Marriage in India is an event filled with customs and traditions which have
been carried out through the centuries and are still honored even after so many
years. However, even if there are certain customs like saptadi which are
necessary to validate the marriage we can also find some customs which could be
considered unnecessary or regressive in today's time. Such customs include sati,
dowry, child marriage, etc. These brought the needs of reforms in the practices
related to Indian marriages.
This paper analyses the practice of sati as well as the Commission of Sati
Prevention Act, 1987 in brief. It further highlights the need for setting a
minimum age limit for the people getting married and hence abolishing the
practice of child marriage.
Another prevalent practice of giving dowry to the groom in exchange of marrying
the bride has been recognized and necessary laws have been enacted, still these
laws have not deterred the people. In order to keep up with the changing times
and accepting new thoughts and ideologies, we have understood the need to
acknowledge people of different sexual orientation as well as accept same sex
marriages. These reforms made regarding marriages in India over the centuries
have been analysed in detail in this paper.
When we talk about laws which related to marriage and family and how it evolved
from the past with customs like Sati, Dowry, Child Marriage and many more,
undoubtedly they are still prevalent in some parts. These reforms and changes
which have taken place in our society have shown how we see the group cultures,
customs and personal relations. Indian policy makers to a very much extent
retained the cultures and values which were somewhere affected by the British
invasion. They tried to bring back the personal laws related to marriage of
specific religious groups. In the current scenario, personal laws which predate
colonial times are forced upon people.
The Hindu Marriage Act 1955, The Special Marriage Act 1954, The Indian Christian
Marriage Act 1872 and many more. Simply put, marriage is an institution that
binds 2 partners together with love till death parts them. India being a secular
country where everybody has a right to follow any religion as per their desire.
Although with lots of cultures and traditions, executing and explaining the
motive of marriage has been difficult. Firstly, it was considered that after a
marriage man should be the powerhouse of the family, a concept known as
patriarchy but that too is longer visible. So everything has changed and evolved
for the betterment of society only.
Abolition of Sati
Sati is a practice wherein if a married man dies, his wife is supposed to sit on
the funeral pyre of the husband and burn to death. This was a very prevalent
social evil in India and became common after the 13th Century. Sati was
practiced to highlight the purity of a woman and her devotion towards her
husband. The term sati is derived from Sanskrit and literally means 'she is pure
The myth behind sati is that the goddess Sati burned herself to death because
she couldn't stand her father Daksha's maltreatment of her husband Shiva. Jauhar
is a practice considered under sati wherein the wives of the Hindu kings and the
soldiers would throw themselves in fire if they lost a war against a Muslim
enemy. The females supposedly sacrificed themselves in order to protect
themselves from the clutches of the enemy. These practices were most prevalent
in the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh states in India.
Christian missionaries launched a number of efforts opposing the Sati practice.
However, Raja Ram Mohan Roy is credited with calling for an end to this social
blight. The Bengal Provincial administration prohibited Sati for the very first
time in 1829, and other provinces & princely kingdoms soon followed suit. In
1861, Queen Victoria issued a blanket prohibition on the practice of Sati in
The Commission of Sati Prevention Act, 1987, is now in effect. This Act aims to
prohibit any practice of sati within Indian territory. The Act forbids both the
forced and voluntary burning or burying alive of a widow, as well as glorifying
Sati. Sati is defined as the burning or burying alive of a widow with the body
of her deceased husband or other relative, or any article, object, or thing
associated with the husband or such a relative, according to the Act.
The commission of Sati involves 3 elements:
- Burning of the woman
- Glorification of the Act
- Establishment of a temple dedicated to the Sati
This Act makes attempting to commit Sati unlawful by a prison sentence of up to
one year or a penalty or both, and the individuals actively participating in the
practice or simply witnessing it will be sentenced to imprisonment for life. The
act of representing or depicting sati as admirable or honorable is now
punishable by a seven-year prison sentence and a monetary fine. The last
recorded case of sati was when Roop Kanwar sat on the funeral pry of her husband
at the age of 18 on September 4 1987.
Abolition of Child Marriage
Child marriage can be described as a union solemnized between two people where
the age of the male is less than 21 years and that of the female is less than 18
years. In India, child marriages are common. The extent and scope of child
marriages are estimated differently by different sources. Based on a survey
conducted in 1998, the International Center for Research on Women-UNICEF
publications assessed India's child marriage percentage to be 47 percent,
whereas the United Nations reported it to be 30 percent in 2005. 33.8 million
child marriages were recorded in the 2011 Census for women under the age of 18
and boys under the age of 21.
In India, there is a lot of variation in the prevalence of child marriage
throughout locations, provinces, and between towns and cities. Early marriage
have their own set of consequences, such as medical issues for women owing to
pregnancy at a young age, increased degradation in women's standing, and a
vicious circle of gender inequity and hence to overcome this The Child Marriage
Restraint Act, 1929, which was the first secular law aimed at preventing child
marriage, but it only imposed penalties on adult male who married a juvenile and
on the parents who encouraged such unions.
Due to the incompetence of this act, a new law was enacted as The Prohibition of
Child Marriage Act, 2006, which envisage child marriage with penalties of two
years of solitary confinement or fine of one lakh rupees or both. Under The
Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, only the parties are penalised, there is no provision
to prosecute the parents who solemnised the union. A girl can annul the marriage
only before the age of fifteen and can challenge the marriage before attaining
the age of eighteen. There is no explicit prohibition against juvenile marriage.
