My Runaway Wedding. Or, How to Do National Integration in 30 Days

Neha Dixit
Grist Media
Love on two wheels by Ishan Manjrekar, used under CC BY Cropped from original


In January 2014, Samit, a 30-year-old film editor in Delhi got a phone call. His girlfriend Mohini was 24 and worked as a sub-editor in an Assamese newspaper in Guwahati. The phone call was from her father who’d just found out about their secret long-distance relationship. “He told me that if I didn’t call off the relationship, he’d inform his ULFA contacts and get rid of both me and Mohini,” Samit says.

Funny? Empty threats? Not so much. Back in Guwahati, Mohini was forced to quit her job. She was locked at home for a week until she finally ran away from home and jumped on a train to Delhi. In Delhi, 2,000 km away, they weren’t safe. Samit recalls: “Mohini’s cousins in Delhi traced us. We urgently needed to get married but we had no money to.”

* * *

On May 16, 2014, the day India elected its new government, Pradeepa, a 23-year-old engineering student in Namakkal district, Tamil Nadu, was denied examination hall tickets because she had converted to Islam to marry a man of her choice. A second year civil engineering student, she had fallen in love with J Fazil, a 23-year-old fellow student. On April 12 this year she’d married him under sharia law and their marriage certificate was issued by a government-appointed qazi the same day. Of all the problems they anticipated, not being able to do their exams was not one of them.

                                                                                           * * *

Twenty-three-year-old Manish fell in love with Khurshida, a 19-year-old, in Nilokheri village of Karnal, Haryana. In this Jat-dominated village, there were five Dalit Muslim families who lived on the outskirts of the village. They were treated as untouchables. When Manish and Khurshida finally eloped to get married in January 2014, Manish’s landowning feudal father approached the khap panchayat in the village, which in turn alerted the Muslim khap panchayat in the vicinity. “We went to the mosque because I wanted to convert to Islam for the sake of getting married. They held Khurshida hostage and called the members of both the khap panchayats. Somehow, we escaped before they arrived,” he recalls. The news had spread across villages in the next few hours. “No temple was ready to convert Khurshida to Hinduism to get us married. It had almost become a communal issue in the area,” he says.

                                                                                             * * *

 A couple of years ago, when I was protesting against my extended family’s attempts to find me a match, one of my aunts said, “If you want to go for love marriage, we have no problem. It will only save us money.” To my youthful sensibility, it seemed the most obnoxious response ever. This year I remembered what my aunt said. Here’s why.

Around the time Samit and Mohini were in trouble, my partner N and I had decided to get married. Much to our friends’ disappointment. They thought we’d failed them by succumbing to the patriarchal institution of marriage to guard our companionship. But we’d weighed it up and thought it was practical to get married – to be able to manage our crumbling finances better, to be able to live with each other without lying to landlords and real estate agents, to check in to the same room in small town hotels without scandalizing staff. We’d decided to pick our battles.

Since both of us are non-believers, we decided we’d get married under the Special Marriage Act (SMA), 1954. The SMA was enacted by Parliament to provide a special kind of marriage for all Indian nationals in India and in foreign countries, irrespective of the religion or faith followed by either party. It provides equal inheritance and divorce rights to both women and men.

My extended family was surprisingly, easily convinced. They didn’t particularly care for my loud opposition to patriarchal rituals. In fact, they had an excellent patriarchal reason to accept it. They thought civil marriage was most suitable for me, with my father being dead. Who’d make the painful and expensive arrangements for a ‘normal’ wedding? One of the only few endearing aunts I have even told me, secretly, “Perfect decision. Otherwise you’d have to do your pheras and supervise the ghee for the hawan also.”

We were lucky not to be rushed into marriage. In Chennai, the very young Pradeepa and Fazil wanted to get married right away because they were facing plenty of opposition from both parents. Pradeepa’s parents were threatening her to get her married off to a boy of their choice. “We’d heard that the court procedures are longer so we decided to go for the Islamic method which took less than half a day,” she explains. She says, “I had no choice but to convert. That was the only way to get married quickly.”

It was a month later that her college, Pavai College of Technology, told her that she and her new husband would not get hall tickets as they objected to her conversion to Islam and her inter-religious wedding. It was only after the Madras High Court intervened a week later that the college issued the couple hall tickets.

