Tuesday, July 24, 2007

States hesitate to obey Court orders due to populism

We all know the extent to which the politicians of the country are dependent on trying to woo their sections of voters. They would like society to be comprised of solid blocs of castes, and religious groups so that they can make policies to pander to these groups and aim to get their votes. No matter that this leads to them doing things against common sense, and against even court orders. Examples of this is the entire reservation drama, the Congress aim to woo Muslims in Andhra Pradesh by reservations despite court disapproval, and the BJP Government in Gujarat hesitating to crack down on people enforcing discrimination despite court orders to do the right thing.
This policy is exemplified by the response of states over the Supreme Court asking the states to bring in laws to make registration of marriages compulsory. And why had the court tried to bring in such a policy? Simple. There are a number of cases where women are fighting for their rights in marriage, for child support, for maintenance. In India, in a significant section of society, women normally are in a situation where they are stay at home, dependent on their husbands for financial support. In most cases, this is because this is the way society is constructed with the responsibilities being delineated in such a way.
Now what happens? With marriages not being registered, there are many cases when the husband could deny that the marriage happened, or make the girl fight for trying to prove such a thing happened. In addition, there are many cases where men commit polygamy, and a lesser number of cases where the girl commits polyandry. There is no perfect solution, but a simpler way to make this happen less is when all marriages are properly registered. In fact, that is the norm in a number of countries where the marriage has to be registered.
So what stops the government in India, whether the central government or state governments, to make registration of marriages compulsory. The Government believes that there is an influential section of the Muslim community, hardliners and the clergy, and to avoid rubbing them the wrong way, the Government will not push for compulsory registration of marriages. Even though the Government knows that poor Muslim women suffer from the inability to prove that the marriage happened in case of a dispute, and it would really help them if they had proof of the marriage.

State governments have been chary of compliance with the court's directive on registration of marriages for the fear of offending representatives of Muslims who have resisted the extension of law to their personal matters — that is, matters pertaining to marriage, divorce, adoption, inheritance etc.
The court, moved by the plight of women fighting for their rights under marriage — like maintenance and custody of children, had last year asked the governments to amend the law or frame rules for compulsory registration of marriages and notify them within three months.

And of course, no such thing happened. The Governments have refused to bring any such laws and notify them for fear of alienating the Muslim community. Such a measure would help the community overall, but would provoke elements of the clergy to protest interference and hence the lack of movement on this issue. The issue is just politics, not any welfare.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:11 AM