Monday October 29 2007 09:03 IST
Ensure protection for unregistered marriages
THIS is the second time within a space of 20 months that the Supreme Court has directed states to ensure that all marriages in the country are registered. This is in conformity with international law. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) stipulates the compulsory registration of marriage in Article 16 (2). So far India has dragged its feet on this. Although it signed CEDAW in 1980 and ratified it in 1993, India was also careful to put on record its inability to ensure registration of all marriages because “it is not practical in a vast country like India with its variety of customs, religions and level of literacy” to do this.
This is an argument whose time has gone. If a vast country like India can vote, if a vast country like India can have a decadal census, if a vast country like India can conform to the Indian Penal Code and legislate against child marriage, there is no reason why a vast country like this cannot register all marriages. In any case even the plea that lack of literacy is a major hurdle cuts no ice, seeing that literacy levels are rising everywhere, including in extremely marginalised regions, with some states well on the way towards achieving universal literacy. Also, to regard this essentially clerical requirement as an interference in personal law would be wholly misplaced.
The advantages of such a step are too obvious to require reiteration here. Suffice it to say that this could be the foundational step for conceiving the architecture of matrimonial rights, which has remained an unlegislated area. The one aspect which does, however, deserve the attention of the administration, civil society and courts is this: what happens to those already in unregistered marriages? It would be tragic if, for instance, women in unregistered marriages were to lose their rights, say, of inheritance; or if their husbands were now to desert them. In other words, we must ensure that registration, per se, does not become the sole determining factor for the validity of a marriage.
THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS