Changes are an integral part of human life. Evolution and change are bound to happen. Similarly, the institution of marriage had also undergone many changes in the past 20 years. Hindu religion considers marriage as a very important part of its culture and rites. Marriage is not only for two people rather it is the merging of two families. Many sentiments and emotions are attached to a single marriage. However, due to this wide engagement of family and society, several practices such as monogamy, Sati, dowry, and lack of widow marriage are also witnessed in or after marriage. Society considers marriage more as a responsibility than a relation. The Traditional approach of Hindu marriage has changed a lot, now various laws are there to secure the rights of men and women in a marriage. From Inter-caste marriage to the ban of the Sati system, many revolutions took place in the institution of marriage. Although these changes are not fully accepted by everyone, with time things are only getting better. Steps such as the ban of Sati Pratha, fixing the age of bride and groom to avoid child marriage are also improving the condition.
HINDU MARRIAGE ACT, 1955
Hindu Marriage Act is one of the most important Act in the history of social legislation. It was introduced as a reform in the Hindu law of Marriage. The main aim of this Act was to protect the rights of the bride and groom involved in a Hindu marriage. This Act was introduced to stop acts that were humiliating men and women in the name of sacred marriage. Many immature Hindu marriage laws were reviewed while making this Act.
Validity of Hindu Marriage Act
Section 2 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 says that this act applies to the following group of people:
- A person who is a Hindu includes a Virashaiva, a Lingayat, or a follower of the Brahmo, Prarthana, or Arya Samaj.
- A person who is a Buddist, Jain, or Sikh.
- A person who is residing in regions where this act is applicable and the person should not be a Muslim, Christian, Parsi, or Jew.
- A child both legitimate and illegitimate whose parents are Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, or Sikhs.
- A child whose parents are a Hindu, Buddist, Jaina, or Sikh and is raised as a member of a tribe, community, group, or family to which their parents belong.
- Any individual who is a convert or re-convert to Hindus, Buddhist, Jaina, or Sikh religion.
According to Clause (25) of Article 366 of the Constitution, this does not apply to members of any Scheduled Tribe unless the Central Government issues a notification in the Official Gazette.
EVOLVING FEATURES OF HINDU MARRIAGE
- Age of marriage: Child marriage was one of the most common problems that our society faced. Many acts and laws were made to solve this problem. Child marriage was mostly practiced in rural areas. Child marriage destroys the future of an innocent child. Therefore, it was very important to put an end to this practice. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, made child marriage illegal by fixing the age for marriage. Section 5(iii) of this act sets the minimum age of marriage for boys at 21 years and 18 years for girls. However, this age bar was further raised by the Indian Parliament, fixing the minimum age for marriage at 21 for girls as well as for boys. Hence, this is the most significant change that came in the Hindu marriage system. Empowering the children to live their childhood freely.
- Inter-Caste Marriage: Another major reform that came in the Hindu marriage system is related to inter-caste marriage. Inter-caste marriages that were highly restricted due to the caste system are accepted to some extent. This changed mainly because of education, urbanization, and employment. Now, people have started realizing the consequences of the caste system. Legally also inter-caste marriages are permitted. The Special Marriage Act, 1954 was also made to deal with inter-caste marriages and inter-religion marriages. Section 19 of this act covers inter-caste and inter-religion marriage related to Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jain, Buddhists, and Christians. Thus, this change shows the increasingly wide mentality of the Hindu Society.
- Marriage is not held as compulsory: Earlier marriage was considered a compulsory duty of males and females, in Hindu society. The scenario has changed a lot now. Today’s generation focuses more on independence before getting married. They want to be financially and mentally strong before marriage. This thinking is also accepted by the older generation. Therefore, marriage is not a compulsory obligation now in Hindu society. However, Section-8 of the Hindu Marriage Act still deals with the registration of a Hindu marriage. Although it doesn’t make marriage compulsory. This section has 5 sub-sections that elaborate the responsibility of the State government in the registration of a Hindu marriage. Rules, consent, and proof of marriage are essential for the registration of a Hindu marriage under this act. Hence, not only the mindset and mentality of society but laws also play a very important role in bringing this change.
- Widow remarriage: The most important evolution that came in the Hindu marriage system is related to widow remarriage. In earlier times, widow remarriage was highly prohibited. Even customs such as Sati Pratha in which the widow has to commit suicide willingly or by force, used to exist making remarriage a distant dream. This mindset was changed due to the endless efforts of social reformers and educated people in society. Widow remarriage is now not a wrong thing in Hindu society. The Widow Remarriage Act, 1856 makes widow remarriage legal in India. Section 1,2,3, and 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 also contains a provision for widow remarriage. It also gives widows the right to inherit the property of their deceased husband. Not only this but this act also gives all rights to widows that they got when they got married for the first time. These efforts and provisions helped to improve the condition of widows. Widow Remarriage is now accepted by society. The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 banned Sati Pratha in India. The hatred that prevailed in Hindu society for widow remarriage is now very reduced.
- Prohibition of Polygamy: Polygamy was one of the most harmful practices that prevailed in earlier times. Polygamy is the practice of marrying more than one spouse. This practice worsened the situation of women in society. Men used to marry more than one woman to get a son. But, with increasing awareness women have realized their rights and now they want equal rights in a marriage. Polygamy is now declared illegal under Section 17 of The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. Now no one can marry more than one spouse, if the former spouse is alive. Section 494 and 495 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 also prohibits polygamy for Christians. Hence, this reform in the Hindu marriage system improved the condition of women in society.
- Provision of Divorce: Divorce was never fully accepted in Hindu society. It was considered as disrespect to the sacred relation of marriage. But this thinking is changing, divorce rates in India are increasing at a very high rate. On one hand, where divorce helps people to get out of unwanted marriage, on the other hand, it also decreases the stability of a marriage. This change was brought by the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 which permits divorce under certain circumstances.
- Change in pattern of marriage: Earlier, arrange marriage was the only option of marriage in Hindu society. This scenario has changed a lot; in recent times people prefer love marriage over arrange marriage. This is because they have now realized their right of choosing a partner. Love marriages are majorly inter-caste and inter-religion marriages. From a legal point of view, these relationships or marriages form a great chunk of matrimonial disputes and matrimonial violence. In love marriages or self-seek matrimonial alliances, sexual relationships, or even courtship before marriage are quite common. Therefore, it can be seen that pattern of marriage is changing very fast. The trend of Live-in-relationships is also increasing. This is a very huge change in the Hindu Marriage system.
Marriage is one of the most important institutions in Hindu culture. Many values and emotions are attached to Hindu marriage. Changes are bound to happen but are very difficult to adapt. The same goes with the change in the Hindu Marriage system. It was very hard to put an end to practices that were harmful but were accepted globally. Practices such as dowry, Sati Pratha, honor killing because of inter-religion marriage, depicts that sometimes following customs can lead to the death of people. Changing features of a Hindu marriage are mainly good for society, rather than harmful. Changes such as the prohibition of polygamy make people aware of their rights. Child marriage is now very much reduced because of the fixed age of boys and girls. But these changes were not very easy to be brought, endless efforts of social workers, many acts passed by legislation, made these changes in the society. Hindu people are very attached to their customs and practices, marriage is one of them. These changes which are brought do not harm any customs but rather embrace them by ending the wrong practices.
Author(s) Name: Gunjan Khandelwal (Rajasthan University)
 Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021