Right to Choice in Relationships

As an overview of the present state of affairs, below we describe in greater detail the obstacles that women face in regards to choice in relationships, the laws put in place to protect their right to choice, and common ways that loopholes in the legal system are exploited by family and community members who want to deny women access to this right.


A woman’s “right to choice in relationships” is her right to freely choose when, with whom, and whether or not to enter into, remain in, or exit an intimate or marital relationship. Not only do several national and international laws guarantee a woman’s right to choice, but also several acts and judgments have been passed by the Supreme and High Courts to ensure its realization. Despite the legal grounding in support of this right, the laws relating to women’s autonomy are often manipulated and misused in order to deny women access to it.

In Indian society, a woman’s right to make decisions in regards to her sexual and marital relationships is routinely denied and discouraged in favor of her family and community’s perceived right to control her body. When a woman steps outside of strictly imposed parameters for what her family and community deem appropriate, such as by choosing to have premarital sex, pursuing an inter-caste or inter-religious marriage, or leaving an abusive partner, she often meets violent opposition and incessant discrimination in the name of “honor.” The ramifications for defying social norms are not limited to the women themselves, but in many cases extend to their partners and families as well. This type of harassment against a woman’s loved ones is a tool of social control to encourage the woman to obediently adhere to the dictates of social norms – if not for her own sake, the logic goes, then for the sake of her loved ones.

Starkly gendered violations of a woman’s right to sexual autonomy are commonplace across India. AALI’s research in six states – Haryana, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal – reveals that infringements on a woman’s right to choice are not limited to any specific region or cultural ideology. The manifestation and magnitude of the violations, however, differ from region to region and based on various socio-economic attributes such as caste, class, religion, age, and marital status. A woman who exercises her right to choice in Kerala, for example, is more likely to face economic and emotional abuses, while a woman in Haryana who acts similarly is more likely to face physical and violent opposition from her family and community.


Special Marriage Act, 1954 – This act provides a special form of marriage in certain cases, where the couple is of different religions and/or does not want to marry by religious ceremonies and/or one of the parties is not an Indian National. The Act also provides for the registration of marriages and for a divorce.


The Foreign Marriage Act, 1969 – An Act to make provision relating to marriages of citizens of India outside India.


The Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872 – An Act to consolidate and amend the law relating to the solemnization in India of the Marriages of Christians.


Special Marriage Rule (Uttar Pradesh)


Special Marriage Rule (Jharkhand)


The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 – This act provides for the prohibition of solemnization of child marriages and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.


Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 – This act prohibit the giving and taking of dowry.


Sections of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 Related to Offences in Marriage


Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 – This act amends and codifies the law relating to marriage among Hindus.
Hindu Maintenance and Adoption Act, 1956 – To codify any text, rule or interpretation of Hindu law or any custom or usage as part of that law in force immediately before the commencement of this Act with respect to any matter of adoption or maintenance of child as provided for in this Act.


The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 – This act protects the rights of Muslim woman who have been divorced by, or have obtained divorce from their husbands and to provide for matter connected therewith or incidental thereto.


Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939 – This act consolidates and clarifies the provisions of Muslim law relating to suits for dissolution of marriage by women married under Muslim law and to remove doubts as to the effect of the renunciation of Islam by a married Muslim woman on her marriage tie.


Guardian and Ward Act, 1890 – An Act to provide for food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

Related Judgments

Shaheen Parveen and Ors. vs. State of U.P. and Ors.

At-a-Glance Abridged Judgment Full Judgment Shaheen Parveen left her parents’ home with Mohd. Sarfaraj a few months before turning 18. They got married soon after. Shaheen’s mother initiated a successful criminal proceeding claiming Mohd Sarfaraj had abducted her daughter and forced her into marriage. The couple filed this petition seeking to quash the criminal proceedings, […]

Posted in Judgement - Right to Choice

Bhagwan Dass v. State (NCT) of Delhi

At-a-Glance Full Judgment Appellant was infuriated with his daughter, for having ‘dishonored’ his family, since she had left her husband and was living in an incestuous relationship with her uncle. Hence he strangulated her to death. He was convicted by the trial court, judgment upheld by the High Court. All circumstantial evidence pointed to the […]

Posted in Judgement - Right to Choice

Arumugam Servai vs. State of Tamil Nadu

At-a-Glance Full Judgment This was a case of caste-based discrimination. The Lata Singh judgment was referred to, in relation to ‘honor’ related crimes. The court directed the administration and police officials to take strong measures to prevent such atrocious acts. If any such incidents happen, apart from instituting criminal proceedings against those responsible for such […]

Posted in Judgement - Right to Choice

Lata Singh vs. State Of U.P. & Another

At-a-Glance Abridged Judgment Full Judgment Lata Singh vs State Of U.P. & Another was a landmark case in which the Supreme Court provided unwavering support of a woman’s right to choice. The petitioner, Lata Singh, was a major when she left her family’s home to marry a man outside of her caste. This set off […]

Posted in Judgement - Right to Choice