The Kerala High Court has kept in abeyance the stay on a sub-court ruling which had restrained the expulsion of Knanaya Catholic members for marrying a person from outside the Kottayam Archeparchy. (Knanaya Catholic Naveekarana Samithi v. Metropolitan Archbishop, Archeparchy of Kottayam).
On May 25, 2021, a Sub Court in Kerela had observed that the "compulsive endogamy" allegedly practiced by Knanaya Catholics was in violation of the right to marry under Article 21 and Article 25 (freedom to profess, practice, and propagate religion) of the Constitution. It had, therefore, restrained the Metropolitan Archbishop of the Kottayam Archeparchy from expelling Knanaya members on account of marriage to Catholics from other dioceses. This order was challenged before an Additional District Court at Kottayam, which stayed the order's operation and execution. The High Court has now issued a stay on the Additional District Court's stay order.
Justice VG Arun issued an interim order observing that the Additional District Court did not have sufficient cause to stay the decree of the trial court, especially since the matter involves the curtailment of fundamental rights. The High Court said that in the considered opinion, there should be sufficient cause for the court to stay the decree of the trial court, thereby suspending an individual's right to marry a partner of his choice. For now, the issue stands decided in favor of the petitioners. Being so, the Appellate Court should not have stayed the operation and execution of the decree, that too without assigning valid reasons. The Court opined that the stay order seems to have been granted by the Appellate Court merely for the reason that an appeal was preferred and not after judiciously exercising its discretion. The High Court said that as far as the instant case is concerned, absolutely nothing is stated in the order by which operation and execution of the order stays. It is stated that the order was rendered after perusing the judgment of the trial court and the affidavit in support of the stay petition. Even though the subsequent order, by which the stay is extended, was issued after hearing, that will not efface the fundamental flaw of the stay order having been granted without the court exercising its discretion judiciously.
The High Court issued the order on a petition filed by a Knanaya Catholic, Naveekarana Samithi, and two others challenging the Additional District Court's order that had stayed the operation and execution of the Sub Court's judgment till the disposal of the appeal. The appeal before the Additional District Court had been preferred by the Metropolitan Archbishop of Archeparchy of Kottayam, which contended that the practice of endogamy is part of the community's religious tenets and, therefore, protected under Articles 26 (b) and 29(1) of the Constitution of India. Appearing for the petitioners before the High Court, advocate Kaleeswaram Raj submitted that the order of the appellate court (Additional District Court) is not sustainable as it does not meet the requirements of Order XLI, Rule 5(1) of the Code of Civil Procedure.
Order XLI Rule 5(1) CPC deals with the powers of the Appellate Court and reads as under; An appeal shall not operate as a stay of proceedings under a decree or order appealed from, except so far as the Appellate Court may order, nor shall execution of a decree be stayed by reason only of an appeal having been preferred from the decree; but the Appellate Court may for sufficient cause order stay of execution of such decree.”The Court also referred to the judgment of the Supreme Court in Atma Ram Properties (P) Ltd. v. Federal Motors (P) Ltd., in which it was held that the only guiding factor indicated in Order XLI Rule 5 is the existence of sufficient cause in favor of the appellant, on the availability of which the Appellate Court would be inclined to pass an order of stay.
The High Court added that a stay order should reflect the "sufficient reason" that had prompted the appellate court to stay the proceedings or the execution. According to the Court, this aspect was even more important since the instant case involved the alleged curtailment of the fundamental right of a citizen to marry a person of their choice. The Court, therefore, passed an interim order keeping the order of the Additional District Court in abeyance for a period of one month.