THE HINDU MARRIAGE ACT, 1955

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According to Hindu mythology, marriage is a sanctified relation between husband and wife to stay together; it is a divine path for new generation and to preserve the family values and traditions. In the ancient period, there was opposition from the Hindu religious community to formulate legislation governing marriage and other matters related to Hindus. The religious leaders also felt that the marriage shall not be subjected to legislative interference.

In spite of the divergence of opinion, the Central Government enacted Hindu Marriage Act in 1955 as a branch of Hindu Bill Code. The fundamental purpose of the Act is to standardize and improve the law relating to marriage among Hindus. The Act applies to all Hindus by religion including Buddhists, Jaina, Sikhs, but does not pertain to a person who is Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew unless proved that they are governed by Hindu Law and other categories mentioned under the Act. The law also applies to Scheduled Tribes who are included in Article 366(25) of Indian Constitution, unless a direction to the contrary is not notified by the Central Government. The Act invalidates the laws that existed before the enactment of the present legislation relating to Hindu marriages.

The Act under Section 5, stipulates certain conditions for solemnizing marriage among two Hindus. Neither of the parties to the marriage should have another partner living during the phase of marriage. Where a party is of unsound mind, having mental instability, insane or suffers from epilepsy etc marriage cannot be concluded. The age for solemnizing marriage shall be eighteen and twenty one for bride and bridegroom respectively. The parties to the marriage shall not be sapindas among themselves and their relationship shall not be prohibited by law, unless the customary rules permit such marriage. The marriage ceremony shall be conducted according to the custom and usage prevailing among Hindu community or by saptapadi.

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The Act further provides for the registration of marriages by entering the details of the marriage in the ‘Register of Hindu Marriage’ in a prescribed format as the State Government may by rule determine. For this purpose the State Government is empowered to frame rules in such convenient manner and shall penalize a person who acts in contravention of the said rules.

The parties to the marriage are entitled to approach the District Court for restitution of conjugal rights, where either of the parties to the marriage leaves the company of the other without reasonable cause. The husband or wife shall present a petition for judicial separation where there is reasonable ground for such separation as stipulated under the Act. The marriage shall become null and void if the husband or wife had a partner living at the time of marriage, the parties are within the relationship prohibited by law or the parties are within the sapinda relationship. The marriage shall be voidable at the option of one of the parties, if the respondent is impotent, husband or wife is of unsound mind, mentally unstable or insane or suffers from epilepsy, consent obtained by force and other reasons specified under the Act.

The Act provides that either of the parties shall file a petition for obtaining a decree of divorce on the ground that husband or wife had sexual intercourse with another person after marriage, cruelty towards the petitioner, deserted the other party for two years continuously, one of the parties had converted to another religion, unsoundness of mind, mental instability and other grounds stipulated under the legislation. Additionally, the wife is endowed with certain grounds for divorce separately and the Act also provides divorce by mutual consent of the parties, but an application for a decree in this regard shall be submitted only after six months had expired after marriage.

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But the Supreme Court, in 2012 ruled that it is not necessary for the couples to wait till the expiration of six months after marriage for getting divorced by mutual consent. The Parliament introduced The Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill in 2010 to amend Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and to make the divorce by mutual consent under Section 13-B easier. But due to strong oppositions from women’s forum and other social welfare organizations, the bill was again amended with certain safeguards to women in case of divorce by mutual consent. The bill was passed by Rajya Sabha in August 2013 with the proposed modifications, where the wife can content that the divorce will result in grave financial crisis to her and divorce can be granted only after providing adequate maintenance to the children. The Bill is pending for obtaining the assent of the President.