In the case of Lajja v. State, while considering the legitimacy of alleged child
marriages as referred in the petition before the bench, the Delhi High Court
held that Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, which makes the act
cognizable and non-bailable, has imposed harsher sanctions. It states that
permission gained from juveniles under the age of sixteen is irrelevant, and
that a superseding indictment, once filed, cannot be invalidated solely because
the minor was a consenting party.
The High Court of Gujarat in the case of Yusuf Ibrahim Mohammad Lokhat v. the
State of Gujarat held that "According to Muslim personal law, a girl is
competent to marry without her parents' consent as soon as she reaches puberty
or reaches the age of 15, whichever comes first." This clearly indicates that,
in the opinion of the learned judges, that the personal laws should be used as
the major source for deciding cases of underage marriage.
Abolition of Dowry
Dowry is a certain amount of money, jewelry, estate, automobiles, and other
valuables paid by the bride 's family to the bridegroom and his family in
exchange for marrying the woman. The word 'dowry' was derived from the Latin
term 'dotarium' as well as the Anglo-Norman French term 'dowarie,' which created
the word 'dowry.' It sounds like the late Middle English word 'dower,' which
refers to a wife's part of her partner's estate following his demise.
The tradition of providing a dowry transfers a significant percentage of the
bride's family's wealth to the groom's family merely on the basis of nuptials.
As a result, marriage is transformed into a commercial act or exchange involving
the amassing of wealth or money. This social evil is extremely prevalent in
India in spite of being illegal.
The Indian law known as the Dowry Prohibition Act was enacted on May 1, 1961,
with the goal of prohibiting the giving or receiving of a dowry. The anti-dowry
legislation in India makes dowry unlawful. Any action of taking or giving dowry
is illegal in India, according to the Dowry Prohibition Act. The sanction for
breaking the anti-dowry regulations is upto 5 years in prison and a penalty of
Rs. 15,000 or the amount of said dowry paid, whichever is higher.
Negotiating with the groom's family for a lower dowry when the bride's family is
unable to fulfill the dowry demanded by the groom and his family, as well as
forcing the bride's family to meet requests as compensation for marrying their
daughter after the wedding has already taken place, are all illegal.
Often times, the family of the groom are seen to demand dowry from the bride's
family after the wedding and sometimes even torture the bride, verbally or
physically. If the bride is facing such pressure for dowry from her in-laws and
dies within 7 years of the marriage, it could be considered dowry death. Under
Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code, dowry deaths are illegal, while
mistreatment or domestic abuse for dowry expectations is illegal under Section
498A. The IPC renders the offence non-bailable, which implies that if the
husband or members of the family are apprehended by the police, they wouldn't be
able to post bail.
Same Sex Marriage
The issue of marriage reforms in India, especially the questions of same-sex
marriage, its validity and its legality have, of late, attracted huge attention.
Undoubtedly, the same-sex union is social reality in India but people take it as
a bitter truth which is hard for them to digest. Bond between two people of same
sex is not naturally different between the same bond with people of different
Being gay is just one side of the story and marriage encircles the whole person.
Most of same-sex couples who have tied knots and promised each other to be
together with their partner, whatever the condition and challenges will be do
not consider themselves as gay. When people assert their right of marriage,
their sexuality is not innate to this right, although the social thinking and
prejudice makes it appear so.
If we talk about U.S.A, when a debate on same-sex marriages was going on in
state of Vermont, many senators who opposed these same-sex marriages at first,
changed the arguments and supported it after hearing the couples who lived
together for years.
Section 377 was a invention of British which banned homosexuality. In 1997, ABVA
filed a PIL questioning the constitutional validity of section 377. It was the
first step against the government oppression of LGBTQ community. The Delhi HC
struck down this law stating that it stood against fundamental rights provided
by the Indian constitution.
This was overturned by SC and section 377 of IPC was reinstated. A landmark
judgement was given by SC in 2018 in which section 377 was declared
unconstitutional and it was stated by court that this was unconstitutional to an
individual's dignity and identity. But still Indians find themselves under
tremendous pressure when they are told to open about their sexual orientation
and talk freely about it. It's like a mental pressure on them.
If we see the current scenario, same- sex marriages are still not recognized in
India and they are frowned upon too because of orthodox thinking of the society.
Some societal beliefs need to be changed, because if the judiciary can evolve
with time, law can evolve with time, why cannot the society ?
When it comes to laws relating to marriage and family rituals such as Sati,
Dowry, Child Marriage, and others, they are surely still present in some areas.
These reforms and transformations in our society have influenced how we view
group traditions, conventions, and interpersonal relationships. Indian
policymakers preserved, to a large measure, the traditions and values that have
been influenced by the British conquest.
They intended to reintroduce personal regulations governing marriage between
members of specified religious groups. People are currently subjected to
personal laws that trace back to colonial times. The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955,
the Special Marriage Act of 1954, the Indian Christian Marriage Act of 1872, and
a number of others are only a few examples.
Marriage is an institution that brings two people together in a loving
relationship until death separates them. Despite the fact that there are several
cultures and customs, implementing and communicating the purpose of marriage has
proven challenging. Initially, it was thought that after marriage, the man
should be the family's powerhouse, a belief termed as patriarchy, but this is no
longer the case. As a result, everything has altered and developed solely for
the benefit of humanity.