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Podcast: Why This Kerala Woman Won't Stop Fighting For Interfaith Couples

The Special Marriage Act mandates publishing of personal information of interfaith couples. Athira wants this to go.

Published
Podcast
3 min read

Miyaan biwi razi, but interfaith marriages in some parts of India, not so easy. Athira Sujatha from Kerala knows this too well.

Athira moved the Supreme Court challenging the provisions of the Special Marriage Act, 1954, that mandate the publishing of the personal information of interfaith couples before 30 days of their wedding. India's apex court refused to entertain her petition. On 29 August, the apex court dismissed it.

What made her move the Supreme Court? How do interfaith couples react to the times we live in?

"What happened in Supreme Court was definitely disappointing, but not something that I did not expect. It would have been a bonus if the SC had even heard the case, but they didn't. In a way, I'm actually happy that there was some sort of decision that has come because I applied the petition in 2020."
Athira Sujatha to The Quint
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The Athira-Shamim Love Story

"You know, before we started dating, I was very clear that I will not marry a Muslim," Athira says, narrating how she met Shamim, now her husband, almost 16 years ago through a common friend.

"We met, and then we got to talking and there was a sense of comfort. Right? That's what we both felt in the relationship. We both were just at ease, and did not have to be someone else."

So did the fact that she was a practicing Hindu and he a Muslim matter when they decided to get hitched?

"We were very clear that we would want to get married only after our parents are also bought into this idea. So we waited. Once we were financially independent, we had much more confidence to basically go to our parents and present this to them. My parents, after they met Shamim, were completely fine with us going ahead," she added.

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The First Experience Of External Resistance

The first time they went to apply for a marriage license through the Special Marriage Act was also the first time that they realised the possibility of external resistance.

"When we applied to the Register Office under the Special Marriage Act, he asked for a 'residence certificate' from the village office. We went to the village office with my father, I was asked if I was eloping. They just assumed that there is no blessing from the parents, which is usually the case. Or they just assume that all these naive women are basically being trapped by Muslim men, and they will be converted, and they are basically going to be taken to Syria, and all the other regular stereotypes."
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The Online Harassment

Two weeks after the couple submitted their application, Shamim got a notification on Facebook that a photo, similar to him, has been uploaded, and whether he would like to tag himself.

"He saw our application, along with 120 other applications, uploaded by a person who sits out of the US, and is known to be a doctor. The post had photos of around 120 couples who had registered in the last one month. Once we all reported and got the post pulled down, we realised that it was being shared on WhatsApp. Once something is on WhatsApp, there is no way to stop it."

Athira took to social media to post about how the Kerala government also published the details of interfaith couples, seeking to marry, online which put them at risk.

"How is the government going to protect us from the rampant misuse of such publicly available personal identifiable information," she asked Kerala Registration Minister G Sudhakaran by tagging him in the post.

The Kerala government decided to do away with the practice of publishing notices for marriages under the Special Marriage Act online. But Athira was determined to move the apex court after her wedding.

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What Next For Athira

But the pandemic delayed the proceedings, with the petition being listed before the supreme court almost two years after it was filed.

A bench of Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Bela M Trivedi on 29 August refused to entertain a public interest litigation challenging provisions of the Special Marriage Act mandate publishing the personal information of interfaith couples before their wedding.

“See, you are not an aggrieved person. We are trying to understand, if we take up this constitutional validity at your instance and pronounce on it that it is valid against you, would that bind everybody? Where is the genuine litigant who has got a grievance against these provisions?” the SC Bench asked.

But Athira is not willing to give up her fight.

"Now I feel more confident to understand what my next step should be, and I can actually regroup with my team and then re-strategise on how I'm planning to go about with it," she told The Quint.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Edited By :Garima Sadhwani
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