The Supreme Court on Monday turned down a plea seeking uniform minimum age for marriage for both men and women, saying there are some matters which are reserved for Parliament and courts cannot enact a law.
A bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud said the top court cannot issue a mandamus (an extraordinary writ) for parliament to legislate.
“We must defer to the Parliament. We can’t enact law here. We should not perceive that we’re the exclusive custodian of Constitution. Parliament is also a custodian,” the bench observed while declining to allow the plea.
The apex court was hearing a petition filed by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay seeking equality in the legal age of marriage for men and women.
Men in India are permitted to get married at the age of 21, while the marriageable age for women is 18 years.
“The Petitioner seeks that women’s age of marriage should be increased to 21 to be par with men. Striking down of provision will result in there being no age for marriage for women. Hence petitioner seeks a legislative amendment. This court cannot issue a mandamus for parliament to legislate. “We decline this petition, leaving it open to petitioner to seek appropriate directions,” the bench, also comprising Justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala said.
The petitioner said the plea was filed raising a legal question and forming a task force to look at the issue will not serve the purpose. The difference in marriage age violated the principles of gender equality, gender justice and dignity of women, the petition claimed.
The plea contended, ”The petition challenges a blatant, ongoing form of discrimination against women. That is the discriminatory minimum age limit for marriage for men and women in India.
”While men in India are permitted to get married only at the age of 21 years, women are allowed to get married when they are 18. This distinction is based in patriarchal stereotypes, has no scientific backing, perpetrates de jure and de facto inequality against women, and goes completely against global trends.
”…it is a social reality that married women are expected to perform a subordinate role vis-a-vis the husband and this power imbalance is deeply aggravated by the age difference,” it said.
The younger spouse is, therefore, expected to respect and be servile to her elder partner, which aggravates the pre-existing gender based hierarchy in the marital relationship, the petition stated.