1. On same-sex union, faith leaders show rare unity
Muslim, Jain, Sikh and Christian leaders, along with the RSS, are opposing same-sex marriage as the SC takes up the case, arguing that it contravenes scriptures, societal values and natural order.
Religious leaders across different faiths have joined hands to oppose the plea for recognition of same-sex marriages in the Supreme Court.
Some have filed an application in the Supreme Court opposing petitions in favour of same-sex marriages, while others have written to the President seeking her intervention.
The Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, the Communion of Churches, and the Akal Takht, along with representatives of the Ajmer dargah and Jain gurus, have raised concerns about a legal sanction for same-sex marriages, claiming that it is against the natural family order apart from being in contravention of their differing scriptures. Several leaders reiterated the sentiment that marriage is an institution for procreation, not recreation. The RSS also opposes same-sex marriage, though it has accepted same-sex relationships, holding a position in line with the Centre.
The Supreme Court Bench has said that the hearing of the case will be livestreamed from April 18 in public interest.
‘Diluting the concept’
Taking the lead is the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, which filed an application in the top court. “The concept of marriage between two opposite sexes is like the basic feature of marriage itself which leads to the creation of a bundle of rights (maintenance, inheritance, guardianship, custody). By these petitions, the petitioners are seeking to dilute the concept of marriage by introducing a free-floating system through the concept of same-sex marriage,” the application read.
In a media statement, the Jamaat-e-Islami’s vice- president Salim Engineer referred to a marriage between a man and a woman as “the correct form” of marriage.
Raising concern over a legal sanction for same-sex marriage, the Jaamat-e-Islami said it would present a great danger to the well-entrenched family system.
“The Jamaat is opposed to same-sex marriages. We feel that the correct and universally accepted meaning of marriage refers to the marriage between a man and a woman. Any tampering therein would go against our civilizational values as well as disturb the many personal laws of the country,” Jamaat-e-Islami’s vice-president Salim Engineer said.
Mr. Engineer also reiterated the Jamaat’s opposition to the decriminalisation of Section 377 which now permits sex between consenting adults, irrespective of gender.
The Ajmer dargah’s Salman Chishti said that the balance between personal laws and accepted societal values was in danger, citing Islamic beliefs to buttress his stand against same-sex marriages.
His views found an echo in those of Jain guru Acharya Lokesh, who felt that such a move would go against the ancient values of our society. He reiterated that in Jainism too, marriage is the foundation for reproduction and the extension of the family tree, something not possible in a same-sex marital alliance.
The Communion of Churches also reiterated that marriage was a divine institution in the Christian faith, holding that a union of two persons of the same sex cannot have the validity of marriage. The Communion has written to the President on the subject.
The Sikh leadership of the Akal Takht has also been opposed to same-sex marriage.
2. In a first, Eravikulam National Park gets a fernarium
Pioneer attempt: The Eravikulam National Park in Munnar has set up a fernarium inside the park.
The Eravikulam National Park (ENP) in Kerala, the natural habitat of the Nilgiri tahr in Munnar, has a new attraction — a fernarium set up inside the park. According to officials, this is the first time such a fern collection is being set up in the hill station.
Job J. Neriamparampil, Assistant Wildlife Warden, ENP, said that 52 varieties of ferns had already been planted in the new fernarium.
“As per data, ENP has 104 varieties of ferns. We have planned to increase the number of ferns inside the park to 104 soon,” Mr. Neriamparampil said.
“The fern park has been set up near the orchidarium and will be opened to the public on April 20,” he said.
“The ENP is one of the rich biodiversity areas, and the new initiatives aim to provide visitors with awareness of the park’s biodiversity,” said the official.
Jomy Augustine, botanist, said that ferns were the ecological indicator of healthy forests. “The climatic condition inside the ENP is more suitable for growing ferns,” Dr. Augustine said.
“Ferns are part of the Epiphytic family. They grow naturally in a soilless condition. The plants obtain water and nutrients through leaching from trees. A large number of ferns are on the trees inside the park,” said Dr. Augustine.
Meanwhile, after the calving season of the Nilgiri tahrs, the ENP opened for the public on Saturday.
