In an instance of the law taking its own time to catch up with prevalent social
norms, the Supreme Court last week said, “there is nothing wrong in a girl
eloping to get married according to her choice if she has attained 18 years the
legal age for marriage.”
Nothing wrong with that, barring for one small
thing: Once a girl is 18, she automatically attains legal sanction to get
married. So whether she elopes for matrimony or chooses a partner to live in
with, it comes to the same thing.
Explains lawyer Arvind Jain, the author of
Hindi bestseller Aurat
Hone Ki Saza : “Indian laws are
contradictory in nature and conflict with each other at every step. According to
Section 375 of the IPC, for a girl, the age of consent for sex is 16. By making
the legal age for marriage 18, the law is — in effect — encouraging pre-marital
Jain also claims the law commission has made
many a recommendation to amend existing gender-related laws, but to no avail.
Granting bail to a boy from Karnataka who was
jailed for a year by the high court on a complaint of the parents of the girl
with whom he had eloped, a bench comprising Justices C K Thakker and Markandey
Katju sent out a warning to all parents with daughters of marriageable age. They
cannot threaten, coerce or keep in illegal confinement their daughters who have
crossed 18 years of age, it said.
The ruling also recounted from the Mahabharata
the tales of chivalry embodied in the elopement of Krishna with Rukmini. Social
commentator Shiv Visvanathan believes there could be many a social implication
of such an action.
“Myth and law cannot and should not be
confused. Time was when myths were considered religious sanction but confusing
them with laws is not such a good idea,” says Visvanathan.
Adds Futurebrand CEO Santosh Desai, “As for the
law, there’s always a dichotomy between reality and what ought to be.
if there’s an agreement between both generations (parents and children), it’s
According to author Shobhaa De, “The fact that
homosexuality is still considered ‘criminal’, says a lot about our archaic laws.
In a rapidly changing society such as ours, we need to address issues in a far
more progressive way. An 18-year-old girl is legally in charge of her life and
all decisions pertaining to herself. Given that, the ruling seems redundant and
absurd. There are far too many contradictions in our social system.
Unfortunately, the law has failed to keep pace with change.”
Commenting further on the SC ruling, Jain
explains, “There is actually a law in India that says if a girl is married off
at the age of 6 months, the marriage is valid and neither void nor voidable.
Also, according to the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, if they are married,
a 1 year old boy is the legal guardian of a 6-month-old girl. So where does the
question of a girl eloping at 18 arise at all?”
And what elopement are we talking about? Gone
are the days of knights in shining armour sweeping damsels off their feet. “In
today’s context, a girl decides who she wants to be with,” says Rakshanda Jalil,
media and cultural coordinator at Jamia Millia Islamia. “The notion of
beguilement and the whole ‘damsel in distress’ idea is a thing of the past.
Today’s girls make informed choices. And that’s the way it should be.”
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