In 2006, the Supreme Court held that marriages of all Indian citizens should be compulsorily registered and asked the Centre and State governments to take the necessary steps to implement its direction (Seema vs Ashwini Kumar). The Law Commission’s 211st report, which recommends the enactment of a Marriage and Divorce Act, aims to consolidate and reform the existing laws on registering the same. Family matters are under the concurrent list of the Constitution and the diversity in legislation on the registration of marriages and divorces has been a source of confusion. A unified nationwide law will bring the administrative machinery for registering these under one system. At the same time, it will also help to check child marriages, bigamous and polygamous relationships, and strengthen the hands of women to enforce their rights — for example, their inheritance rights and their right to live in the house of their in-laws.
As the Law Commission has stressed, the registration of a marriage should not be confused with a civil marriage and its proposals will not affect any substantive issue that is regulated by the country’s various general and community-specific matrimonial laws. What the proposals seek to do is to make registration compulsory for all Indian citizens, without exception. They involve the setting up of a machinery for registration at the district level. Since most marriages in India are solemnised with a religious ceremony, the Commission has proposed that it be made mandatory for the “officiating priest” to pass on records regularly to the designated officers. It is important that a time limit is set for the passing on of this information. To ensure effective compliance, the Commission has suggested that failure to register a marriage or divorce be punished “with heavy fines” and in default of this, with imprisonment; also that no judicial relief be granted in a disputed matter if a marriage or a divorce is unregistered. An important reason for the disregard of existing state laws on marriage is that failure to register neither attracts penalties nor affects the validity of the marriage in any way. Compulsory registration, however, should not cast too onerous a burden on the people and the process of registration must be simple, inexpensive and provided in offices that are widely accessible. It is now up to Parliament to bring marriage and divorce registration laws under a unified regime in a way that addresses the underlying concerns that led the court to direct that registration be made compulsory.
6 months ago