Mr. Neriamparmpil said that a selfie point was among the new facilities established for tourists.
“Three buggy cars have been arranged for the visitors to explore the park, and two more will be purchased soon. The park had 1,607 and 1,684 tourists on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, said the official.
According to officials, a survey of new births in the ENP will be held on April 20. The last annual census recorded 785 tahrs, while 125 new calves were sighted.
“It is expected that the number of calves will increase from 125 to 150 after the census,” Mr. Neriamparampil said.
3. 1930 helpline stands between online fraudsters and gullible customers
High stakes: About 1.33 lakh people were able to get stolen money back after reporting the fraud on the toll-free helpline number.
Ravinder Malhotra, 55, a Gurgaon-based government employee working in Delhi, got an SMS last November, saying he had an electricity bill of ₹12 due to be paid. His son Ayush, 22, told The Hindu that though he usually pays the power bills from Pune, Mr. Malhotra decided to pay the amount. On the landing page link in the SMS, there was a phone number for guidance.
“He called them and they asked him to download an app,” Mr. Ayush said. The SMS was from a scammer, and the app allowed them to remotely control Mr. Malhotra’s phone. As the ₹12 transaction kept supposedly failing, Mr. Malhotra received other one-time passwords from his bank, all of which the scammer was able to see. Within minutes, he had lost ₹3,28,000 from two bank accounts.
Even as the police in Delhi and Haryana disagreed on the jurisdiction, Mr. Ayush said the payment gateway used by the scammer froze a large part of the money that was siphoned off Mr. Malhotra’s account after he made a call to 1930. Mr. Malhotra was able to recover over half of what was stolen.
Mr. Malhotra is among 1.33 lakh people across the country who were able to get stolen money back after reporting the fraud on the toll-free helpline number 1930.
The helpline, launched in 2021 by the Union Home Ministry to help victims of financial fraud, is integrated with State police control rooms.
The extent of the financial fraud can be gauged from the fact that during 2021 when the helpline was launched, ₹51 crore was blocked by banks on the request of the police and agencies across the country, but the total amount saved since the launch has risen to ₹306 crore. In Assam, for example, over 10,000 complaints were received over the past 21 months, involving fraudulent transactions worth ₹41 crore. “In around 2,800 cases, we were able to freeze ₹7.1 crore of the money cheated from people, one of the highest recovery rates among other States,” Director-General of Police G.P. Singh told The Hindu.
If the affected person makes a call within the golden hour (that can range from immediately to 24 hours), the possibility of getting back the money increases. Home Minister Amit Shah said on March 28 that 250 financial institutions and wallets had been linked to 1930, helping recover the money faster.
It usually takes up to ten days for the money to be returned to victims’ accounts.
Mr. Shah said that the helpline should be popularised to stop cyber frauds in the country. “Some frauds are of very low value, people do not want to register FIRs. We cannot force them. Some complaints cannot be converted to FIRs. But this helps in curbing such crimes because the modus operandi is analysed, the loopholes that were exploited to commit the crime are further plugged. Even a fraud involving ₹25 is important to us,” the Minister said.
If prompted in time, law enforcement agencies can freeze the SIM card and the bank account involved in the crime, and provisions are also being made to freeze mobile handsets, Mr. Shah said.
The Home Minister made these remarks while briefing a group of journalists after he reviewed the working of the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C) at Jai Singh Road in Delhi.
One of the key components of I4C is the 1930 helpline and the portal — cybercrime.gov.in. — where people irrespective of jurisdiction can register complaints. While 1930 is specifically meant for financial frauds, the portal can be used to register cases of sexual harassment and crimes against children too. Since its launch in January 2020, more than 20 lakh cyber-crime complaints have been registered on the portal, out of which 40,000 were converted to FIR.
4. Cheetah strays into field in M.P.; efforts on to send it back into wild
A cheetah strayed into an agricultural field adjoining a village near Kuno National Park (KNP) in Madhya Pradesh’s Sheopur district on Sunday morning, an official said.