In India, more and more young people are exerting their choice when it comes to whom they marry. Breaking caste, language and religious barriers, they often court the displeasure and sometimes vengeance of their families. Sometimes just the decision to exert their choice invites punishment that ranges from emotional blackmail, ostracizing over years all the way to murder. Across the country, particularly in states like Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, numerous couples who have decided to marry on their own have been killed either on the diktats of khap panchayats or by their own families.

In the past, Hindu right wing outfits like the Bajrang Dal and the Sri Ram Sene have not just taken pride in threatening couples who break caste or religious barriers, but have also increased their visibility by doing so. They’ve formed groups like the Hindu Kanya Raksha Samiti and issued death threats to inter-caste couples.

They have accused Muslim men of carrying out a malicious campaign of conversion via seduction and marriage – aka Love Jihad.

Just a week after Pradeepa’s exam hall surprise and two days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), an affiliate organization of the winning BJP, presented a legal prohibition on ‘horizontal religious conversions’ as one of the top priorities on its wish list to the new government. (‘Horizontal’ conversion in the VHP lexicon refers to changing from one faith to another.)

This brazen cocktail of ruthless fathers, busybody cousins and violent religious organizations does have one happy by-product: the lucrative business of organizing weddings for runaway couples. A business that I was to get to know intimately rather soon.

How to be civil in marriage. Or not.

Our first visit to make an inquiry about the proceedings should have warned us. The entrance to the newly constructed Saket court complex in south Delhi, next to mammoth shopping malls, is fenced with lawyers in black coats, clutching thin stacks of files. Each time a new entrant passes through the security gate, they break into a song of “Challan-bail-shaadi-affidavit- haan ji-Challan-bail-shaadi-affidavit-haan ji?

As we pushed through the passage towards the enquiry section to find out the procedure for a civil marriage, a thin, short man with neatly oiled hair moved towards us. His eyes had judged us and found us wanting. “Sir, at least tell what do you want. You want to get married?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Do you want to know the procedure? Come with me, no charges for explaining,” he said. We looked at each other in approval and agreed to be explained to.

Om Prakash, in his early 30s, from Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, was pleased to learn that I was from UP too. Three of us walked towards the lawyers’ chambers. The paan stains on the newly constructed yellow spiral staircase were so uniform that they seemed like art. Giant photos of candidates for the Bar Council elections wished a happy Dussehra, Diwali, Eid, Guru Parv, Christmas, New Year and Republic Day to the visitors – all in one go. There couldn’t have been a more assuring token display of secularism – as it turned out, the last token display of secularism that day.

Om Prakash took us to a narrow chamber on the third floor shared by three more lawyers. He placed himself on a chair behind the furthest table and asked us to join him.

“Now tell me your exact requirement,” he said, thumping the table.

“We are here for a civil marriage,” N said.

“No problem. It can be done,” he said in a reassuring tone.

“How long does the whole procedure take?” N asked.

“One week.”

“Just one week? What are the requirements?” N asked. We had heard that the Special Marriage Act takes a month.

“Two garlands, two witnesses, your date of birth certificate and residence proof.”

“Garlands for what?” N was a bit foxed.

“We will take you to the Arya Samaj Mandir, get the two of you to exchange garlands and do a havan. Once the pujari issues the marriage certificate and we get the pictures, we will submit the application in the court. The judge will call you in the next ten days for approval,” he explained.

“No, but we want a court wedding not an Arya Samaj wedding,” I said.

“This is a court wedding,” he argued.

“Under Special Marriage Act,” I said emphatically.

“Wait, what is your name?” he asked pointing his finger towards me.

“Neha Dixit.”

“And what is yours?” He asked N.

“N Sawhney.”

“Hmmm. That’s what. Sawhney and Dixit. Both will come under Hindu Marriage Act. This is safe, don’t worry. Parents will not even come to know,” he said.

“No, our parents will be a part of it. We want a civil marriage.”

“Why? Both of you are Hindus.”

“I am not a Hindu. Technically, I am a Sikh,” N corrected him.

“But Sikh is also Hindu!” he clapped his hands in triumph. N told me later that for a moment, he was distracted by an irrational rage at Om Prakash’s cavalier dismissal of the entire Khalistan movement. (Recently, the Anand Marriage Act, 2014 was announced for registration of Sikh couples. Until then, Sikh couples abroad who didn’t want to be identified as Hindu were stymied by marriage certificates issued under the Hindu Marriage Act.)

