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The Hindu : Proof of marriage

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Proof of marriage
THE SUGGESTION MADE by the Supreme Court for enactment of a law that will make
registration of marriages compulsory merits active consideration by the Centre. For an
official record of marriages will be of immense value like the register of births and deaths.
There is already a private member's Bill pending in the Rajya Sabha mandating registration
of all marriages regardless of caste, creed or religion within a month. In addition to allowing
for easy mobility of spouses across countries, such a measure can serve as an effective
instrument to further gender justice. In the first instance, an official record can help in curbing
violations of law in the areas of marriage, divorce, dowry prevention, and protection of the
rights of children. Such offences often go unpunished for sheer want of conclusive evidence
to establish the fact of marriage and the age of spouses. Thus the proposed law can be an
instrument to work existing laws more effectively. Indeed, the procedure for registration has
been on the statute books ever since civil marriages came to be governed by the Special
Marriage Act of 1954. But it does not go far enough because the overwhelming majority of
marriages in India are solemnised by religious and ceremonial rites, which belong to the
domain of personal laws of different religions. The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 too does not
invalidate marriages that are not registered. It has been left largely to the States to evolve
their own methods of ensuring compliance.
With the advantage of hindsight, it is clear that the absence of a mandatory provision has
caused hardship to women and children in many cases. The offence of bigamy is hard to
establish in a court of law if there is no independent and conclusive proof of a previous
marriage. The ground rules of matrimonial ties are even today defined in terms of the
concerns and interests of large, extended families of male spouses. Marital discord is likewise
attributed often enough to adherence to or violation of collective and customary family
norms. Under the circumstances, producing neutral witnesses from outside the family
network becomes a near impossibility. In this milieu, a certificate of marriage is the only
guarantee of women securing their rights to inheritance and maintenance. At another level,
the absence of a binding obligation has led to the flouting of the law laying down the
minimum age of marriage 21 years for men and 18 years for women. Declaration and
indeed authentication of age becomes a necessary part of obtaining a certificate of marriage.
Thus compulsory registration can serve as an instrument of deterring and curbing child
marriages, which are prohibited under a 1929 Act but continue to take place in various parts
of the country.
The rising trend among Indians voluntarily to register marriages is encouraging. This reflects
growing geographical mobility among certain sections of society and the consequent need to
ensure hassle-free foreign travel. But insofar as an official record of marriages can promote

national integration and social harmony, any law for the purpose must bring members of all
religious communities within its purview. To that extent, it will be one more significant step
in the journey towards establishing a personal law regime guaranteeing gender equality. The
law enacted by Andhra Pradesh in 2002 stipulates registration of marriages without reference
to religion. But it does not go far enough because the procedure has not been made
compulsory. The Union Law Ministry must initiate fast track action on a Bill for mandatory
registration of all marriages proposed by the National Commission for Women in 1994 and
broadly endorsed in the National Population Policy of 2000.
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