Oban, one of the eight cheetahs brought from Namibia in September last year, strayed into the field near Baroda village, some 15-20 kilometres from KNP, from the free range area of the park into which he was released last month, Sheopur Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) P.K. Verma said.
Moving towards village
“As per the signals from its collar device, the cheetah was moving towards the village from Saturday night. It is sitting at the spot and a police team is monitoring the situation and keeping villagers away. Forest Department staff are trying to send it back to the park area,” he said.
Officials also shared a video in which staffers can be seen trying to coax Oban to get back into the forest.
So far, four out of eight cheetahs brought from Namibia to KNP in September, 2022, have been released into the wild (free range area) from hunting enclosures.
5. ISRO’s Reusable Launch Vehicle landing test succesful
Sunday’s landing experiment is the second in the series of experimental flights of the programme.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on Sunday successfully carried out the landing experiment of the Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstration (RLV-TD) programme at the Aeronautical Test Range in Challakere, Chitradurga.
An Indian Air Force (IAF) Chinook helicopter was used to drop the RLV-TD from an altitude of 4.5 km and the ISRO executed the landing experiment of the RLV-TD as planned.
“The RLV took off at 7.10 a.m. by a Chinook helicopter of the IAF as an underslung load and flew at a height of 4.5 km. Once the predetermined pillbox parameters were attained, based on the RLV’s Mission Management and Computer command, the RLV was released mid-air, at a down range of 4.6 km,” the ISRO said. Release conditions included 10 parameters covering “position, velocity, altitude and body rates”.
It added that the release of the RLV was autonomous as it performed approach and landing manoeuvres using Integrated Navigation, Guidance and Control System and completed the landing on the airstrip at 7.40 a.m.
The ISRO also said that for the first time in the world, a winged body has been carried to an altitude of 4.5 km by an helicopter and released for carrying out autonomous landing on a runway.
The Indian Air Force said that its trial team, which participated in the mission, was headed by a woman officer from the Bengaluru-based Aircraft Systems and Testing Establishment.
According to ISRO, the configuration of RLV-TD is similar to that of an aircraft and combines the complexity of both launch vehicles and aircraft.
“The experiment is successful and it meets almost all the objectives of the landing experiment that we had defined long back. We will have a few more landing experiments with different conditions to prove the ruggedness of the algorithm and the hardware that we have put in. These are steps which takes us closer to having India’s own reusable launch vehicles,” ISRO Chairman S. Somanath said.
He added that the ideation of this project started almost 20 years ago and that it has taken many years to grow from the initial stage to this.
During this mission the vehicle landed on a hypothetical runway over the Bay of Bengal.
6. All eyes on border talks between Bhutan, China as King begins India visit
Chink in the armour: India is watchful of the possibility of a ‘swap agreement’ between Bhutan and China in border resolution.
He will meet Modi tomorrow; Bhutan PM had caused a storm with his comments on discussing the Doklam trijunction dispute ‘trilaterally’, with Bhutan, India and China as ‘equal’ interlocutors
As Bhutan’s fifth King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck arrives in Delhi on Monday afternoon at the invitation of President Droupadi Murmu, all eyes will be on his talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday, and any possible discussions on the progress in Bhutan-China border talks.
While the Bhutanese King met Mr. Modi in September last year, when he stopped over in Delhi on his way to attend British Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, this is the first such high-level meeting between the two leaders since Bhutan and China’s talks on their boundary made rapid progress. Mr. Modi and Bhutan’s PM Lotay Tshering have spoken often on the phone, but last met for bilateral talks in Thimphu in August 2020.
In October 2021, Bhutan and China signed a Memorandum of Understanding for a “three-step roadmap” to expedite border resolution talks. The discussion centres on two valleys to Bhutan’s north and the Doklam area to the west of Bhutan, close to the trijunction with India, which was the site of a stand-off between Indian and Chinese forces in 2017. India has been particularly watchful of any possibility of a “swap agreement” between the two countries that could affect its security at the trijunction.
In January 2023, Bhutan and China held talks in Kunming, and reached a “positive consensus” on how to move forward with the talks. Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra arrived in Thimphu three days after the Kunming talks for bilateral discussions, where he also called on the King’s father, the fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck.
