THE HINDU MARRIAGE VALIDITY ACT - Mr. V. J. PATEL LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL MEMBER


I - THE REFORMER'S VIEW POINT
The honorable Mr. Patel is signalising his entrance into the Imperial Legislative Council by displaying his wonted activity at the very first session which he is attending. Among other things he is raising the question of inter-caste marriages among the Hindus and the debate on the leave to introduce the bill was to have taken place yesterday. Although the report of the debate is not available to us at the moment of writing, it would not be amiss to put forward some obvious considerations on the subject once again before the public.
About six years ago the Hon'ble Mr. Bhupendranath Basu introduced a bill in the Imperial Legislative Council with the object of doing away with the necessity of abjuring one's religion before one is able to contract a valid marriage under the Special Marriage Act. That bill of course met with opposition from many orthodox Hindu circles, and as it was also opposed by Government it was not successful. Even at that time however, it was, remarked that the bill met with a very considerable amount of support from some unexpected quarters, e.g. the Maratta in this Presidency, Many thinking men have come to realise that for the consolidation of an Indian nationality the old religious obstacles to individual action should be as far as possible removed, and therefore they have no objection to permissive bill like Mr. Basu's. But the Government of those days opposed the bill on this very ground and did not want to give this small facility to enable enterprising members of different communities to contract legal alliances, seeing in this proposal a future political danger.
There were some Hindus who opposed Mr. Basu's bill on account of its going to far in that it proposed to validate marriages between members of different religions. They were ready, they said, to accept a bill validating marriages between different castes and sub-castes among the Hindus, between which, according to the best legal opinion of the country, there cannot be lawful marriages. We have never seen the force of this objection, for to the orthodox the marriage between a Brahman and a Shudra is as unthinkable as one between a Hindu and a Parsi. When the fight is one for a principle in this case that of individual liberty to contract marriage, it is best not to compromise it by trying to conciliate a class of opponents who after all can never be really conciliated, and one might "as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb."
The Hon. Mr. Patel has attempted to choose this apparently easier path, and though we have not much hope of its success under a Government which is in mortal dread of any measures of social reform we trust that his effort will meet with enough public support to allow another bill of a wider scope to pass the expanded legislative council of the future. We hope that Mr. Patel will make his position quite clear; otherwise in this case a small reform will once again prove the enemy of a large reform. Mr. Patel's bill really consists of a single clause, and we are afraid that it has not been well drawn up. The question of marriage is bound up with a host of other questions which will have to be faced by the legislator. We do not wish to raise objections for objection's sake and we do wish that Mr. Patel or some other member will bring in a comprehensive measure which will take account of all the logical consequences of the validation of intercaste marriages. The work is absolutely necessary in the interests of the Hindu community if it is not to suffer from gradual attrition. 
We shall enumerate only a few of these consequences. In the first place a marriage act involves a divorce act as an immediate corollary. Then various questions of inheritance will also immediately arise. Is a mau who has married out of caste and who has consequently been excommunicated still entitled to claim his share of the ancestral house for living in it? Are his children by a wife of a different caste to claim an equal share with his children by a former wife of his own caste? Can a man marry two wives of different castes and can he enforce the restitution of conjugal rights in the case of a wife of higher caste who refuses to live with a co-wife of a lower caste? Again what is to be the caste of the children of these inter-caste marriages and what is the law of succession to which they would be subject? For although there is a general law of succession common to all Hindus, still there are several customary differences for different castes. Again a legislator ought to take care that in trying to do away with caste rigidity he does not unconsciously add to it, for there is likely to result different new castes from different combinations of two other castes. Further, there should be settled the question of anuloma and pratiloma marriages.
These and various other questions will each require separate detailed treatment, impossible in one article. Suffice it to say that we ourselves are prepared to follow up the logical consequences of the principle of individual liberty, when the similar liberty of others is not endangered. If we have mentioned several objections to Mr. Patel's bill it is only the role of a friendly critic who wishes him to seek expert advice in the matter of drafting and bring out his results once again in a complete and self contained measure.
R. P. Paranjpye.

Source : THE SERVANT OF INDIA SOCIETY - September 5, 1918


0 Comments