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Divorced from reality

There are three words that can make our political class quail: uniform civil code. Over the last few decades, these words have paralysed several efforts towards modifying laws to create a rightful social balance.

india Updated: Oct 25, 2007 23:41 IST

There are three words that can make our political class quail: uniform civil code. Over the last few decades, these words — or rather what they signify — have paralysed several efforts towards modifying laws to create a rightful social balance. These efforts have ranged from removing hurdles in the process of adoption for minority communities to what is the latest subject of attention of the Supreme Court: compulsory registration of marriages for all communities (that is, not just for Hindus, as it exists today).

The apex court has asked all states and Union Territories to introduce legislation to enforce such registration within three months of marriage. On the face of it, this would appear to be a harmless piece of legislation that should invite nobody’s wrath. Seems not. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) has stated its objection in court, saying that it “will bring unwanted hindrances in the solemnisation of nikaahs”.

So what would this law require of newly-wedded couples? Just the simple effort of registering their marriage — which, duly note, can take place in keeping with traditional and religious norms and rituals — within a stipulated period of time.

Contrary to what the AIMPLB feels, this simple act can be hugely beneficial in preventing the abuse of the institution of marriage and hindering social injustice, especially in relation to women. For one, it could arm the innumerable women in this country who get abandoned by their husbands and have no means of proving their marital status. It can help check child marriages, bigamy and polygamy, enable women to seek maintenance and custody of their children and widows to claim inheritance rights. Marriage registration, simply by serving as a document of proof, would truly empower Indian women — and not just Hindu women — to exercise their rights.

Unfortunately, the Parliamentary Bill in 2006 to introduce compulsory registration of marriages for all communities got diluted as soon as the central government got a whiff of objections on the ground that it would interfere with Muslim personal laws. With so much at stake on this one legislation, illogical arguments like the AIMPLB has given must be peremptorily dismissed.

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