Row over comments
While on a visit to Europe last week, Dr. Tshering told a Belgian newspaper that he hoped to complete boundary demarcation talks on disputed areas in the next “one or two more meetings” and that a visit by a Chinese “technical team” was expected shortly in Bhutan. The Bhutanese PM’s comments on discussing the Doklam trijunction dispute “trilaterally”, with Bhutan, India and China as “equal” interlocutors, set off a storm in Delhi, including with the Opposition Congress, which said that “Bhutan and India’s so-far unshakeable relationship is facing a challenge from an aggressive China”.
However, Dr. Tshering subsequently clarified his comments on Saturday, telling The Bhutanese newspaper that he had said “nothing new and there is no change in position”.
Both Indian and Bhutanese officials declined to comment on whether King Jigme Khesar Wangchuck would speak to Mr. Modi about the latest developments in talks.
Meeting PM, EAM
In a statement that was timed with the Bhutan government’s announcement of the King’s visit, the External Affairs Ministry said the visit was part of the “long-standing tradition” of high-level exchanges between the two countries, and that the leaders would “review the entire gamut of bilateral cooperation and to further advance the close bilateral partnership, including economic and development cooperation”. However, neither Thimphu nor New Delhi referred to any specific agreements expected to be announced during the visit.
The Bhutanese King will receive External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Monday evening. He is expected to hold talks with Mr. Modi on Tuesday morning, meet with Ms. Murmu on Tuesday evening, and then leave on Wednesday. Sources said that the leaders were expected to discuss India’s support to Bhutan for its five year plans. At present, the Indian government’s assistance towards Bhutan’s 12th five year plan (2018-23) amounts to ₹4,500 crore.
7. India wants to become a $1-tn tourism economy by 2047, says Kishan Reddy
Union Tourism Minister G. Kishan Reddy at the G-20 Tourism Working Group meeting in Siliguri on Sunday.
India wants to be a $1-trillion tourism economy with 100 million international visitors by 2047, the centenary year of its Independence, the government said on Sunday.
In order to achieve this, the focus is being put on various government-led initiatives in the public-private partnership (PPP) mode, Union Tourism Minister G. Kishan Reddy said, addressing the second G-20 Tourism Working Group (TWG) meeting in Siliguri, West Bengal.
Mr. Reddy said that the vision of the second G-20 TWG meeting was to project domestic tourism in a mission mode.
“It will also make India maximise its potential in the tourism sector,” he added.
In order to give an impetus to the tourism sector this year, the government is observing ‘Vision India-2023’, a programme which invites the entire world to explore India, the Union Tourism Minister said.
The Union Minister also said at the first G-20 TWG meeting hosted in the Rann of Kutch, Gujarat that more than 200 Buddhists monasteries, 40 UNESCO-listed world heritage sites, State and national archaeological sites, many living temples, and prayer centres had been highlighted.
“Priority was given to green tourism, digitisation, skilling, tourism MSMEs and destination management,” he said.
Two mega trails
Mr. Reddy also said that two mega adventure tourism trails would be launched in the Himalayas and the Ganga this year.
“The Ministry will work with States and industries for development of the two trails in the year 2023,” he said.
These trails would be followed by others such as the Narmada trail from Amarkantak in Madhya Pradesh to the Arabian sea, the Cauvery river trail, the West Coast trail from Kutch to Kanniyakumari, and the East Coast trail from West Bengal to Kanyakumari.
Observing that India’s topography makes the country an ideal destination for sustainable adventure tourism, the government is giving it a major push, the Union Minister added.
