]

The Court also took the Law Commission reports of 2008 and 2012 in which the commission had proposed for making the procedure under the Special Marriage Act simpler and to avoid unwanted hindrances in such marriages to prospect the liberty of the couple getting married.

Development of Law

The court when on to look at the development under the Special Marriage Law and also looked at the various cases before coming to a verdict.

One of the very early relevant cases which appeared before the top court was the case of Lata Singh [9]. The High Court gave emphasis on the judgement of this case.

Here, the petitioner got married to a person outside her caste, which was strongly opposed by her family. The Supreme Court gave a strong judgement which stated that India is an independent country with democracy, and once someone attains the majority of age, they can marry whosoever they like. [10]

Over the years, courts in which families were against the solemnization of such marriages witnessed more cases. The Apex Court upheld the judgment given in Lata Singh’s case [11] multiple times. The court has always condemned the atrocious acts of families and society in several cases.

The High Court also supplied emphasis on the Supreme Court judgement, where it was found that the right of freedom of choice in matrimony is a fundamental right and an integral feature of Article 21[12]. The Supreme Court had clearly said that the State is obliged by duty to safeguard the Fundamental Rights of citizens, and an essential facet of Article 21 would be the independence of choice in marriage. [13]

Emphasis was laid on the Supreme Court’s verdict of the right in selecting a companion as a legitimate constitutional right known under Article 19.[14] It was held in the case of Asha Ranjan that a woman’s choice in choosing her spouse in life is a legit constitutional right.

It is established on individual autonomy known under Article 19. [15] These rights should not yield to the thought of “class honour” or “group thinking”. [16]

Hence, it was successfully established how the Apex court of the country has given verdicts in favour of free will to choose whom to marry and condemned any acts against such freedom.

The landmark Puttaswamy judgement, in which a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court considered the right to privacy and detail, held that individual autonomy is the capability to make verdicts on imperative subjects of concern to life. The individual has entitlements to freedom of thought and autonomy. Matter such as family, matrimony, reproduction and orientation are all vital to the individual and his esteem. [17]

The High Court laid emphasis on the Supreme Court’s observations and interpretation of Right to Privacy and, for that, the High Court looked into a variety of cases regarding Privacy as a right that applied to the case of Safiya. One of those cases was R. Rajagopal vs. State of Tamil Nadu [18] in which the Supreme Court had held that privacy is contained in the right to life and liberty under Article 21.

In Ram Jethmalani vs. Union of India [19], the Apex Court recognised privacy as an integral part of the right to life. The court also expressed that an inquisitorial order in a person’s privacy by other citizens is destructive to social order.

The High Court then laid emphasis on the Supreme Court’s observations of how life is precious and worth living because of the freedom to live life as an individual wants to. The Court observed that it is the State’s duty to safeguard this sovereignty of the citizen and not command decisions.

Privacy is definitive for the person’s sacredness and sanctity. It is a constitutional value that spans the field of fundamental rights. It protects the individual in his region of preference, independence, and autonomy. The Courts have agreed that it is a person’s choice of how he lives and in what relationship. [20]

“In an era where there are wide, varied, social and cultural norms and more so in a country like ours which prides itself on its diversity, privacy is one of the most important rights to be protected both against State and non-State actors and be recognized as a fundamental right.” [21]

In the landmark historical judgement of Navtej Singh Johar and others vs. Union of India [22] where, alongside recognising LGBTQ rights, the Supreme Court went to lengths regarding the matter of privacy and expanding the view of the expression, the Court made historical observations saying that the State has no business intruding with personal matters. Some of them apply to the Safiya Sultana’s case upon which the Allahabad HC includes:

“There can be no doubt that an individual also has a right to a union under Article 21 of the Constitution. When we say union, we do not mean the union of marriage, though marriage is a union. As a concept, the union also means companionship in every sense of the word, be it physical, mental, sexual or emotional.” [23]

Throughout the years, the Supreme Court has observed and noted that the Court should work under the direction of the principles of constitutional morality instead of societal morality.

Judges’ Observations and Statements

Then CJI SA Bobde stated every individual is authorized to execute his activities in private. Emphasis was laid down on the CJI’s words, which stated that privacy is a crucial condition for the application of most freedoms.

Justice Chelameswar in his judgement has held that the right to privacy is core freedom to be defended. He recognised privacy as a fragment of liberty within the understanding of the term under Article 21.

Justice R.F Nariman, in his judgement, went forward with categorising what privacy would mean in an Indian context. He held the fundamental right to privacy would entail privacy that involves a person, Informational privacy dealing with a person’s mind and the discretion of choice which defends the independence of an individual.

