The Madras High Court’s judgment dated 17th June 2013 became a cause for controversy and much humour on social and other media throughout the nation. The judgment apparently designated premarital sex as a mode of solemnising a marriage. Newspapers and news channels came up with their own catchy headlines and therefore the news was interpreted by people in their own way and according to their own understanding.
Facts of the case
A Hindu woman and a muslim man were living under one roof and had sexual relations. The woman gave birth to two children between 1994 and 1999. Documents proved that the man was the father of the second child and that he had applied for a family card for himself, the woman and the two children. The marriage was not registered in the Islamic marriage register. The woman was deserted by the man in 1999 and the woman in 2000 filed for maintenance for her and the two children from the man.
High Court’s Judgment
The High Court or Justice CS Karnan was of the view that a “valid marriage” does not necessarily mean that all the customary rights pertaining to the married couple are to be followed and subsequently solemnized. Solemnization of marriage is only a customary right and obligation and not a mandatory one. In the instant case, both man and the woman lived together as spouses and therefore the relationship between them cannot be termed as “illegitimate”. The Court was of the view that “ if a woman aged 18 or above has a sexual relationship with a man aged 21 or above, and during the course of such relationship, if the woman becomes pregnant, she would henceforth be treated as the wife and the man would be treated as the husband. Even if the girl does not become pregnant after having such sexual relationship with a man but if there is a strong documentary evidence to show the existence of such relationship then also the couple involved would be termed as wife and husband.”
The Court stated that the marriage formalities like exchange of garlands or rings or circling around the matrimonial fire pit or registering of marriage at a government office are only for the satisfaction of the society and the main legal aspect for valid marriage is consummation or sexual interaction. Therefore the legal rights and obligations applicable to a normal wedded couple will also be applicable to couples who have had sexual relationships which have been established.
Attack of the Media and ‘SocialNetworks’
“Couples Who Indulge in Premarital Sex to be Considered Married: Madras High Court” – India Times
“Couples who have premarital sex to be considered ‘married’- Madras HC” – The Hindu
“Pre-marital sex equals marriage, says Madras HC” – Hindustan Times
Clearly, the newspapers tried to convey the gist of the fifteen page judgment in one catchy headline. Although they succeeded in catching everyone’s eye but at the same time, deceived most of the readers. Without going through the judgment and facts of the case, people formulated opinions of their own. This was followed by an army of tweets and status updates on twitter and facebook, mocking the decision of the Honourable Court.
To understand the judgments, one needs to examine the facts of the case. In the case, a poor woman who had been deserted by her husband, was asking for a monthly maintenance. The husband and the wife had been living together for years under one roof and had children. The husband raised the contention that the marriage was not officially registered and therefore invalid. Therefore, to ensure justice, the Court held that the sexual relationship itself solemnised the marriage. We are not talking about a one-night stand or an affair which goes on for months but a relationship which continued for six years and out of which, children were begotten.
The Madras High Court very strongly objected the criticism of the verdict. Justice CS Karnan, who gave the judgment said “the court has given the legal relief to the affected woman and without fully understanding the court’s judgment, adverse comments shall not be passed.”