Essay on Inter-Caste Marriages under Hindu Marriages Act, 1955

The fact that the Smritis have recognised to some extent the right of the issues of such marriages to inherit their parent’s property shows that such marriages were not altogether void. The commentators on the Smritis took into account the prevailing customs in their time and relying upon Kalivarja, i.e. practices forbidden in the present Kali age, regarded inter-caste marriages as forbidden in Kali age and void under Hindu Law.

The question whether an Anuloma marriage is valid arose in Ratansi Morarji v. Advocate General of Madras, 1929 (52) Mad. 160. Mena Renda, a European lady, got herself converted to Hinduism by undergoing a Suddhi (Purification) ceremony performed by the Hindu Missionary Society of Bombay. She then married a Vysya mill-owner with Hindu rites and ceremonies.

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The question was whether this marriage was valid. Venkata Subbarao J., an eminent judge of the Madras High Court, imbued with reforming zeal, concluded that the ceremony of conversion made the Christian lady a Hindu. This itself was a bold decision for it is popularly supposed that Hinduism does not countenance conversion.

What would be her caste on such conversion? Here the great judge postulated that it is not necessary for a Hindu to belong to any particular caste. However, he proceeded to consider the case on the footing that the convert had become a Sudra. On that basis he decided that an Anuloma marriage is perfectly valid under the Hindu Law.

In Subbamma v. Venkata Subbamma, AIR 1941 Mad. 513 the decision above mentioned was overruled. Pandurangarao and Somayya, JJ two learned judges made an elaborate examination of the Sanskrit texts bearing on inter-caste marriages. Their conclusion is that though the Smritis countenanced inter-caste marriages, the commentators have laid a ban on such marriages.

They accordingly held that anuloma marriages are void. In that case the bridegroom was a Brahmin and the bride a Sudra. This decision would of course govern even if the bridegroom is a Vysya. Ratansi Morarji’s case was overruled.

Recently the Allahabad High Court had to deal with the question of Anuloma marriages in Kastoori Devi v. Chiranjit Lai, AIR 1960 All. 446. The Sanskrit texts were again examined. The learned judges thought that the Madras High Court in its later ruling came to a wrong conclusion.

When the Smritis have not forbidden, how can the commentators ban such marriages? In a conflict between the commentator and the Smriti, the Smriti should prevail and not the commentator. So the Allahabad High Court dissented from the later view of the Madras High Court. In theory the criticism of the judges of the Allahabad High Court is plausible.

What they overlooked was the decision of the Privy Council that “in the event of a conflict between the ancient text-writers and the commentators, the opinion of the latter must be accepted”. Atmaram Abhimanji v. Bajirao, 62 IA 139. So with all respect to the Learned Judges of the Allahabad High Court, their criticism of the Madras decision does not appear to be sound.

It may be mentioned that the Bombay High Court upheld the validity of anuloma marriages in Bai Gulab v. Jiwanlal, 46 Bom. 871.

Thus, there is a conflict of opinion as to whether under Hindu Law inter-caste marriages are valid or not. While the Madras view is that such marriages are void, the view of Allahabad and Bombay High Courts is different. The conflict has now been removed statutorily. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, specifies in s. 5 the conditions for a valid Hindu Marriage.