The High Court also referred to the Preamble of India and laid emphasis on how the democracy will be hollow if people in the democracy cannot make choices for themselves which affect their lives.

Journey

The Allahabad High Court, after going through the transformations, developments, advances, interpretations and expansions on the law’s horizon and rights, observed the long journey from the case of Lata Singh [24]to Navtej Johar [25].

Judgement

The Court considered the development in the law, Supreme Court’s judgements of the past, reports of the Law commission throughout the years, interpretations and statements given by many judges through the passing years and the guidelines provided by the Apex Court in the historical Puttaswamy judgement that “the law would be assessed not regarding its object but based on its effect and impact on the fundamental rights.” [26]

The Court also took time and noted how most of the marriages in India are completed under personal laws where there is no requirement of any notice.

It was held that the procedure of prior public notice under the Act of 1954[27] would invade the fundamental rights of privacy and liberty. The Court directed that a couple of their free will can choose to opt for publication of the public notice, however; the procedure is not mandatory.

The Court held that “the requirement of publication of notice under Section 6 [28] and inviting/entertaining objections under Section 7 [29] can only be read as a directory in nature, to be given effect only on request of parties to the intended marriage and not otherwise.

Analysis

The ratio decidendi of the case definitely has to be “privacy is fundamental to freedom of life and liberty”.

The obiter dicta would be the Court’s concealed message that states how the State must not interfere and govern an individual’s personal autonomous life. The High Court of Allahabad gave a judgement that was much needed in the State of Uttar Pradesh after the government’s new ordinance, which seemed to cause a significant amount of religious and social vigilantism.

After the ordinance, we all saw a rise where couples were pressured to not marry as per their will. In present-day India which takes great pride in its diversity, a law which devoid people of getting married according to of their free will to their chosen partner raised a lot of questions about the liberty, individuality, freedom, autonomy and rights of the citizens.

It must also be noted that as per records such laws have targeted a specific minority community and more than protecting a person from forced conversion, these laws appear to be more about an extremist religious ideology to keep a particular religion and gender within their controls.

At such dark times, the Allahabad High Court’s judgement comes across as a ray of hope for couples who are living in fear. The High Court gave a detailed judgement and explained how the institution of marriage and right to privacy have been under our law.

The court, by taking a walk-through memory lane, gave a reminder of how imperative privacy is. The Allahabad High Court’s judgement vis-à-vis is a judgement that gives a ray of hope to young couples who don’t believe in the boundaries created by religion, caste, background, class and other social evils and who are individuals who want to enter a union with their personal choice and free will.

Conclusion

The Allahabad High Court by this judgement has also given a fresh breath of air to the Legal system of this entire country and reminded us how the law is not just a simple code or procedure laid down in words on a paper but the law is an ever-evolving phenomenon that reflects the society, adapts with the society, has its habitat in the society and also reminds us a society that a procedure followed almost for 150 years need not mandate how today’s society wants to function and proceed.

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[1] Aditya Kohli, All You Need to Know About: Allahabad High Court’s Judgement on SMA, LEXLIFE INDIA

[2] Special Marriage Act,1954 § 6, cl. 2

[3]Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020

[4]Ibid

[5]Supra, Note 2

[6]Supra, Note 1

[7]Ibid

[8] Kashmir Singh vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors., (2008) 7 SCC 259.

[9]Lata Singh vs. State of U.P. and Ors., AIR 2006 SC 2522

[10] Ibid

[11]Supra, Note 14

[12] Indian Constitution, Art. 21

[13]In Re: Indian Women says gang-raped on orders of Village Court published in Business and Financial News, MANU / SC / 0242 / 2014

[14] Indian Constitution, Art.19

[15]Ibid

[16]Asha Ranjan and Ors. vs. State of Bihar and Ors. , AIR 2017 SC 1079

[17]Justice K.S. Puttaswamy and Ors. vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors., AIR 2017 SC 4161.

[18]R. Rajagopal and Ors. vs. State of Tamil Nadu and Ors., AIR 1995 SC 264.

[19]Ram Jethmalani and Ors. vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors., MANU / SC / 0711 / 2011.

[20]Ibid

[21]Supra, Note 16

[22]Navtej Singh Johar and Ors. vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors., AIR 2018 SC 4321.

[23]Ibid

[24]Supra, Note 12

[25]Supra, Note 20

[26]Supra, Note 16

[27]Supra, Note 1

[28]Special Marriage Act,1954 § 6

[29]Special Marriage Act,1954 § 7

 

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Rashika Bodh

Rashika Bodh

She is a BA. LLB (Hons.) 2nd Year law student at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad
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