The Kerala Minister of Public Works and Registration G Sudhakaran has instructed that application forms for marriages under the Special Marriage Act should not be uploaded online anymore and need to be only displayed at sub-registrar office notice boards. A few days ago, The News Minute had highlighted the deleterious consequences of making marriage notices under the Special Marriage Act available on the government website.
Many right-wing groups were targeting interfaith couples, where the bride is Hindu and the groom is a Muslim. In a coordinated effort, they pulled out the special marriage notices of such couples from the website, post them on social media platforms, including Facebook and WhatsApp, and branded them as ‘love jihad’. As these posts started going viral, many right-wing groups and individuals affiliated to these groups started slandering and bullying such couples online, and in some cases, in person.
In a statement, the Minister's office said, "The Chief Minister's office and the Minister have received complaints that marriage applications of inter-faith couples were being downloads from the website and used to communalise the issue and threaten couples."
The statement also said that following these complaints, the Registration Inspector General (IGR) had conducted a probe and said that such misuse must be stopped. Based on the IGR’s recommendations, the Minister directed to stop publishing all notices under the Special Marriage Act on the website.
The issue of online bullying and communalising interfaith marriages due to the publication of such documents, on a government website, received significant attention following active campaigning by Athira and Shameem, a couple whose marriage notice was misused and circulated on social media platforms, like many other interfaith couples.
Athira first highlighted the misuse on her Facebook page in June. In July, as more such marriage notices surfaced on Facebook and WhatsApp, other interfaith couples reached out to Athira, sharing their concerns and fears.
Apart from the media coverage, Athira decided to amplify the cause further with a live on Instagram. “Many couples had asked me how we got married and convinced our parents. I thought the Instagram live would be an opportunity to talk about interfaith marriages at length, including where they should and should not compromise. I inserted the Special Marriage Act into the conversation to create some awareness. While many were worried if their applications, too, were leaked on social media, other couples pointed out that because of safety issues in India, they planned and shifted to other parts of the world, and got married there. So, it started a lot of conversation,” Athira told TNM.
Athira, however, does not plan to stop her campaign. “The biggest question is why is the thirty-day notice period only for the Special Marriage Act. If the 30-day notice is to prevent any fraud, it should be applicable to other marriage acts, like the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. This is discriminatory. I will work to ensure the 30-day clause is removed from the Special Marriage Act, by bringing about a policy change. I will stop only then,” she said.
In 2019, the Kerala Registration Department started uploaded these documents on their website as well. These documents contain a host of personal information of the couple, including their addresses, photos and signatures.