8. EDITORIAL-01: Beyond customs
Govt. must find innovative solutions to help people with rare diseases
For the state, there can be no rest; vigil should be constant, and the endeavour should be to address issues relating to the public’s welfare continually. A classic exposition of this principle is the Centre’s announcement providing full exemption from basic customs duty for all drugs and food imported for treatment of rare diseases listed under the National Policy for Rare Diseases (and anti-cancer drug Pembrolizumab). This adds benefits, beyond those already incorporated in the policy (originally formulated in 2017) finalised just under a year ago. In order to avail this exemption, the individual importer must produce a certificate from specified authorities. Medicines generally attract basic customs duty of 10%, while some categories of lifesaving drugs/vaccines get concessions or exemptions. Exemptions have already been provided to specified drugs for the treatment of Spinal Muscular Atrophy or Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Rare diseases are a group of diseases that occur infrequently in the community and as such patients are disadvantaged by the lack of volumes that usually spur pharmacological companies into producing life-saving medicines. While some of these diseases do not have any described treatment methodologies, wherever treatment exists, the drugs have to be imported and costs are prohibitive, putting it out of the reach of most people. The NPRD estimates that for a child weighing 10 kg, the annual cost of treatment for some rare diseases may vary from ₹10 lakh to more than ₹1 crore per year, with treatment being lifelong and drug dose and costs increasing with age and weight. The duty exemption will lead to substantial savings for patients. Organisations lobbying for support for patients with rare diseases have welcomed the move which will grant much needed relief to patients and their families; a ray of hope in an otherwise bleak treatment scenario.
While rare diseases are defined by their infrequent occurrence in the population, the sheer number of diseases (estimated between 7,000-8,000 conditions; 450 of them have been reported from hospitals in India), and the number of people with some form of rare diseases in India (an estimated 100 million) make it a problem that cannot be ignored. When the NPRD was released, it underlined the magnitude, and specified that demands could only be considered in the context of the available scarce resources that would have to be used judiciously. While striking a note for the goal of affordable health care, the government must ensure that its directions are followed in full, besides staying the course to innovate solutions for this category of patients.
9. EDITORIAL-02: India needs a national programme on autism
Bhismadev Chakrabarti is Professor of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the University of Reading, U.K. He is a Visiting Professor of Psychology at Ashoka University, India, and is Principal Research Adviser to the India Autism Center, Kolkata
With well over one crore Indians in the autism spectrum, the point of early interventions being associated with the best outcomes needs to be underscored — World Autism Awareness Day was on April 2
One of the most frequent questions I faced at academic conferences as soon as people realised that I was an Indian researcher working on autism was this: ‘How many children in India have autism?’ At this point, India did not have any systematic estimates of autism prevalence. My collaborators and I set out to answer this question, and found ourselves telephoning a number of government hospitals in India. We were looking for available records of the children who came to them, and were eventually given a diagnosis of autism. In the absence of a central medical registry, this method seemed reasonable to estimate the prevalence of autism — and had been successfully used in some other countries.
Unfortunately, it did not work. None of the hospitals kept any records of how many children got a diagnosis of autism. It made us change our strategy from focusing on hospitals to schools. Instead of relying on existing medical records from hospitals, we translated and validated widely used autism assessment tools — and used these to estimate the prevalence of autism in nearly 12,000 schoolchildren. Interestingly, none of the children who met the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum in our study had a prior clinical diagnosis. All of these children were in mainstream schools, and reported facing more challenges than their counterparts. There have been a few other prevalence estimates since our initial study, and a conservative estimate based on pooling the results from different studies suggests that well over one crore Indians are on the autism spectrum.
Cultural differences and diagnosis
While biochemical pathways involved in core autism symptoms are unlikely to be different between cultures, there are notable cultural differences in who gets a clinical diagnosis of autism. The majority of children with an autism spectrum diagnosis within the United States and the United Kingdom are likely to be verbal, with average or higher than average IQ, and attending mainstream schools. In contrast, a significant majority of children in India who get a clinical diagnosis of autism often also have intellectual disability, and limited verbal ability.
This difference is likely to be driven by a range of sociological factors, such as access to appropriate clinical expertise, the allowance of provisions for inclusion in mainstream schools, as well as availability of medical insurance coverage for autism interventions. It raises the question of why one chooses to get an autism diagnosis in the first place. If a clinical diagnosis is unlikely to open doors to appropriate services and support provisions, and is instead going to add to societal stigma, then rolling out a nationwide screening and diagnostic programme for autism across all schools is not likely to be useful. Even if it were theoretically possible to do so, how we assess autism presents its own set of challenges.
