On July 5, the Bombay High Court issued notice seeking response from the government of Maharashtra in the public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed in the court, contesting the state government resolution to set up a committee overseeing inter-religious marriages in Maharashtra. In December 2022, the Maharashtra government had approved the aforementioned government resolution to formulate an Inter-Faith Marriage Family Coordination Committee.
Acting Chief Justice Nitin Jamdar and Justice Arif Doctor, sitting as a division bench, sent a notice to the State, directing it to respond to the plea within two weeks, and set the matter for hearing three weeks later.
It is essential to note that the said PIL petition was filed by four non-governmental organisations (NGOs), namely Citizens for Justice and Peace, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Forum against oppression of women, and Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy. The NGOs had submitted that the Court to issue directions against the implementation of the government resolution.
Major contentions raised in the PIL:
- Prejudice and discriminatory- The resolution designated the head of the committee to be the Minister heading the State’s Ministry for Women and Children’s Development. The argument made in the petition, filed through advocate Rishika Agarwal, claimed that the committee’s establishment was prejudiced and discriminatory towards specific religious communities as well as all women. It was further contended that the committee formulation promoted divisiveness rather than creating peace and coexistence among various religious factions.
“By using the inherently questionable protection of women as a paradigm and tracing inter-religious relationships only through women, the Maharashtra government is displaying discrimination on basis of gender as also denying women their own agency and choice,” the petition had stated.
- Violation of fundamental rights of women- The petition had argued that the fundamental rights of women guaranteed under Articles 14 (right to equality), 15 (prohibition of discrimination on the ground of religion, race, caste, gender, or place of birth), 19 (freedom of speech and expression) and 21 (right to life and personal liberty) of the Constitution were being violated.
- Lack of data safety and accountability- Additionally, the petition also contended that the resolution failed to place any measures to protect the data and information collected by the committee.
“There is no security and accountability provided in terms of data collection, making it exceptionally vulnerable to be misused, apart from being a direct violation of the fundamental right to privacy of two consenting married adults” the plea stated.
- Violation of privacy, question on requirement- The petition further emphasized that there had been no prior research on the actual need for constituting such a committee. It added that the resolution was a violation of the right to privacy. Even if it were to be accepted as reasonable, the same ought to have been done by a legislation and not through an executive decision, the petitioners had contended.
“The right to privacy guaranteed under Constitution of India is not taken away merely because the woman has married outside her faith”, the petition had stated further.
Background of the Maharashtra government resolution
On December 13, 2022, the Maharashtra Government had issued the impugned Government Resolution, cashing in on the gruesome murder of Shraddha Walkar in Delhi allegedly by her inter-faith live-in partner. It was purported that the committee was meant to provide a platform to ‘counsel, communicate and resolve’ issues between couples and families. According to the GR, the committee could intervene at the behest of any person, which the plea alleges is a breach of the couple’s privacy “especially when two consenting adults are married to each other”. Furthermore, it was provided that the committee can seek information of both registered and unregistered marriages.