Indian Family Traditions, Laws, and Government

Prof. Bal Ram Singh

Traditions can also take ugly forms, such as dowry system, female feticide, outraging modesty of women, etc. which can make family lives of the women (and men) anguished and intolerable. Despite (and may be due to) the laws against dowry, the menace of discord continues to grow in Indian society. Government response to enact further laws to protect women has also taken an ugly turn, and is being used settle scores between families.

Clearly, enacting laws, particularly with selfish culture in mind, is not very effective approach to solve social and family problems. However, government of India has gone on with several intriguing laws to solve family problems. Interestingly, these laws are enacted only for Hindus, the majority community in India, leaving Muslims and Christians untouched presumably to exhibit government’s secular practice. An exception is a bill that was recently introduced againt triple talaq practice of Muslims.

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In addition to giving an impression of Hindu practices in need of reforms (thereby wrong), the secular principles borrowed from West where culture and practices are very different are being applied to Indian culture, many times confusing the population, and also at times at the behest of international organizations and groups.

Some of the recent laws or government positions are listed below:

  1. Government of India enacted a law that children are liable to take care of parents, and can be sued by parents if they default.
  2. Parents cannot sell inherited properties without children’s consent.
  3. Live in relationship is fine, citing Radha and Krishna as example of live in relationship.
  4. Girls and boys of less than 16 years of age can have sexual relationship even though marriage age is 18 years for girls and 21 years for boys.

Many may not know that in several states of USA there is no lower age limit on marriage, and many states have provision for marriage as young as 14 years of age!

These laws and assertions are obviously anti-family and anti-Indian culture, and unfortunately applied selectively to Hindu population. Even Supreme court judges took the government to task on the selective application of amendments to Hindus.

The Supreme court of India said  that government’s attempts to reform personal laws don’t go beyond Hindus who have been more tolerant of such initiatives (Times of India, February 11, 2011; http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/7456761.cms?prtpage=1)

“The Hindu community has been tolerant to these statutory interventions. But there appears a lack of secular commitment as it has not happened for other religions.” 

Justices Dalveer Bhandari and A K Ganguly made the observation while hearing petitions filed by the National Commission for Women and its Delhi chapter. The petitioners had sought formulation of a uniform marriageable age and complained that different stipulations in as many statutes had created confusion. 

In fact, the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 itself is fairly arbitrarily done, and has almost nothing to do with Hindu philosophy or general practices. At least no references are made to any Hindu scriptures, consultation, or consensus. Government continues to make laws for Hindus without even a shred of consideration to either the community or its religious authorities. Many a times Hindu related laws are singled out to be enacted at the behest of a few elite class experiences, international pressure, domestic politics, or to create equivalence to other communities, viz., Christians and Muslims, both communities having extensive references to the social and legal aspects in their religious books, unlike Hindu texts.

It is certainly true that Hindu texts are more of guidance at spiritual, intellectual, and social levels, and allow flexibility for time and place. Nevertheless, a secular government, with a society less inclined to be intellectually engaged at mass level, and much less being sought to provide philosophical input to the provisions, is committing a grave long term mistake in imposing Western practices on its people. This acquires more significance and importance when one considers the diversity that the Hindu community exhibits traditionally, which has continued with the many of the practices of the only living ancient living civilization.

Obviously, there is a major disconnect between the society and the rulers. India is a very large society with many of the cultural intermixes to be ruled by a single set of laws and provisions. India and Hindu represent a diversity of thoughts and practices that is integral to its existence. There is no reference in ancient India to have a constitution, judges, advocates, as wide ranging as it is currently enforced. It has been a self policing society, governed by Kuldharma, Jatidharma, Varnadharma, Rashtradharma, and paramdharama. Currently, uch things are not even seriously considered while making policies and laws for the society.

There are many ills that are creeping in the Indian society, as a result of not considering the traditions, practices, and ancient wisdom in making policies and laws by the politicians and bureaucrats, and in the enforcement by the police and judiciary. It is, therefore, essential to bring the issue of the Indian family system to at least a certain level of intellectual and scholarly debate. It is hoped that such an exercise will spill over into the policy debates and eventually in the society for charting its course for future.

– Prof. Bal Ram Singh, School of Indic Studies, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA, USA

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