The video clip of two twin women marrying a man in Maharashtra made headlines yesterday. While the families of the bride and the groom consented to the arrangement, a complaint was filed against the groom. As per the report, a Non-cognizable (NC) offense under section 494 (marrying again during the lifetime of husband or wife) of the Indian Penal Code has been registered against the groom at Akluj police station.
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted in 1948, both acknowledge the individual’s right to marry. In India, there is no one Uniform code of law governing marriage; rather, different religions follow different sets of laws.
There is the Hindu Marriage Act from 1955 for Hindus, the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act 1937 for Muslims, the Indian Christian Marriage Act 1872 for Christians, and the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act 1936 for Parsis. The Special Marriage Act of 1954 was passed in order to regulate marriages between people who did not identify with any particular religious tradition.
What Does Hindu Marriage Act Say About Bigamy?
Matrimonial law among Hindus was codified with the passing of the Hindu Marriage Act in 1955. This act applies to those who follow the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.
The Act states capacity to marry, and these conditions are mentioned in section 5, which says there should be no spouse living at the time of marriage. This means that the Hindu culture does not entertain the practise of bigamy. Bride and groom at the time of the wedding must be of sound mind, give their free consent, and not be insane.
Both parties must be at least 21 years old, not related to one another at any of the levels that constitute a prohibited relationship, and not related in any way that would constitute a sapinda (cousin) relationship, states a report by Legal Services India.
Section 17 of the Act entails the punishment of bigamy. According to a report by Indian Kanoon, “any marriage between two Hindus solemnized after the commencement of this Act is void if at the date of such marriage either party had a husband or wife living; and the provisions of sections 494 and 495 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860), shall apply accordingly."
The Reform of Marriage Laws
Over the years, the Parliament has made laws to ban certain practices considered social evils prevailing with the customs of marriage in various religions. For example: Sati, child marriage, triple talaq, etc.
Sati was a practice among Hindus in which, in the event of the death of a married man, the deceased man’s wife is expected to sit atop the funeral pyre of her deceased husband and burn to death alongside her husband. The Commission of Prevention of Sati Act 1987 is currently in force and it aims to put an end to the practise of sati anywhere within Indian territory.
The Act forbids the voluntary or involuntary burning or burying alive of a widow and also prohibits the glorification of the practise of Sati. According to the Act, the term “sati" refers to the act of “burning or burying alive" a widow along with the body of her deceased husband or other relative, or any article, object, or thing associated with the husband or such a relative, a report by Legal Services India states.
There are several laws in place to protect children from violations of human and other rights, including the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006 and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act of 2012, a report by The Hindu states.
The Union Cabinet has approved raising the age of marriage for women to 21, and a parliamentary standing committee is weighing the pros and cons. With various personal laws governing marriages in India, the government wishes to amend the law, a reform that activists and organisations say will not be sufficient to end the practise of child marriage.
Aside from centralised schemes like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, which require better implementation on the ground, states have launched a slew of initiatives to address the factors that contribute to child marriage, ranging from education to health care and awareness campaigns. West Bengal’s Kanyashree scheme, for example, provides financial aid to girls who want to pursue higher education; however, women’s activists have suggested that another scheme, Rupashree, which provides a one-time payment of 25,000 to poor families at the time of a daughter’s marriage, may be counter-productive. Bihar and other states have implemented a cycle scheme to ensure girls arrive safely at school, and Uttar Pradesh has a scheme to encourage girls to return to school.
The Islamic practise of “triple talaq," which allowed a Muslim man to divorce his wife in minutes by saying “talaq" (divorce) three times, was outlawed by India’s Supreme Court in 2017. Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, India was one of only a few countries that permitted triple talaq. The BJP government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, supported the campaign by Muslim women and activists to outlaw the practice.
Read all the Latest Explainers here