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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Inter-religious Marriage in India

The latest Hinduism Today magazine just arrived. There are a number of interesting articles, as usual. On one of the opening pages is a tiny piece about an Indian/non-Indian couple trying to get a divorce.

It sounds like the Delhi high court is questioning whether inter-religious marriages are valid. The man in this couple is Hindu and the woman "claims" to have converted to Hinduism. The Justice said, "a bare declaration that he is a Hindu by a person born in another faith is not sufficient to convert him to Hinduism."

They are requiring documentation or some kind of proof that the woman is a Hindu. This is relevant because there are different marriage laws for Hindus and for other faiths.

I think this court case could have far-reaching effects and I worry what those will be.


  1. Wow. Considering the rather laissez-fair ideas I've heard about what makes one a Hindu, this ruling is deeply problematic. Several people have told me that all one had to do to be considered Hindu was to believe in God and grow a tulsi plant (which makes me a Hindu, as I've grown a whole row of tulsi--though they did end up in food!).

    But silliness from me aside, I was married under "special inter-caste dispensation." I assumed that this category was enough to cover anyone who didn't didn't fit into a "normal" box. Given that Hinduism does not necessarily have a formal conversion process like Islam, Judaism, or Christianity, the judge's words seem not only hurtful to Hindu converts, but potentially hurtful to adopted children (may not have religion stated on their records) and rural people who may not have birth certificates stating that their parents are Hindu. I wonder what this judge (who, in American parlance would certainly be called an activist judge) would consider adequate proof of this woman being a Hindu?

  2. I know, right?! I worry about what this means for a lot of people. It doesn't really effect me directly, but it does open a big can of worms. What kind of proof does one need of one's religion?

  3. There is a special marriages act,to cover inter religious marriages.Usually the hindu[regardlezss of Gender]is expected to get converted in such marriages.But nowadays,more Hindus[especially men] refuse to go by such assumptions & expect the wife to become a Hindu.So,this kind of cases occur.Another factor is compared to other religious/Personal laws,the Hindu Laws are very progressive ,especially as far as inheritance,Divorce/maintenance are considered,towards women,while other personal laws lag behind.This is to give a picture of the situation in India as far as Personal laws go.

  4. Thank you for that background, Sita, that is helpful!

  5. India has different marriage acts for people of different faiths.

    Hindu marriage act covers people of dharmic faiths(hindu/sikh/jain/buddhism). *Both partners have to be born hindu*

    Special marriage act covers people from christian/islamic/inter-religious faiths

    A declaration is just an undertaking. It doesn't hold much value in court. An inter-religious couple can bribe its way and get married as per hindu marriage act but if they approach the courts for divorce in a later date, the courts might refuse to believe that one of the partners converted to hinduism based on his declaration. Hence, the courts will term the legality of that marriage was void from the beginning.

    The reasons for such crude laws are because of different marriage laws. Eg: The muslims in india are allowed to marry more than one women(limited to 4). There have been cases in the past where an already married hindu man got married to another women and when the first wife took him to court, he converted to islam which prevented the courts from prosecuting him.

    Hence, conversion by mere declaration is not allowed because it is used as a loophole to escape legal prosecution.