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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 February 2006, 20:40 GMT
India 'to register all marriages'
By Ayanjit Sen
BBC News, Delhi

Wedding couple
Most marriages in India are currently not registered
India's Supreme Court has given the federal and state governments three months to enact legislation making it compulsory to register all marriages.

The court said the public's views would be invited on the new legislation.

Under the proposed changes, proof of a traditional religious marriage ceremony would not be sufficient.

Supporters of the move say it will curb crimes such as bigamy and marriage without consent. Critics say the state is interfering and the law unnecessary.


The Supreme Court has already asked for opinions regarding the registration of marriages from all state governments, as well as from the National Commission for Women (NCW), an autonomous advisory body set up by the government.

We also try to keep some evidence of marriage in writing. But we do not like interference of the state in these issues
Zafaryab Jilani
Muslim Personal Law Board

The NCW has told the court it is in favour of registering marriages and is preparing a draft document in this regard.

The commission says the proposed law would help ensure a minimum age for marriage, prevent marriages without the consent of both parties, check bigamy and polygamy and deter people from buying and selling young girls under the guise of marriage.

It would also help women claim alimony in case of divorce or separation, the commission says.

The details of the new law are yet to be finalised.

The states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh already have such laws, but they need to be strengthened since they have many loopholes, the NCW says.

'Urban phenomenon'

At present, a majority of marriages in India are not registered because ceremonies are performed according to religious rites.

This has been widely accepted in the country and divorce petitions filed in the courts until now have accepted religious marriages as legal.

Analysts say registering marriages has essentially been an urban phenomenon and married couples usually register only when there is a specific legal requirement, such as obtaining passports or visas.

A member of the Muslim Personal Law Board - a representative forum of Muslim organisations in India - said there was no need for the proposed law change.

"We also try to keep some evidence of marriage in writing. But we do not like interference of the state in these issues," Zafaryab Jilani told the BBC.

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