Special Marriage Act



In which is why we got Married by a Place

People are born in Places. Places consist mostly of the People born in them. Different Places have different rules concerning their People. Those rules are different again from those concerning People from other Places — e.g. I was born in That Place, but I live in This Place: my capabilities in This Place are far less than those of a Person born here. Sometimes, People will decide to change Places, officially, based on a particular Situation — Situations vary from Person to Person. Changing Places changes a Person’s Situation. My mate, who was born in This Place, moved to That Place when young and, later, officially changed her Place to That. We met there and decided eventually to move to This Place.

Being declared Married by a Place also changes the Situation. These changes are different from those which occur when People declare the same. One is gross, and Parasituational, while the other is subtle, and Transituational. Each confers certain abilities or traits. It is easier in some Places than in others. There are forms.

Many couples choose to perform the rituals that corroborate these declarations, i.e. of Marriage via People and Place, together — that is, at one and the same time — such that the office binds both, and the officer is endowed with the capacity to officiate each (‘by the power vested in me…’ etc.). Despite the appeal in the anti-Enlightenment unification of Place and People ceremonies, my mate and I opted to keep them discrete.

Before needing Place, we talked about only performing People rites, and never registering anywhere. Only when we decided to move to This Place — where my Situation precluded me from earning an above-the-table income and there are stipulations about how long I could stay — did Marriage by Place become necessary.

Because in books the pictures of our gods look different, the Act by which we were to be Married was Special. It was a Special Marriage Act. We were directed to the office of the Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM).
We wore nice clothes.


In which is the first visit to office of the Sub Divisional Magistrate

The SDM’s office, nestled within the District Court complex, itself tucked into the jungle the National Capital Region is doing its calculated best to tame, is a square single-storey building constructed round a patchy central courtyard with a shrimp’s gut of corridor that runs the interior circumference, from which hall — if you make a left upon entering — offices sprout to the left. The wall of the passage that abuts the office’s arbored cour is lined entirely with wood and metal cabinets crammed and covered with water-warped manila folders, each more taxed than the last with the amount of yellowed materials it’s expected to hold — doors bent at exposing angles or ajar, contents webbed and torn. What window corners remain unobscured permit diffuse and silted light.

The SDM maintained a room through the second office on the left. We only saw the title on the door. A representative in the third fluorescent left office, Mr Oscar, briefed us on what paperwork we would need to compile and how we were to deliver it. Directly above his desk hung the raw grey evidence of recent repair work, a dark rectangle still bearing descriptions of the paths of palette knives, with long streaks spackled down the corner walls. Mr Oscar smiled quite a lot. His was not a bad job.


The forms initially required:


  1. Special Marriage Application form duly signed by both husband and wife
  2. Special Marriage Documentary evidence of date of birth of parties (Matriculation Certificate / Passport / Birth Certificate) Minimum age of both parties is 21 years at the time of registration under the Special Marriage Act
  3. Residential proof of husband and wife
  4. In case of Special Marriage Act, documentary evidence regarding stay in City of the parties for more than 30 days (ration card or report from the concerned SHO)[1]
  5. Two Special Marriage passport size photographs of both the parties
  6. Fifteen rupees, to be deposited with the cashier of District and the receipt should be attached with the application form
  7. Affirmation that the parties are not related to each other within the prohibited decree of relationship as per Special Marriage Act
  8. In case one of the parties is a foreign national, no objection certificate/marriage Status certificate from the concerned embassy


All documents excluding receipt should be attested by a Gazetted Officer.

One of the first and most frequent questions we received was, ‘Why here?’ — both our passports are from That Place, though my mate was actually born and spent the early years of her life in This Place. Why didn’t we go to That Place to be registered? ‘Because we live in This Place’, we repeated. At first we thought only I would need a certificate from the That Place Embassy (8), since my spouse was issued a card declaring her an Overseas Citizen of This Place,[2] thanks to being born here etc. The document was downloadable on the Embassy website, but I had to make an in-person appointment to get it notarized.


In which is the first visit to the That Place Embassy

That Place’s embassy is the most heavily-guarded in an entire neighbourhood devoted to embassies: the whole block surrounding the building is cordoned off by police barricades, with armed guards at every side and the two rear-facing corners. The entrance is at its southeast edge, with a check-in/Mobile Relinquishment tent and nylon airport queue that doubles back thrice before the shaded cubby zone, and then proceeds pretty directly through the wall to another checkpoint with metal detector gates and Security-held scanners, and then from there wherever in the glass-shelled interior it is you are to go.

