The Hindu Marriage Act was established in 1955 as part of the Hindu Code Bills. Three other important acts were also created during this time and they include the Hindu Succession Act (1956), the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act (1956), and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act (1956). All of these acts were put forth under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, and were meant to modernize the then current Hindu legal tradition.


As part of the Hindu Code Bill, the Hindu Marriage Act was enacted by parliament in 1955. Its purpose was to regulate personal life among Hindus, especially their institution of marriage, its validity, conditions for invalidity, and applicability.

To whom it applies

The bill is viewed as conservative, but it also modern in the sense that it recognizes the modern offshoots of the Hindu religion (Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs) as specified in Article 44 of the Indian Constitution. This is controversial, because Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists are not Hindus.[1].

Hindu view of marriage

According to the tenets of Hinduism, marriage is a sacred relationship, a sacrament, and a divine covenant meant for procreation and the continuation of family lineage.[2] In the traditional Hindu system of marriage, there is no role for the state as marriage remained a private affair within the social realm.[3] Within this traditional framework reference, marriage is undoubtedly the most important transitional point in a Hindu’s life and the most important of all the Hindu samskaras, or life-cycle rituals.[3]


The conditions of marriage are specified in Section 5 as follows: the Act expressively prohibits polygamy by stipulating that a Hindu marriage can be solemnized between two Hindus if neither party has a living spouse at the time of marriage;[2] the age of eligibility is fixed at 21 years of age for bridegrooms and 18 years of age for brides; and finally, the Act specifically prevents marriages between prohibited degrees of relationships.[1]


Section 6 of the Hindu Marriage Act lays specifies the guardianship for marriage. Wherever the consent of a guardian in marriage is necessary for a bride under this Act, the persons entitled to give such consent are the following: the father; the mother; the paternal grandfather; the paternal grandmother; the brother by full blood; the brother by half blood; etc.[4]


Section 7 of the Hindu Marriage Act recognizes the ceremonies and customs of marriage. Hindu marriage may be solemnized in accordance with the customary rites and ceremonies of either party. Such rites and rituals include the Saptapadi—the taking of seven steps by the bridegroom and the bride jointly before the sacred fire. The marriage becomes complete and binding when the seventh step is taken.[5]


Section 8 indicates that there is a compulsory registration of any marriage and stipulates a punishment for violating this provision.[6] In theory, it should be fairly simple to get a marriage registered under the Hindu Marriage Act (take a copy of the wedding card, proof of residence, or photos from the wedding); however, in reality, couples have to pay a broker’s fee to ensure a smooth passage and to ensure that the entire process gets done in a timely fashion. There have been numerous eyewitness accounts of clerks processing only forms that have been handled by a broker.[7]


Divorce can be sought by husband or wife on certain grounds, including: adultery, cruelty, desertion for two years, religious conversion, mental abnormality, venereal disease, and leprosy. A wife can also present a petition for the dissolution of marriage on if the husband marries again after the commencement of his first marriage or if the husband has been guilty of rape, sodomy, or bestiality.[8] Newly married couples cannot file a petition for divorce within one years of marriage. However, there is a stigma attached to divorce and this is a big deterrent for its occurrence—divorced people find it difficult to be accepted among their friends and family and find new partners. Compared to marriages in the West, Hindu marriages have a greater stability—a great majority take the responsibility of marriage seriously and do their part in promoting social and family values through their adherence to the ancient tradition.[2]


As of late, there has been a realization that Hindu marriage, as a central element of society, cannot be subjected to legislative intervention; this realization has led to legislative inaction and a refusal by the state to get involved in the regulation of Hindu marriage.[3] Derrett predicted in his later writings that despite some evidence of modernization, the dominant view in Hindu society for the foreseeable future would remain that marriage is a form of social obligation.[3]

See also


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