Autism is assessed behaviourally, and behavioural assessment tools (i.e. questionnaires or interviews with professionals) are the starting point for all research and clinical work on autism. Yet, most of the widely used autism assessment tools have limited availability in Indian languages. While some of the more widely used tools have been translated and validated locally, recent years have seen a rise in the development of indigenous autism assessment tools.
The plethora of these tools can create challenges in comparing across them. Beyond questionnaires and interviews, observational measures (e.g. where individuals are asked to perform a task) can contribute meaningfully to assessing autism-related features. Observational measures rely less on verbal information, and more on task performance, and are thus more easily translatable across cultures and settings. A combination of questionnaire/ interview measures alongside observational measures is ideal for assessing autism. Crucially, assessment must not remain limited to measures of behaviour alone; autism is increasingly viewed as a systemic condition. Greater focus on areas that have historically been under-researched in autism, such as sleep, diet, sensory symptoms, and immune function need to be included within routine assessments.
Demand and supply in India
While considering the components of assessments we also need to consider the assessors. Most available autism assessment tools need to be administered by a specialist mental health professional. According to the latest estimates, India has less than 10,000 psychiatrists, a majority of whom are concentrated in big cities. While the number of mental health professionals continues to grow, the current gap between demand and supply cannot be met directly by the specialists alone. This gap is not relevant for behavioural assessments alone but also for providing psychological interventions. Parallel efforts to widen the reach of diagnostic and intervention services through involving non-specialists, similar to a stepped-care model for psychological therapies, is required in order to bridge this chasm. To this end, emerging lines of evidence suggest the feasibility of such an approach for both autism identification and intervention in an Indian context. Two pillars for such an approach to succeed are the availability of a suitable non-specialist workforce (e.g. Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA)/Anganwadi workers, parents/caregivers) and the appropriate digital technology (e.g. apps, smartphones) that can capture both self/caregiver report as well as observational data.
A causal chain typically links diagnostic assessments and interventions. Very often, a clinical diagnosis serves as a gateway for interventions and services, with some parents having to wait for years, or travelling across the country, to get a confirmed diagnosis. Delays in interventions can be costly for neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism, given the importance of critical periods in brain development. Early interventions are associated with the best outcomes. As such, it is vital to develop a pipeline of routine assessments for key domains of neurodevelopment (example, social, motor, sensory, cognitive) that can then lead to parent/non-specialist assisted behavioural interventions, irrespective of the final formal diagnosis.
Within such a framework, if a child presents with social behavioural difficulties s/he could be referred to a parent/non-specialist assisted programme on evidence-based actionable strategies in social skills development. This child might eventually get a clinical diagnosis of Autism or Social Communication Disorder but would have already benefited from an early intervention. There is a growing evidence base for simple behavioural interventions that parents/caregivers can be trained on, that can have a positive impact. The risks for administering these interventions to a child who may not necessarily need them are significantly lower than those of not administering them to someone who could benefit. Sustainable public health pathways need to be developed such that they do not depend critically on a confirmed diagnosis from a specialist.
Need for an all-India programme
The overarching need of the hour is to develop a national programme on autism, to link researchers, clinicians, service providers to the end-users in the autism community in India. A programme of this scale needs three essential components that are joined up: assessment, intervention, and awareness. Research needs to focus on developing and refining appropriate assessments, as well as designing efficient implementation pathways. Simultaneously, the clinical and support service workforce needs to be expanded by training non-specialists such that a stepped-care model can be rolled out effectively across the nation. Finally, large-scale initiatives to build public awareness can serve to reduce stigma associated with autism and related conditions. Crucially, a national programme needs to be informed by consultation with different stakeholders, with a primary focus on the end-users within the Indian autism community.
10. OPEN EDITORIAL-03: Same-sex marriages: A matter for Parliament
G. S. Bajpai is the Vice-Chancellor at National Law University Delhi
The push to formalise the institution of same-sex unions must come from representative bodies such as Parliament and not the courts
The Supreme Court, in Supriyo v. Union of India, has referred the matter relating to legalisation of same-sex marriages to a Constitution Bench. Unlike the matter pertaining to decriminalisation of Section 377, which the Central government had left to the Court to decide, the affidavit submitted by it in the present case opposes such legalisation. The Centre’s stance has come under fire from sections of civil society, advocates, academics and scholars. Let us examine its line of reasoning.