My destination was a large windowless room, of which one corner was segregated by four bulletproof lucite panels at slight angles to one another (in a sketch of a hedron) with representatives behind them and, beyond them, ringing grids of cubicles and shuttered offices, employees crossing every so often within the visual perimeter of the waiting area’s rows of individual plastic chairs[3] and ledges for leaning on / filling out. The whole space was pretty out of proportion with the apparent size of the compound. It was bright and carpeted thin light grey-blue. There were two doors in the waiting area: the second led to the office on the other side. A/C released from vents along the ceiling. Several families were applying for visas, and each of their members felt different ways about what that meant.

In a move characteristic of That Place, its ‘No Objection’ certificate repeatedly denies existence as/of a ‘No Objection’ certificate. The bottom of the main page, beneath all the seals and attestations and signatures, reads:

Neither the Embassy nor the consular officer can assume any responsibility for the contents of this document.


There is then a full-page letter attached, addressed in bold ‘To whom it may concern’, reiterating the above fine-print as floridly as:


Some countries require persons who wish to marry to provide written proof, issued by governmental authority, that there is no legal impediment to the marriage. No such document, or governmental authority to issue such document exists in That Place.




The Embassy cannot make any official certification about the status or eligibility to marry of persons residing in That Place who propose to be married abroad, or about the laws of That Place or of any of the States or Territories about eligibility for marriage or the solemnization of a marriage.


For this service, the Embassy charges fifty dollars, equivalent then to 2500 rupees.[4] We were working for and with rupees. To be fair, though, the form is required by This Place, and not the other way around — That Place, in another characteristic gesture, simply saw an opportunity and capitalized on it. I argued this with the representative behind the screen: a person on TV chastising a person on TV watching.



In which the atmospheric conditions are addressed

I ought to here make a note regarding environmental context. We were making these runs at full summer, season of three baths a day, when you don’t sweat but the water just rises from you in waves into the thirsty air. Everyone walks around with a cloud about his/her head — their own departing reservoirs — with no hope of condensation for months. People snap and personal space swells to fit the small dense suns each Person becomes.


In which the forms are under way, with Police involvement

On our return to SDM, I tried to forego the ‘No Objection’ note, based on its cost and the number of times it negates the very assurance it is intended to provide. When I tried to explain how the form annuls itself, Mr Oscar, ever unruffled, told us that not only did I need one, we both did, given our Situations as citizens of That Place.

We took our photographs (5). Our parents scanned our birth certificates (2 & 7). We printed and filled out the Special Marriage Form (1) and signed for its declarations:

We declare that we have been living together as husband and wife ever since the date noted above. We hereby declare that Neither of us had more than one spouse living on the and [sic] mentioned in application.

Neither of us is an idiot or lunatic. Both of us have completed the age of Twenty One years of age on the date of this application.

We are not within the degrees of prohibited relationship. Our marriage was celebrated before the commencement of the Special Marriage Act 1954 (Central Act 43 of 1954) and according to the law custom us age having the force of low governing each of us relationship according to the act for said. [sic]

For residential proof (3) we provided our lease, on which both our names were listed. On a trip to the SDM, Mr Oscar told us we had to go to the to our district Police station and schedule a time for our neighborhood Police to come and visit us at home, to determine our authenticity as a couple. We did this, and also told the Police stationed day and night in what seems to be a pretty slow rotation in a small booth (‘Beat Box’) at a T intersection near our market, who said they looked forward to tea. When word finally reached through the tract of the District Commissioner’s office, the Police arrived with biscuits and guns, and sat on cushions, bulky in boots and vests, sipping between questions about our backgrounds and activities. One asked my mate if she’d painted the nude framed on the southwest wall. We said it had been given to us as a housewarming/engagement gift. They left assured, with our lease and a letter to submit to the courts in support of our Marriage.

Only a couple of days later, they showed up saying it said in our lease we were already Married, and threatening to de-recommend us. (The realty scene here’s a tad conservative, so when we rented our apartment we opted to say we were Married, since b.f. and g.f. don’t hold much weight with landlords, and anyway we’d be living together in an analogous state.) In response to this, our friend rather perfunctorily approached the primary officer in our case and handed him a note in passing with the words, ‘Sweeten your mouth’.

The Police came and told us that if we wrote a letter saying we were not Married, despite what our lease said, and that we want to be, they would sign it and verify us. We had tea with the officers and our landlords in front of their TV — the elderly couple and four of the six younger members of the household (whose relations we were confused by, re: who siblings, who mates) — because their testament to our residence would also be of use. They did not acknowledge or mind that we had lied.

As we had been living in our place for several months, this accumulation of letters and signatures along with our lease also satisfied (4).


