Following a long-standing demand from some leaders of the community, the BJP-led government in Mahashtra is working towards introducing a separate legislation to govern Buddhist marriages and inheritance laws in the state.
State minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, Rajkumar Badole, said his department has prepared a draft and constituted a 13-member committee, comprising experts and government officials, to look into the matter.
“The rituals of a Buddhist marriage are very different. They don’t fit in with the prevailing provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act. Hence, a separate legislation is necessary for the community. 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 Babasaheb Ambedkar Research and Training Institute, the social welfare commissioner and representatives from the Buddhist community.
There are about 80 lakh Buddhists in India, accounting for 0.8 per cent of the country’s total population. According to the 2001 Census, over 73 per cent of India’s Buddhists live in Maharashtra. Currently, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh marriages are covered under the Hindu Marriage Act.
An amendment in 2012 had made way for Sikhs to register their marriages under the Anand Marriage Act. The erstwhile Congress-NCP government, too, had considered framing a separate law for Buddhist marriages and inheritance.
Jogendra Kawade, a Legislative Council member and founder president of People’s Republican Party, said, “This has been a demand 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.”
But, Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar 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 said in Rajya Sabha 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, an advocate.