In India, thousands of women still continue to embrace the thaali or the mangalsutra after getting married - but is it a legally binding marker?

The thaali confusion Does tying the yellow thread make a marriage legally validBy Tshrinivasan, via Wikimedia Commons
news Legal Tuesday, June 06, 2017 - 13:44

On his brother’s wedding day, a man in Vellore pushed the groom aside moments before he was to tie the thaali around his bride’s neck. The man then proceeded to tie the thaali around the bride's neck. It later turned out that he was in a relationship with the bride, and the ‘sneak’ thaali was tied very much with her consent. The two families, though, did not accept the wedding and made her remove the thaali.

While this case is quite unique, there is no dearth of a sequence of events that is quite the opposite; forced marriages are common in India, and many a time, the thaali is tied around the neck of an unwilling bride, without her consent.

But does that mean she’s married?

In India, thousands of women still continue to embrace the thaali or the mangalsutra after getting married.

Add to that years of stereotypical, hyper dramatic Indian TV shows, the thaali has attained the reputation of a thread so sacred that the lives of husbands quite literally depend on how intact it is.

So what is the legal validity of this yellow thread?

Revathi Rohira, an expert in matrimonial law, says that just tying a thaali cannot legally validate a marriage.

According to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, Revathi explains, a wedding is considered legal once the saptapadi (taking of seven steps by the bridegroom and the bride jointly before the sacred fire) is conducted.

This however is based on a few conditions.

"There should be consent of both the parties involved. There should be use of no force, fraud or misrepresentation. Suppose you tie a thaali, but these conditions are missing, then the marriage becomes null and void," she states.

Which basically means that if the thaali flies off a trishul and falls on a woman’s neck while the hero is fighting the bad guys, it doesn’t mean they’re married. Sorry Bollywood!

via GIPHY

Sudha Ramalingam, senior advocate at the Madras High Court, states that the validity of any marriage which does not have the consent of both the parties can be contested in the court.

Reiterating the Madras High Court’s 2009 judgment, the lawyer says that a thaali is not a compulsory element in the Hindu marriage.

She explains that while Section 7, which speaks about customary marriages, is applicable all over India, a sub-section, i.e. Section 7(a) applies to Tamil Nadu and speaks about Self-Respect marriages.

"Here you can legally marry by just exchanging garlands, rings or taking an oath and without having to follow customs of your communities," she says.

She goes on to refer to Periyar's Self-Respect movement in the 1920s. It was his constant struggle which led to the Tamil Nadu government legalising self-respect marriages, by introducing Section 7(a), and making it an Act in 1968.

The ideology behind this was to simplify marriages by excluding existing cutoms and the supporters of the movement also wanted to do away with saptapadi.

"The then DMK government led by CN Annadurai introduced the Section in order to ensure that children born out of marriages that did not follow traditional Hindu customs, were also considered legitimate children. This also ensures that the Hindu Succession Act applies to everyone, irrespective of whether or not you were married according to customary rites," Sudha explained.

Main image source: By Tshrinivasan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Also read: Vellore man ties ‘thaali’ to brother’s bride just before solemnization

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