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Compulsory marriage registration in 3 months: SC to states

The Indian Supreme Court agrees with the National Commission for Women that compulsory registration of marriages will help tackle various women’s rights infringements

The Supreme Court of India has ordered the compulsory registration of all marriages in India, irrespective of the religion of the couple getting married. It has given states and union territories that have not yet enacted the rule, in accordance with its 2006 orders, a deadline of three months to frame rules to implement the compulsory registration.

A Bench of Justices Arijit Pasayat and P Sathasivam passed the order on October 25, based on a petition filed by a divorced woman, Seema, seeking directions for making marriage registrations compulsory. The Bench reiterated that marriages should be compulsorily registered “in respect of persons who are citizens of India, even if they belonged to various religions”.

The court directed the states and central government to notify the procedure for compulsory marriage registrations within three months. This can be done by amending the existing rules or by framing new ones. Objections from the public shall be invited for one month thereafter, the court said. When the Indian government enacts a comprehensive statute on the issue, it shall be placed before the apex court for its scrutiny, the Bench added.

The age and marital status (unmarried, divorced, widowed) of the couples shall be clearly stated in the registration form, the court said. An officer appointed under the rules shall be authorised to register marriages and the consequences of non-registration of marriage or filing a false declaration shall be provided for in the rules, the Bench stated.

In February 2006, the court held that compulsory registration of marriages of all religions would be a step in the right direction for the prevention of child marriage -- a practice that is still widespread in many parts of the country. It said that one way to curb the practice was to make it legally binding on all couples to register their marriages, mentioning their ages at the time.

The court agreed with the National Commission for Women that compulsory registration of marriages would help tackle various women’s rights infringements such as child marriage, ensuring a minimum age in accordance with the law, marriage without the consent of both parties, bigamous unions, and a woman’s right to live in her marital home and receive maintenance.

In India there are only four statutes for the compulsory registration of marriages -- the Bombay Registration of Marriages Act, 1953 (applicable to Maharashtra and Gujarat), the Karnataka Marriages (Registration and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1976, the Himachal Pradesh Registration of Marriages Act, 1996, and the Andhra Pradesh Compulsory Registration of Marriages Act, 2002.

In July 2007, the apex court clarified that the order was meant to cover all religions, after being informed by the amicus curiae Ranjt Kumar that though some states had framed rules in compliance with the court’s 2006 order, they had done so only for Hindu marriages and not other religions.

The apex court also noted that in five states, provisions exist for voluntary registration of Muslim marriages. These states are Assam, Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa and Meghalaya.

The court has given the states three months to comply. “It appears that the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Rajasthan, Sikkim and Tripura have complied with the direction,” it said on October 25.

In West Bengal, it added, changes had been made to the West Bengal Special Marriages Rules, 1969, Registration of Muslim Marriages and Divorces Registration Rules, and Registration Rules of Hindu Marriage Act to make the registration of marriage compulsory and providing consequences for non-compliance.

While the Supreme Court order has been largely welcomed as a step in the right direction by the Muslim community, members of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) are divided in their opinion. The body said, while it was “not against the spirit of registration of marriages, it should be made optional”. Others are vehemently opposed to it as they see it as a step towards the imposition of a uniform civil code in India.

Source: The Hindu, October 26, 2007
             The Telegraph, October 26, 2007
             www.newindpress.com, October 25, 2007
             www.ndtv.com, October 25, 2007