The core of the Centre’s argument is that same-sex marriage does not find any recognition within Indian traditions, ethos, culture and the societal conception of the institution of marriage. It has been argued that marriage is a sacrament between a biological male and a biological female to form a holy union to conceive children. Consequently, it is argued that Parliament, and not the Court, is the right institution to debate and decide if same-sex marriages should be legalised.
The language of rights
Since it is unlikely that the Court will acquiesce to or reject the Centre’s stance without evaluating the same on its own merits, it is crucial to understand the foundational basis for this argument. Multiple authors have addressed the Centre’s argument through legal lenses, such as by saying that it is a duty of the Court to address the violations of fundamental rights which result directly from a non-recognition of same-sex marriages. Like in the Navtej Johar and Joseph Shine cases, where the Supreme Court faced questions of sexuality, autonomy, social equality and social legitimisation, the question of same-sex marriages too boils down to the competing interests of the rights of a society to conserve traditions with all their infirmities and the right of an individual to enjoy his constitutional freedoms with all his idiosyncrasies.
Arguing in the language of rights might give legitimacy to the content of the petition, but it side-steps the point pertaining to societal conceptualisations of the institution of marriage. Marriage is predominantly a social institution. The Centre’s stance, thus, finds a backing in four interrelated sub-arguments. First, the question of same-sex marriage has the potential to alter how we conceive a family — the building block of society. Most conventional definitions of marriage adhere to the Centre’s conceptualisation of the institution and generally identify marriage as a socially accepted union of individuals for procreation. While same-sex marriages are not a threat to this understanding, they demand a nuanced alteration/adaptation of it. This requires deliberation at a social level first.
Second, the current legislative framework promotes the conventional understanding of marriage. Marriages in India are administered through a complex legal structure with a religious genesis. They are consequently governed by the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936; the Christian Marriage and Divorce Act, 1957; and Muslim Personal Laws which do not have any strict legislative framework. All marriage laws, except for the Special Marriage Act (SMA) of 1954, recognise marriages between a man and a woman. Parliament enacted SMA to facilitate inter-religious marriages. Therefore, the legislative intent behind the use of gender-neutral language in Section 4 of the SMA cannot be presumed, in and of itself, to be in favour of same-sex marriages either.
Third, as distinct from the constitutional morality adopted in the Navtej Johar case, which recognises consummation for purposes other than procreation, religious and societal morality still conceptualises intercourse as a procreative activity. This is why various laws pertaining to marriage mandate the consummation of marriage. For instance, Section 12 of the Hindu Marriage Act provides that where a marriage has not been consummated owing to the impotence of one of the parties, the said marriage is voidable.
This also answers the logical question of whether a marriage subsisting between a couple unable to procreate is a challenge to the idea of a valid marriage. In the legal conception of marriage, procreation remains a basic requirement. The same can be gauged from the above-mentioned provisions, which make marriages voidable on the basis of impotence and lack of consummation. Consequently, the parties to the marriage would not be labelled as ‘divorcees’ but merely as ‘unmarried.’
A broader social context
Fourth, conventional conceptualisations of family and marriage are facing evolutionary challenges. The idea of live-in relationships is just as ideationally confrontational to marriage as same-sex marriages. Even though they are judicially recognised, live-in relationships are not equated to marriage under the law. The social acceptability of such relationships remains in a state of limbo. The apprehensions of the Centre regarding the conceptual alteration of the family unit, therefore, are not actually as regressively homophobic as they may seem prima facie. Instead, they are generalised to a broader social context. Much like live-in relationships, the issue of legal recognition of same-sex unions too requires a broader debate in society and the legislature.
It is not our case that the decisions of same-sex couples to reside together in a union do not deserve legal recognition. The rights issues are substantial and must be addressed immediately. Nevertheless, given the implications of recognising same-sex unions as a couple, the push to formalise the institution of same-sex unions must come from representative bodies such as Parliament.