In which a rule is disclosed

So by the way there was this rule. According to its effect on my Situation, I could only remain six months in This Place, and then had to stay two months Out. Much of the haste with which we were attempting official Marriage was toward defusing that legal apparatus. A year earlier it sent us on a protracted peregrination through That Place, on to Another Place (where we had decided to move because we were at that time both reading books by the same author, who wrote extensively about its central acropolis — once composed of verdant floating swaths of land attached by bridges — built high in the mountains on the soft bed of a lake that had been emptied by conquerors with the help of an instrument called the Profound Drain, which city when the earth shook would shift and settle and sink into the silt and looks from above at night like the huge pool it’s set in the bottom of, only instead of water light) for a period, then back to That Place, before finally returning to This Place. It meant punctuations of aimless exile, which we neither desired nor could afford.


In which GO attestation is achieved

Compiling the required forms took months, and multiple visits to the SDM. For the first four or five we dressed well, wore dress shoes, buttoned up and so on. After being turned away on each occasion for lacking certain papers or signatures, we also finally understood that when we were one day able to submit the forms, it would just be the beginning of a thirty-day notice period, during which stage our application for Marriage would be open to objection from third parties. Only after that would the SDM sign our Marriage Certificate.

Every paper needed to be attested by a Gazetted Officer (GO), which essentially meant that a Place employee had to vouch for us, for most Place employees are GOs in This Place. A GO is a Person deemed trustworthy by a Place to authorize documents. The father of one of our friends is a Place employee, a respected open source pharmaceutical scientist and a GO, but because he was close to retirement, he didn’t want to attach his name to any venture that could potentially be skewed as untoward (it is apparently a common practice in This Place that when Place employees are about to retire, they are defamed in such a way that the Place may withhold portions of pension—which fraction dependent on the severity of defamations); he introduced us to an associate, another open source pharmaceutical scientist and GO, more securely in the middle of his career, who, after greeting us and enquiring briefly about our relationship, was glad to have his assistant stamp each piece of our application while he returned to his meeting and then emerge again to sign them himself.

By the time our not-insubstantial bundle was at last accepted by Mr Oscar, I had overstayed my visa and was technically illegal. We were told to appear in a month for our Marriage. I spent our notice period at the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO), attempting to get my visa extended, the pace of which procedure depends more on the mood of those behind the desk than any juridical circumstance—how often an applicant is dismissed due to rain, or last night’s cricket match. The nice thing about Marriage in such a moment is that people tend to like to be part of the process, and so don’t pose too many obstacles. My visa was eventually extended a week, just long enough to accommodate our court date.


The court date

As the day approached it turned out to be Guru Nanak’s birthday — a lunar State holiday, full moon. We went to the SDM and asked Mr Oscar if they would be working that day. He said they would not. When we asked why they had given us that day, he said he didn’t know and told us to come at 10.00 am in the morning two days later instead.

We made our ultimate visit to the SDM with four of our friends in a taxi with individual red and white roses taped to its hull, and waited in our fine clothes for four hours while the SDM was busy elsewhere, attending to matters of State. We drank tea. We smoked. We ate snacks from roadside stalls outside the court complex. At a certain point, we all piled back into the taxi and drove to a nearby market for mochas and sundaes and chocolate shakes. Mr Oscar called, informing us the SDM had arrived.


When we reached, highly caffeinated, Mr Oscar produced two copies of our Marriage Certificate, which we and our friends signed beneath the patched square of his ceiling, whence he led us right through the bright second office to the SDM’s sanctum sanctorum, where sat the SDM behind a desk two attendants and asked us the same questions we’d been asked for the last seven months: Where are you from? Where did you grow up? Where is your family? When did you move? Why be Married here? Beyond him, over his right shoulder, was another door, which must have been his inconspicuous access to the premises. Satisfied with our responses and our application in toto, he stamped and signed both certificates and shook our hands, wishing us well. Another couple filed past us on our way out. Cashew sweets were distributed after their interview.

That evening we gathered with ten friends, 1 kg of chocolate cake and ten bottles of wine after hours at a local bakery and café, lit windows in the gulley that runs along the ruins of the ancient school and its pool, and sat with things. One of the bottles was from a vineyard called Oscar; we drank it to him.


The Situation


The immediate effect of all of this on my Situation is slight, but bears promise of future alteration. After a year of official Marriage, I may apply for a card with which I may apply for a card to work and open a bank account in This Place. Until then, I am really only allowed to remain here, in a sort of deliberative limbo, suspended in bureaucratic amnions, awaiting fully able habitation. My visa now lets me be a Spouse; its official term is ‘X’. My mate’s Situation, outside of taxes, remains essentially as it was pre-Marriage, except with in-laws.



[This is a true story.]

[1] I have found no way to determine the term concerned with this acronym.

[2] In an ironic Bureaucratic twist, while she, born in This Place, carries a card declaring her an Overseas Citizen of This Place (ironic in itself given where we live), I, born in That Place, will receive a card declaring me a Person of This Place’s Origin.

[3] Whereas, at SDM, chairs in bolted groups of three run the walls of usually open rooms, with ceiling fans, as well as opposite the cupboards in the hall.

[4] Now over three thousand.