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Programmes for Women and their Impact:Marriage Legislation

In March 1961, when the bill on unequal marriages was being discussed in the Rajya Sabha, one member quoted epic against its inclusion in the institution of Hindu marriage. Dr. Radhakrishnan, the then chairman of the Rajya Sabha, had remarked: the ancient history cannot solve the problems of modern society. This is an answer in one sentence to those critics who want to maintain a gap between social opinion and social legislation.

Legislation must meet the social needs of the people; and because the social needs change, legislation also must change from time to time. The function of social legislation is to adjust the legal system continually to a society, which is constantly outgrowing that system. The gulf between the current needs of the society and the old laws must be bridged. The laws have got to give recognition to certain de facto changes in society. One of the changes in modern India is the change in the attitude towards marriage; hence the necessity of laws on different aspects of marriage.

The laws enacted in India relate to: (i) age at marriage (ii) field of mate selection, (iii) number of spouses in marriage, (iv) breaking of marriage, (v) dowry to be given and taken, and (vi) remarriage. The important legislations relating to these six aspects of marriage passed from time to time are: (i) The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 (dealing with age at marriage), (ii) The Hindu Marriage Disabilities Removal Act 1946 and Hindu Marriage Validity Act, 1949 (dealing with field of mate selection), (iii) The Special Act. 1954 (dealing with age at marriage, freedom to children in marriage without parental consent, bigamy, and breaking up of marriage), (iv) the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (dealing with age at marriage with the consent of parents bigamy, and breaking up of marriage) (v) The Dowry Act 1961, and (vi) The Widow Remarriage Act, 1856.