“No, we don’t want a religious wedding,” N said.

“Why? Both of you are Hindus. Why should Hindus run from Hinduism, Nehaji? You are from my part of the world. You’ll wear ver-meee-llion after the wedding anyway. So what’s the big deal?” he gave me a slimy grin.

“No, I will not,” I replied.

This was clearly a blow to his conception of what a decent girl from his part of the world is like. But he continued the conversation, “But it’s not possible. Two Hindus can only marry under the Hindu Marriage Act.”

“Why not the Special Marriage Act?” N asked.

“That’s for different religions. You cannot go for it unless one of you converts to some other religion like Islam or Christianity,” said Om Prakash.

“But we don’t believe in any religion at all. We are atheists, agnostics – something like that,” said N.

Om Prakash had an expression – like the hapless hero of a Ramsay horror who’d discovered that the sultry heroine was actually a witch. “That’s very difficult. There is no provision to convert to atheism.”

We looked at each other. I could see N was done. I could also see he was irritated with me for looking like I was willing to negotiate, for not storming out.

“What is the procedure to get married under the Hindu Marriage Act?” I asked.

“As I explained earlier, we can get it done quickly. We charge Rs 25,000, which includes Arya Samaj Mandir expenses, affidavits, attestation from a gazetted officer, a photographer to take your pictures and a wedding card as a proof of your wedding. Next day, we will file for registration.”

We left.

Om Prakash and his associate Bhagwan Jha claim to conduct 15-20 such weddings every month. Most of his clients are ‘runaway couples’ who are often in a hurry to get married for fear of non-consenting parents, as in the case of Samit and Mohini, sometimes even seeking protection from the court because their families have threatened to kill them. These couples on the run often don’t enjoy the luxury of rejecting Om Prakash, of finding a way to celebrate their marriage in a way that affirms their own belief systems. They are told that the usual process entails an Arya Samaj wedding, and that’s what they get.

Then there’s the cost. Based on our spot poll of all the touts at the Saket court and through online consultations, we put together a current rate list for ‘runaway’ couples to get married.

Arya Samaj wedding

1. Basic wedding: Rs 5,000-Rs 8,000

2. Wedding, materials and photographer: Rs 10,000

3. Combo package, including a wedding and court registration: Rs 15,000-20,000

4. Combo package with two witnesses and complete documents: Rs 22,000-25,000

5. Combo package with two witnesses and complete documents, all in one day: Rs 40,000-50,000

6. Combo package, two witnesses, complete documents and police protection, all in one day: Rs 65,000-75,000

Muslim wedding

Since government registration is still not mandatory for Muslim couples, the legal services double up as matrimony facilitators for mixed couples where one of the partners wishes to convert to Islam. Muslim weddings are conducted and approved by Qazis.

1. Marriage with certificate: up to Rs 10,000

2. Marriage with certificate and conversion of one partner to Islam: Rs 30,000

3. Marriage with certificate, conversion and police protection: Rs 35,000-Rs 70,000, depending on the availability of documents.

Marriages between Muslims, Hindus and Christians under the Special Marriage Act

1. Application submission with attestations and affidavits: Rs 6,000-Rs10,000

2. Application with attestations, affidavits and supporting identity documents: Rs 25,000

3. All-in-one, including three witnesses and complete documents: Rs 25,000-Rs 35,000

4. All-in-one with police protection: Rs 40,000-Rs 70,000

When Mohini caught the getaway train to Delhi, Samit didn’t have a stable job at the time, nor proof of residence in Delhi. They couldn’t afford the going rates to get married. “We sought help from Love Commandos [a group that offers help to eloping couples] who were ready to rob us of whatever we had,” he says. Samit says the Love Commandos asked for Rs 10,000.When some friends stepped in with money they could finally get married – in an Arya Samaj Mandir.

Grist Media

Going To The Arya Samaj. Gonna Get Married

Before the Hindu Marriage Act was passed in 1955, which allowed inter-caste marriages and equal divorce rights to men and women, people who wanted to remain Hindus but marry across caste could only do so under the Arya Marriage Validation Act of 1937. Arya Samaj marriages were used more as a euphemism for ‘irregular marriages’. Apart from inter-caste marriages, the Arya Marriage Validation Act allowed the marriages of widows and converts from other religions after a shuddhi.

