|A young couple locked in embrace in a park in Delhi on Valentine's Day. (AFP)
New Delhi, Feb. 14: Marriages must be registered, the Supreme Court ruled today in an order that seeks to protect women as well as children and lay down the first uniform guideline to regulate the cornerstone of the social system.
The court has directed the Centre and state governments to make changes in rules to ensure that registration of marriages is made compulsory. The order means Bengal, one of the states where registration is not mandatory, has to amend rules.
Justices Arijit Passayat and S.H. Kapadia gave the Centre and states three months to comply with the directive. The judges, who asked the governments to seek opinion from the public, said the rules should spell out the consequences of non-registration.
The ruling was based on a draft prepared by the National Commission for Women which said all marriages have to be registered irrespective of religion.
The court did not specifically mention whether all religions will be covered ' the details will be known once the written order is made public.
The directive came on a petition regarding a marriage dispute. The court enlarged the scope of the petition and sought the views of the women’s commission. In an affidavit, the commission had said “non-registration of marriages affects women the most”.
NCW chairperson Girija Vyas said today’s directive would help check social evils like child marriage. Sri Lanka saw a sharp fall in such marriages after registration was made mandatory.
Vyas said the commission’s draft bill provided for a simple procedure which would neither interfere with personal laws nor hurt religious sentiments. Qazis and pandits, she added, have been given the power to register marriages.
She said the government should ensure there is a uniform law throughout the country. Maharashtra, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh are among the states where registration of marriages is compulsory.
The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, empowers state governments to make registration compulsory to facilitate documentary proof of marriages. The act, however, makes it clear that non-registration should not affect the validity of a marriage.
Under the Special Marriage Act, 1954, which can be used by citizens of all religions, registration is mandatory. Likewise, the Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872, provides for entry in the register of the church where the union is solemnised. In the case of Muslims, the nikaahnama records the terms of marriage.
Legal experts said the rule would also help courts save time to prove the authenticity of a marriage, spare a litigating spouse harassment and decide inheritance rights. Advocate Abhishek Rai said several cases of “bigamy” ended in acquittal because it was necessary for the wife to prove that both the marriages were “valid and binding”.
The experts said that living with a woman other than the wife merely gave the latter a civil right to divorce and, therefore, it was necessary to prove the fact of marriage to fix criminal liability on a man.