THE Maharashtra government, working on a separate legislation to govern Buddhist marriage and inheritance laws in the state, has set up a panel to look into the draft legislation that has been drawn up.
A separate marriage and inheritance law has been a long-standing demand of some leaders of the community.
Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Rajkumar Badole said the department had prepared a draft and constituted a 13-member committee of government officials and experts to finalise it.
“The rituals of a Buddhist marriage are very different. They don’t fit in with the prevailing provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act, and hence a separate legislation is necessary. The committee constituted to vet the draft will have its first meeting in the next eight days,” Badole said.
The committee has been given a month to finalise the draft and present it to the state government. Besides Badole, the committee comprises Minister of State for Social Justice Dilip Kamble, principal secretaries from the social justice and empowerment, and law and judiciary departments, two advocates, a retired judge, director of the Babasaheb Ambedkar Research and Training Institute, the social welfare commissioner, and members from the Buddhist community.
Currently, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh marriages are covered under the Hindu Marriage Act. An amendment in 2012 made way for Sikhs to register their marriage under a different law, the Anand Marriage Act.
The erstwhile Congress-Nationalist Congress government had considered framing separate laws for Buddhist marriage and inheritance, and Congress’ Nitin Raut, a former cabinet minister, had put forth a proposal.
Jogendra Kawade, a legislator in the Upper House and founder president of the People’s Republican Party, said, “This has been a demand of people ever since Dr. B R Ambedkar and his followers embraced Buddhism in 1956. The rituals are vastly different. The Hindu Marriage Act says that unless a Saptapadi is performed, the marriage cannot be recognised, while we don’t have Saptapadi in Buddhist marriages at all. Our separate religious identity does not stand out under the current legal framework.”
Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr Ambedkar, however, slammed the government’s initiative for a separate legislation for Buddhist marriages and inheritance in the state.
“There should be a uniform code for all religions. In 1953, Babasaheb Ambedkar had, in the Rajya Sabha, said that if the government was ready, he was willing to draft a uniform law to govern all religions. Those who do not fully understand the teachings of Dr Ambedkar are making demands for a separate law for Buddhists,” said Prakash, who is also an advocate.
According to the 2001 census, over 73 per cent of India’s Buddhists live in Maharashtra.