In case of a Hindu and a non-Hindu marrying, the conversion to Hinduism is done after a controversial ‘purification’ ritual called shuddhi executed by the Arya Samaj temple priests. Thereafter, the couple goes to the District Court for registration under the Hindu Marriage Act along with age proof, residential proof and two witnesses. After that, couples who fear violence from their families can apply to the High Court for police protection.

Not that protection from the law is guaranteed even to couples who enter holy matrimony.

In January this year, the Punjab and Haryana High court passed an unusual judgment. Justice Paramjeet Singh, on hearing the plea of a runaway couple seeking court protection, asked the groom to make a fixed deposit of Rs 2 lakh in the bride’s name and present the receipt in the courts. The court’s intent, according to a news report, was to “[gauge] the bona fides of the grooms and the genuineness of the relationship after judging the monetary competence of the grooms to carry on with the relationships and their willingness to deposit the money in the bride’s name.”

Justice Singh added that the court had come across cases where girls returned to their parents after being robbed of their “chastity”. “Can procurers and panders be allowed to lure innocent young girls in full bloom and put their lives in peril? This is the question, which this court is confronted with. Another question is how to combat the hideous monster, the masked man, to protect the safety and purity of womanhood.” The couple got married in a temple but their plea for court protection was turned down.

As if this wasn’t enough, the courts have gone one step further in characterizing marriages where two adults have made their own choice. In 2011, a bench comprising Justices Dalip Singh and Sajjan Singh Kothari of the Rajasthan High Court stated that marriages based on the right to choose, more generally known as love marriages, were examples of “lust and greed”! The judges remarked, “The pious purpose of the Arya Samaj mission has been lost sight at [sic] by local units in the state and they are becoming tool [sic] for pacification of ‘greed and lust’ for girl and boy, and once it is over the marriage lands in courts resulting in irreversible breakdowns”. And that: “It takes them one hour to solemnise a marriage between an 18-year-old girl and a 38- or 40-year-old gentleman, which leaves scars forever in the life of parents who bring up their children with great passion and aspirations. Such marriages in lust and greed by young blood cannot be said to be correct.”

It is in the same spirit that on May 9, 2013, a bench of the Uttarakhand High Court delivered a judgment barring the Arya Samaj from issuing marriage certificates to couples. This makes the state, which is accountable for upholding the constitutional rights of citizens, complicit in regressive, patriarchal extra-constitutional practices.

Pandit Vidyadhar Shastri, who is the chief priest at the Arya Samaj Mandir in Saket, Delhi says, “We do solemnize weddings of a number of eloped couples. In our personal capacity we may have problems with them hurting the feelings of their parents but in principle we do not turn down any such request. In fact, we have engaged lawyers ourselves to facilitate it for the couples.”

 

* * *

 

In Nilokheri village, young Manish and Khurshida didn’t know what to do. Conversion was not working out. And they didn’t know any other way to get married.

A friend told them to get in touch with the All-India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), the women’s wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) who have helped such couples in the past. “We didn’t have money to run away to another city nor were we educated enough to know the government procedures. Both the communities were chasing us and saying that we were doing was illegal. We couldn’t believe it was so difficult to be with each other,” says Khurshida.

Jagmati Sangwan, the national vice president of AIDWA, who has tirelessly fought for twenty years against the atrocities of khap panchayats in Haryana and ensured human rights for over 200 such couples, is of the view that the state has very often failed its citizens by not just pushing them towards religious patriarchal structures in matters of love but has also indulged in moral policing itself. AIDWA activists worked hard to pacify the family members and the khaps to ensure that neither community looked at it as a case of religious conversion in the ‘garb of love marriage.’

Sangwan says, “We got Manish and Khurshida married under the Special Marriage Act tactically, to prevent what was taking the shape of a communal issue. The families have dissociated themselves with the couple but at least so many lives were saved from a communal riot in the area.” In January 2014 after getting married, Khurshida and Manish moved to Delhi.

Sangwan says, “Courts, khap panchayats and right wing groups have been similar [in their treatment of] the couples. All demand parent’s validation for consenting adults to choose their life partners. It’s because of the lack of state support [that] couples are forced to run away to other cities, making themselves all the more vulnerable to scamsters who take them to Arya Samaj temples and mosques and get conned without legal proof of marriage. Communal issues are also unnecessarily often flared up in cases of inter-religious marriages for lack of state support.”

