Love Marriage, But Conditions Apply 

The proposal for mandatory parental consent for love marriages is being seen as yet another step to limit women’s agency. After regulating interfaith marriages over claims of ‘love jihad’, community leaders and politicians are now looking forward to regulate the very ability to choose one’s partner.

Calls to make parental consent mandatory for marriage are being seen as another step to restrict women's agency. (Representative Image)

You can love, but with the nod from your parents — this was the idea behind Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel’s announcement of examining if parental consent can be made mandatory for love marriages.

Patel mooted the idea, which was also backed by Congress MLA Imran Khedawala, with the reasoning that as parents raise their children, their consent should be made mandatory for a couple in love to get married.

The proposal came after an earlier demand by the influential Patidar community, which has been a traditional vote bank for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that the signature of at least one parent be made mandatory for the registration of a marriage if a woman from the community wished to marry a man of her choice. 

The Gujarat government has already implemented measures to penalise ‘forced or fraudulent’ religious conversion by marriage. The Gujarat High Court later stayed some contentious sections of the Act —Freedom of Religion Act, 2003— and the matter is currently pending in the Supreme Court.

Soon after the news came to the fore, social media was quick to be engulfed with criticism about how it is yet another move that would potentially take away the agency from women to choose their partner.

Reasoning behind proposal

Even before Gujarat CM Patel’s remarks, MLAs from ruling and Opposition parties in the Gujarat Legislative Assembly have associated the rise in crime rate against women to the rise in love marriages. BJP MLA from Kalol, Fatehsinh Chauhan, said, “Marriages solemnised without the consent of parents add to the crime rate in the state and if such marriages are registered with the consent of parents, the crime rate would come down by 50 per cent.”

Such correlation was also made by a Congress MLA from Vav, Geni Thakore, who argued: “We are not against love marriage but we want the change to ensure that no boys who do not get girls for marriage or have criminal backgrounds get to lure and marry them as this leads to harassment of the girl who has to suffer in the end.”

Even when the Patidar community had proposed such a move earlier, they had backed it using the rhetoric of ‘love jihad’ — a term used by certain outfits to describe interfaith marriages.  

Such a “farcical” narrative of love jihad has also translated into limiting the agency of a woman to “independently" choose her partner, Khushbhu Sharma, a PhD scholar had earlier written in Outlook. 

Sharma wrote, “While the conversations on crimes against women are hushed up when committed by members of the privileged caste and religious communities, the smallest attempts at transgressing the socially-defined boundaries on part of the women are put under critical political scrutiny to further police their choices, thereby designating them as incapable of making rational decisions for themselves.”

Advocating for the idea, R.P. Patel, President of Vishv Umiya Dham, a prominent Patidar organisation and the convener of the Patidar Organisation Co-ordination Committee, had said, “The entire Patidar community is upset because girls from the community choose their life partners without informing parents and get married by arranging two witnesses. We have observed that very often our girls are under pressure and instances of ‘love jihad’ have also happened in the past.” 

Similarly, community outfits of the Thakor Kshatriya caste in a meeting in July 2022 discussed the growing instances of girls marrying without the consent of their parents and how this created ‘social issues’ for them. In another meeting of the Thakur community in Banaskantha in north Gujarat, a resolution was passed to ban unmarried girls from using mobile phones and from inter-caste marriages.

Undermining women's agency

The underlying argument for pushing such laws or provisions has always been to “protect” the women. But several women scholars and feminists argue: who do the women need protection from? Why should the woman not be allowed to make a decision? How are rising crimes against women a fault of the woman? 

Isolated cases where women have suffered at the hands of their chosen partners have been negatively symbolised to ‘set examples’ in order to project all socially transgressive love and marital alliances as ‘socially injurious’, wrote Sharma in her article.

In 2014, Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav had infamously said that ‘boys will be boys’ and they will commit mistakes. Some scholars argue that the Gujarat government’s recent proposal echoes this contentious perception that while the state agrees that boys commit crime, they resort to further restricting women to ‘save’ them. 

At a time when choosing who to love becomes a manifestation of one’s agency and a step forward from traditional regressive practices, requiring consent for love marriages could further reinforce the societal stereotypes expected of women.