A high-level committee set up by the previous UPA government has sought an overhaul of family laws by recommending a ban on the practice of “oral, unilateral and triple talaq (divorce)” and polygamy, and “mandatory payment of maintenance to wife and children” in the event of separation or divorce.
The report — titled ‘Women and the law: An assessment of family laws with focus on laws relating to marriage, divorce, custody, inheritance and succession’ — was submitted to women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi recently. The view taken by it is close to the current BJP regime’s position on a uniform civil code.
Ministry officials refused to comment, saying they were still going through the report.
The committee, headed by former Panjab University professor Dr Pam Rajput, examined the rights of women under the broad framework of Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Parsi law. Supporting uniformity in the minimum age for marriage for boys and girls (18 years), it recommended the passing of a “central enactment” for registration of marriages that is “applicable to all religious groups”.
Another recommendation of uniformity dealt with a clause in the Hindu Marriage Act (HMA), 1955 on irretrievable breakdown of marriage. This should not be made grounds for divorce until financial safeguards are in place, it said.
A bill (now lapsed) introduced in Parliament last year sought to cover this clause only in the HMA, 1955 and Special Marriage Act, 1954. But the report said, “If and when this amendment is introduced, irretrievable breakdown of marriage as grounds for divorce should also be introduced under the Divorce Act, 1869, Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936 and Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939 as well. It should be a general matrimonial relief available to all.”
On Christian laws on divorce, it recommended amending the prescribed two-year period in mutual consent cases under the Divorce Act to one year, in order to ensure consistency in all related laws.
However, lawyer Kirti Singh, part of a core panel on legal issues set up by the committee, told HT, “We are not recommending uniform civil code or abolition of personal laws. But equality should be the basis of all personal law... We are also recommending that some laws like Right to Marital Property be framed for all women.”
“Women are discriminated against in family laws. The report highlights this and what needs to be done to make them equal. After all, article 14 of our Constitution envisages equality, justice and dignity for women,” said Rajput.
On Muslim law, the committee called for a “complete ban on oral, unilateral and triple divorce as it renders wives extremely insecure regarding their marital status…. The Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939 should be amended and specific provisions introduced, making triple talaq and polygamy void. A provision should be added providing interim maintenance.”
It also called for a minimum “meher” (mandatory payment to a bride before marriage by the groom’s family) that should not be less than the groom’s annual income.
Though the Supreme Court has held triple talaq to be illegal, it is still common practice.
On inheritance and succession laws in the community, the report said, “A woman, Shia or Sunni, gets half the share of a man... There is a need to address such discriminatory practice.”
It went on to recommend that section 125 of the CrPC be amended to include maintenance for women in live-in relationships and for unmarried dependent daughters.
Suggesting changes to the Special Marriage Act, 1954, the committee said, “Notices (of intended marriages) should not be displayed on notice boards outside the registrar’s office as it places young people, desirous of contracting a marriage of choice, at great risk.”
Objecting to the 30-day notice period for couples wishing to get married under this law, it recommended bringing it down to seven days. “This provision serves no purpose except to delay the process and a couple wanting to marry in a hurry because of parental or other disapproval cannot afford to wait a full month.”
The act is a secular alternative to personal law for many couples who face difficulties in getting married, mostly due to matters of religion and caste.