It is in this context that the Special Marriage Act (SMA), 1954 is not just an important tool for consenting adults but also integral to the larger secular structure of India.

A Very Special Marriage Act

The Special Marriage Act embodies all contradictions of liberal citizenship. It is a civil and secular law of marriage. It has been argued that the SMA will be a basis for the future Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India, which has been recently brought back to the fore by the newly elected NDA government.

Scholars also claim that SMA in the current form is seen as being more aligned with feminist principles of marriage, inheritance and divorce as compared to the UCC, which caters to patriarchal Hindu family values. Naveen TK, a legal academic who teaches at IIT Delhi, says, “SMA can definitely provide a framework or a template for UCC, but the triumph of SMA remains in the fact that it is not dominated by the Hindu majority laws or the right wing.”

Perveez Mody in her excellent book, The Intimate state: Love-Marriage and the Law in Delhi, that documents the role of the laws of the land in cases of self-choice marriages in Delhi writes, “It is noteworthy that SMA and uniform civil code were both opposed together in the Parliament in 1951 because they were seen as a threat to ‘Hindu India’.”

In 1996, a

Supreme Court judgment included a discussion of the value of “inter-caste, inter-religion, and inter-region marriages” for promoting national unity. The decision cited the Special Marriage Act of 1954 as well as the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, which could be used for such marriages (the latter encompasses a broad definition of ‘Hindu’, and can be used for marriages between Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs).

At the Delhi Saket Court Registrar. Photo credit Aniruddha Shankar

The SMA is also seen as woman-friendly in the sense that it limits the application of personal law in family affairs. In India, family affairs like marriage, divorce and succession are governed by a different set of laws according to faith, which are known as personal laws. Divorce by triple talaq does not apply to Muslim women married under SMA. Women across religions are entitled to equal inheritance, while they may not under personal laws. According to legal experts, the Indian Succession Act is applicable to both men and women married under the Special Marriage Act, which is far more egalitarian than the personal laws.


The SMA was originally Act III of 1872. It was introduced by Henry Sumner Maine, a British comparative jurist and historian. Maine is well known for his
thesis that in ancient societies individuals were tied to status of traditional groups. In the modern one, the thesis argues, individuals are seen as autonomous agents who are free to make contracts or associations with whomever they choose.

Meshing with this worldview, Henry Maine’s Act III of 1872 permitted “any dissenters [from religion] to marry whomever they chose under the new civil marriage law.” The puritanical administrators and representatives from the local government in India responded with disdain and opposed Maine’s Bill. They were of the view that the particular legislation would not just lead to immorality but also encourage marriages based on lust.



Religion and Personal Law in Secular India, a 2001 book edited by Gerald James Larson mentions that independent India introduced an element of choice while retaining personal laws through the SMA, 1954: “The Special Marriage Act of 1872 had provided a code of general law under which couples could choose to marry and divorce, but in order to utilize this option they had to affirm that neither was a Christian, Jew, Hindu, or Muslim. In effect they had to renounce their religious and property relations with their families. In 1954, Parliament passed a new Special Marriage Act that eliminated the onerous renunciatory costs of availing of civil marriage.”



The SMA, 1954, allowed individuals the freedom to defy both caste and religion in the case of marriage. While the bill was being argued, the SMA was seen as being for the westernized urban elite, while the Hindu Marriage Act, was seen as being for the larger majority. At the time, several MPs objected that the law was destroying society by facilitating inter-caste marriages and hurting the idea of family by introducing divorce.

* * *

In contemporary times, the process of a civil marriage in India, however, is subject to a number of conditions. Conditions that negate the Supreme Court judgment’s dream of abolishing the caste and religion divide through inter-caste marriage.

According to the law, any unmarried, sane, consenting adults, where the bridegroom is over 21 years of age and the bride is over 18, and who are unrelated within the degrees of prohibited relationship irrespective of faith or caste, can get married under the SMA. The only exception is in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, where it does not apply. It shouldn’t cost anything and requires no ritual.

However, the SMA has its own shortcomings. Touts Om Prakash and Bhagwan Jha were a clear window into the conditions under which many couples who want a court wedding never get a chance to negotiate their right to get married under the secular SMA. In my case, where we had the luxury of time and money and the opportunity to figure out what we really believed in, it was still not very easy to get endorsed by this law. After we ditched the touts and their many wares there was still a lot to trudge through in pursuit of our secular dream.

