Monday, October 29, 2007

Registering marriages in secular India

The Supreme Court of India recently ordered enactment of legislation towards making registration of all marriages, no matter under which religion they were solemnised, mandatory. A State truly turns secular when all its subjects come under one law. India, though constitutionally secular, has never really been able to cast itself in such a mould as the political leadership in the country failed to arrive at a definition of uniform civil code. For the sake of political convenience the definition of secularism was turned upside down and poor Indians left to fight things out in the streets sporting headbands of different religions. Now, a ray of hope looks likely and this order passed by the SC appears to be a small step towards bringing in some uniformity to these vast and troubled societal norms based on religion alone. Appreciably the SC has decided not to put any curbs on the way marriages are conducted according to different customs prevalent in the country. Its directive is do-it-as-you-like-but-register-it. The intended social benefits of registering marriages are many including removal of gender bias and equitable treatment of women. Evils like abandonment of hapless women, polygamy and child marriage can be completely stopped. Besides, the ‘one night’ sham marriages solemnised between wealthy Arabs and poor Indian girls in some places in India would also get checked if not completely eliminated.

However, opposition has already started emerging from some expected quarters - the Muslim clergy. Worse, politicians are mum and their silence is dangerous. Politicians who start beating drums of secularism at drop of a feather are there in large numbers in all political parties. In fact, there are more secular parties in the ruling combine than anywhere else. And there is no dearth of blunders committed by Indian politicians, both in the government as well as outside o it, in the name of secularism. Once in the past a Supreme Court judgment (remember the Shah Bano case) was usurped by a 'secular' government in India. Fears are that every effort would be made by the political class with a vested interest in the status quo to sabotage this effort by the SC. However, at present people of India are more informed and decisive than they were about three decades back. Let us hope this time sanity prevails.

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