Context- The author is discussing the long struggle in Tamil Nadu, India, for legal recognition of
Suyamariyathai (self-respect) marriages, which are non-ritualistic and often inter-caste. Despite
the 1967 amendment legalizing such marriages, they still face resistance and lack full
acceptance by the Union government and some parts of the judiciary. The debate involves
issues of caste, women’s rights, and traditional versus reformed marriage practices within Hindu
What is Suyamariyathai (self-respect) marriages?
- Definition: These are non-ritualistic, consensual marriages in Tamil Nadu, India.
- Characteristics: They are typically inter-caste and do not follow the traditional Hindu
marriage rituals, aiming to uphold women’s rights and oppose caste supremacy and
patriarchal rights within traditional Hindu marriages.
- Legal Struggles: Initially, such marriages were declared invalid. For example, Rajathi was
denied conjugal rights because her self-respect marriage to Chelliah was not recognized
under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
- Legislation: After several attempts, The Hindu Marriage (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act
1967, introduced by the DMK, validated Suyamariyathai marriages.
- Continued Resistance: Despite legal recognition, such marriages still face opposition. In
2017, the Union Ministry rejected applications from inter-caste couples in Tamil Nadu.
What are the judicial and executive views on Suyamariyathai (self-respect) marriages?
Judicial Views on Suyamariyathai Marriages
- Initial Rejection (1950s): Courts like the Madras High Court declared these marriages
invalid due to the lack of traditional Hindu rituals.
- Post 1967 Amendment: The Madras High Court and other judiciary bodies have had to
affirm the validity of these marriages following the Tamil Nadu Amendment in 1967.
- Supreme Court Reminder: Recently, the Supreme Court of India had to remind the
Madras High Court about the validity of Suyamariyathai marriages in Tamil Nadu,
emphasizing their lawful status even without public ceremonies.
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Executive Views on Suyamariyathai Marriages
- Union Ministry’s Rejection (2017): This body rejected the recognition of these marriages
under the Section 7 Act, emphasizing registration under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
- Legislative Progress: Various efforts, led by the DMK, resulted in the legal recognition of
self-respect marriages with the 1967 Amendment Act in Tamil Nadu.
What are the impacts of the legalization of self-respect marriage?
- Legal Recognition: Post-1967, Suyamariyathai marriages gained legal validity in Tamil
Nadu, ensuring recognition for couples in these unions.
- Women’s Rights: The legalization allowed women like Rajathi to claim conjugal rights,
seek divorce, and redress in cases of bigamy, enhancing women’s legal standings in
- Property Rights: The Act enabled couples to secure their rights over property and
entitlements within the marriage contract.
- Challenges to Norms: The validation of non-ritualistic, consensual inter-caste marriages
posed a direct challenge to Brahminic interpretations of Hindu marriage, promoting
- Civil Registrations: The movement propelled the advocacy for civil registration of all
marriages, aiming for clear, dissoluble contracts between spouses.