Almost a decade and a half after the Supreme Court delivered a historic ruling in 2003 permitting an adult Muslim woman to marry of her own free will without the consent of a guardian, the issue lingers on in society. In an important decision, a division bench of the Sindh High Court has warned law enforcers to respect the sanctity of marriage in cases where couples say they have contracted the bond on the basis of free will, rather than acting on complaints made against them. The court was hearing a petition by a woman in Kandh Kot who had moved the court against the registration of a false kidnapping case against her in-laws. The woman and her husband say they married of their own free will, and the court directed the FIR be quashed. The police was also directed to provide protection to the couple.
Rulings such as this are important in a society where, despite what is said in the law, people including the police are often reluctant to accept marriages made by choice. The routine in such cases is for the family of the woman to make allegations of abduction in order to protect what they perceive as their ‘honour’. Too often the police go along with the charges, acting on the basis of social morality and established tradition. What is in fact most important is that the state and its agencies ensure all marriages include the will of both parties, specifically the woman. Forced marriages still remain a common practice across our country and need to be acted against. Social conventions often override the law and as the SHC bench has pointed out it is important that law-enforcement agencies ensure the sanctity of a marriage is upheld and the couple spared harassment when they are both adults and have reached an agreement on marriage freely and then legalised this bond. Upholding the law is the first step towards changing thinking within society and thereby granting individual the freedoms that are offered to them under the constitution and on the basis of court verdicts which interprets these.