India to secularize family law code

 

India to secularize family law code

Author: 

George Conger

The Indian government has begun work on reforming the country’s civil family law code, seeking to replace it with a common secular code. The move has received the quiet support of the Church of North India and the Church of South India -- the country’s two largest Protestant and Anglican churches -- but the Roman Catholic Church has voiced concerns over its implementation. Last month the Law Commission of India published a notice asking for public comment on its work of addressing “discrimination against vulnerable groups and harmonizing various cultural practices." They also invited suggestions for the draft of the common civil code and to submit responses. India’s civil family law code has different rules for Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and other faiths on marriage, divorce, adoption and inheritance. A Muslim may may legally divorce his wife by uttering “talaq” three times, while Christians must wait two years after having filed a petition for divorce before a decree is granted. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party promised to introduce a draft uniform civil code in its 2014 election manifesto, a move critics charged was intended to privilege Hinduism. However, civil rights advocates have long held that India’s avowedly secular constitution was incompatible with the legal subordination of women enshrined in some faith’s family law systems. Christian leaders have asked the government to ensure “comprehensive consultations” with all faith groups,  but did not elaborate during the campaign fearing a backlash if political rivals painted it as a push for Hindu hegemony. The Churches in India "will make sure that our voices are heard at the national level," Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas of the Roman Catholic Bishops Conference said.

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