Registered, inter-faith marriages on the rise

By Huned Contractor

PUNE: When Suresh Nikam and Razia Shaikh get married early next month, they will only add to the already increasing number of registered marriages. They will also add to the rising number of inter-religious marriages.

As per statistical data obtained from the marriage registrar's office at Bibewadi, there has been a substantial growth in the number of couples opting for a registered marriage.

In 1998, there were 645 registered marriages in the Pune region. The figure rose to 696 in 1999 and 765 in the year 2000. Out of these, the percentage of inter-religious marriages, has increased from 17 per cent in 1998 to 18 per cent in 1999 and 23 per cent in 2000.

"The increase is not related to increase in population. Pune is only next to Mumbai in taking the lead in registered marriages and we have first-hand accounts to prove that education has played a major role in couples opting for registered marriages. This is more so in the case of working couples, who understand how important it is to save money in today's hard times," says marriage registrar V D Aher.

The dominating factor in the case of inter-religious marriages, however, continues to be opposition from family members. "Surprisingly," informs Aher, "the inter-caste barriers are not as strong as before and we find young couples have no problems with issues of high and low caste."

Jeevan Paigude and Laxmi are one such couple who fell in love while doing their third year commerce. When their affair came to light, the Paigude family protested against what they thought would be a sacrilege of sorts.

The reason: Laxmi belonged to the backward class and was an orphan raised by her grandparents. Jeevan remained firm and the couple opted for a registered marriage with Laxmi's relatives as witnesses. "The decision to marry is something so personal, that I don't think anyone has the right to create objections based on religious hogwash," says Jeevan who has, since February, shifted to a rented apartment so that his wife will not be harassed by family members in his absence.

"Even those who can afford to splurge on extravagant celebrations are giving a serious thought to a simple registered ceremony in the presence of a few relatives and close friends, because they understand that money saved can be utilised to invest in a better future," states Aher. That apart, more and more couples are obtaining their certificates of marriage from the registrar's office.

"People now realise that religious rites alone cannot make for proof of marriage when it comes to applying for passports, or to initiate a joint enterprise. This is also true when there arises a need to apply for family visas or migration," says Aher. Overall, therefore, the number of marriages registered have climbed up from 6,804 in 1999 to 7,698 in 2000.

The only spanner in the promotion of registered marriages, as some lawyers feel, is that the rules have been made "unnecessarily" complicated. The revised Maharashtra Marriage Act of 1998 stipulates that photographs, proof of age and residence are to be submitted not only by the couples, but also by witnesses. Earlier, just about anyone could sign as a witness. "They are only increasing the documentation. Of what purpose is it to know where the witnesses stay?" asks advocate Pradeep Deshmukh, who operates on the pavement outside the registrar's office.

"What we are trying to do is maintain proper records which are of help to the police should anything untoward happen in cases where couples have married against family wishes. Earlier, there was no way we could track down witnesses," explains Aher. This irritating addition is, of course, no match for the fact that a registered marriage costs only six rupees. And for those who marry "below their caste," the Social Welfare Department of the Zilla Parishad gifts a monetary incentive which, according to social welfare officer S M Bhor, amounts to Rs 15,000.

Referred by: Mukundan CM
Published on: May 4, 2001
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