Reforms in Personal Laws in India – let’s talk about new developments in Equality and Justice in Personal Laws. Dr. Tanmeet Kaur Sahiwal, Chairperson, School of Law, NMIMS Bengaluru analyzes the topic.
Reforms in Personal Laws in India
Personal laws encompass a set of laws which govern an individual in matters concerning marriage, divorce, maintenance, adoption, inheritance, guardianship and succession, among others. In India, they are based on the religious and cultural customs and practices of the individuals.
As they stand today, personal laws in India have long faced scrutiny for perpetuating gender discrimination, endorsing unhealthy practices and upholding customs that often seem objectionable. Reforming these personal laws to ensure equality and justice for all has been on the national agenda since the inception of the Constitution. Early proponents of reform, such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Babasaheb Ambedkar, championed the cause. Significant strides were made through the passing of several key acts, including the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; Hindu Succession Act, 1956; Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956; and Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956. These legislative changes, although revolutionary, retained some discriminatory provisions and acknowledged customs in marriage as exceptions, especially since a significant number of marriages in India are conducted based on tradition.
Subsequent amendments occurred in 1961, 1962, 1964, 1976, 1978, 1999, 2001 and 2003. However, the most transformative reforms took place between 2005 and 2008. These amendments, which included conferring equal property rights to daughters and sons, marked a significant departure from tradition.
The Amendments that were Introduced
Equal Property Rights: One of the most significant changes was the conferring of equal property rights on daughters and sons. Before this reform, daughters had limited inheritance rights, particularly in ancestral properties. This amendment aimed to rectify this gender-based discrimination, ensuring that daughters could inherit property at par with their male counterparts.
Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005: This act addressed the pressing issue of domestic violence against women. It provided legal recourse for women facing physical, emotional or economic abuse within their homes, including for women in live-in relationships.
Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007: This act was a crucial step in ensuring the welfare of elderly citizens. It mandated that adult children are responsible for the maintenance and care of their parents.