The HC based in Chandigarh — the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana — is a safe haven for runaway couples. Over 100 cases are filed daily before the HC involving lovelorn couples from the two states. To cater to the needs of these runaway couples, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, so-called ‘marriage shops’ have mushroomed on the outskirts of Chandigarh.
The main aim of these runaway couples is to get married in a gurdwara or temple, get the proof of their marriage and then approach the high court through protection petitions seeking protection of their life and liberty from disapproving relatives.
No boundaries for ‘marriage shops’
A large number of ‘marriage shops’, lining the approach road to the famous Mata Mansa Devi temple in Panchkula, offer all services to these young couples to ensure they live together for the next “seven births.”
For these ‘marriage shops,’ there are no boundaries or prohibitions on inter-faith, intercaste, and same-gotra (a big social taboo in Haryana) weddings. The runaway couples are even offered subsidized hotels or shelter homes by these ‘marriage shops’ to live in hiding from their families till they get a positive response from the high court. TOI visited the area and found that the entire passage going towards the main entrance of the Mansa Devi temple is dotted with boards inviting and assuring gullible young couples to solemnize weddings with an “authentic marriage certificate.”
Interestingly, they also claim to provide the young couples everything they need for the wedding, including clothes, makeup for the bride, photographs and even a lawyer, if they need protection from family or relatives. These ‘marriage shops’ have an inventory of all articles needed to prepare a bride and bridegroom for their wedding. The couples are even allowed by the ‘marriage shops’ to visit the Mata Mansa Devi temple wearing their rented wedding finery to seek divine blessings. However, the clothes and imitation jewellery have to be returned once the entire wedding and the photo session later is over.
Posing as a client and visiting these ‘marriage shops’ TOI found that everything has a fixed price. The runaway couple, depending on their financial ability, can opt for a part of the wedding package or a complete package. Starting from Rs 5,100 for solemnizing a wedding with a marriage certificate, photographs with the exchange of garlands and taking saptapadi (seven steps around fire), to Rs 16,000 that includes all this and the fee of the lawyer who would assist them in the HC.
These ‘marriage shops’ also perform weddings of runaway couples sent to them by advocates who need a marriage certificate as per customs and religion of the couple to file a petition before the HC to seek the protection of their life and liberty.
Interestingly, the priests solemnizing these weddings on the go are well aware of the procedure followed for petitions by the runaway couples in the Punjab and Haryana high court. While interacting with TOI, one of them said that the runaway couples need a lot of guidance, they even need to be told that their wedding photographs, which would be attached with the petition, should show them wearing masks.
Akhilesh Pandey, a priest sitting in a shop named Vaidik Poojan Kendra, told TOI that the head priest in the ‘shop’ Pandit Rakesh Sharma was an expert in solemnizing such weddings and could manage everything from date of birth on Aadhar, a valid marriage certificate and the order from the high court. “Everything can be done within two days, nobody else can guarantee such things. We have been solemnizing around 70-80 marriages in a month and some of such cases include those approaching the high court for security,” claimed Akhilesh during interaction with TOI posing as a potential client. Making tall claims about their clout and expertise in the area, he said that they have a tie-up with a ‘dhaba’ (hotel or shelter home) where the couple can stay till they get a security order from the high court.
These ‘marriage shops’ also get “customers” on recommendations of other runaway couples who had used their services in the past. TOI found that a large number of marriage certificates attached by the runaway couples along with their petitions for protection were issued from these marriage shops located in the market near Mansa Devi Shrine. Even the Sonipat couple, Vinay Dahiya and Kiran Dahiya, who was recently shot by the girl’s family in Delhi, had solemnized their marriage from one such ‘marriage shop’ located near the Mansa Devi shrine.