As a nation drunk on Bollywood weddings, it is only runaway couples who we see getting married in court in films, be it the famous Bombay or the flop Ahista Ahista, where the protagonist earns his living by appearing as a witness to the marriages of eloped couples in court. Popular culture has therefore conveniently marginalized the SMA instead of bringing it into mainstream culture.

We had to furnish copies of our passports to establish permanent addresses, our PAN card copies, our Class 10 certificates to prove our age, and copies of our rent agreement, electricity and water bill. Also, while the Supreme Court noted in September 2013 that the Aadhaar card was not mandatory for marriage registration, apart from other things, the notification of the judgment had not reached the lower courts in January 2014. This is why we were also required to give copies of our Aadhar cards, which we had to run one more marathon to acquire.

Additionally, since one of us had given a rent agreement copy, we needed a separate round of police verification and a guarantee from the neighbors that they had known me for over six months. We were also required to furnish the identity proof, Aadhar card copies and photos of three witnesses (as compared to two under the Hindu Marriage Act) a full month in advance.

In Delhi, 55 percent of citizens still do not have ration card, the most basic identity card. In comparison, the need for the above listed documents is a clear attempt at marginalizing SMA to a privileged small group.

 

But troubles don’t end with acquiring these documents. As soon as the complete application is submitted in court, one set of notices announcing your intention to marry is pasted outside the marriage office. And another set is dispatched – hold your breath – to the families of the two parties. This is done 30 days in advance to invite objections, if any, from acquaintances and family. Interestingly, unlike the SMA, no such notice is required in ‘regular’ religious marriages. All states in India except Delhi follow this infantilizing practice.

In a landmark judgment by Justice S Ravindra Bhat of the Delhi High Court in April 2009, the practice of sending notices to the homes of couples desirous of solemnizing their marriage under the SMA was curbed. But in practice, it still continues in most Delhi courts as officials fear the wrath of the parents of the couples or moral policing groups.

An official in the Magistrate's office who did not wish to be identified said to me, “There are anti-Love Jihad groups who are regulars here checking for inter-religious weddings. They then inform the parents of the couple. ”

Another report suggests that the administrations in Ghaziabad, Noida and Gurgaon in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana insist on illegally dispatching these notices but are not willing to bear the expenses of doing so. They insist that couples provide pre-addressed, pre-stamped envelopes beforehand. Couples in these towns have to publish an advertisement of their proposed marriage in a leading newspaper and submit a copy of the published advertisement to the office of the marriage officer.

In Gurgaon, the Deputy Commissioner’s office has taken pains to add a column for specifying the applicants’ religion in the ‘Intent to Marry’ form and an additional point about the citizenship of the applicants in the declaration form.

Sangwan has recently appealed to the Haryana government, asking that the 30-day rule under SMA be done away with. She says, “SMA in its present form is no different from the khap panchayats. Both ask for parents’ consent. Moreover, its complicated proceedings force the majority of couples on the run, confronted by various hostile and complex sociopolitical pressures, to opt for a religious form of marriage.”

The number of SMA marriages is fairly low when compared to religious ones. A 2002 media report suggested that in a period of one year, while 1,100 marriages were registered under Hindu Marriage Act in Chandigarh, only 49 marriages were registered under the SMA in a period of 10 months.

Another fall-out of the complicated procedures and general atmosphere of transgression is the rising number of illegal inter-religious marriages, especially in Tamil Nadu. In the hurry to get married, many couples registered under the Tamil Nadu Registration of Marriages Act (TNRMA), 2009, and managed to get married the same day only to realize years later that their marriage was invalid.

After spending close to Rs 5,000 in running costs, on the day we submitted our application to the Mehrauli Badarpur Magistrate’s office, the Additional District Magistrate asked, “Why do you want to marry under the SMA when you can marry under the Hindu Marriage Act? Such a complicated procedure!”

I was about to explain the intended logic when N, anticipating further trouble, cut me short and manufactured the reason, “Sir, my parents want us to marry under the Sikh customs and her parents want us to marry under the Hindu customs. That is why we have convinced them of our marriage under the SMA.”

“Oh, okay. That makes sense,” he replied.

Religion triumphed over rationality and our application was accepted.

Neha Dixit is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi. She blogs at http://neha-dixit.blogspot.in/