Free Press Journal

No controversy in bill to amend 5 personal laws


New Delhi : The Opposition members rushed to get the copy of the Personal Laws (Amendment) Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha by Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Friday on the last day of Parliament’s monsoon session with apprehensions since he was also trying to push the triple talaq bill that was ultimately deferred in the Rajya Sabha on the same day.

Their worry was that the Bill seeks to amend five personal laws – Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, the Hindu Marriage Act, the Special Marriage Act, the Divorce Act and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act.

The controversy, however, died down on reading the Bill that it has a welcome move to destigmatise leprosy by removing it from the existing statutes as a ground for divorce, separation or annulment of marriage. The Bill would have secured unanimous nod of all parties if it had been brought earlier instead of keeping it for the next winter session after introduction in the last day of the monsoon session, an Opposition leader said.

It is a path-breaking legislation to amend the personal laws that isolate and segregate persons suffering from leprosy and the changes proposed in a single law is to ensure equal rights to the leprosy-affected persons in all communities.

The government sources said the Bill was brought to implement the UN General Assembly’s 2010 resolution on “elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members” that India has signed and ratified. The National Human Rights Commission had also recommended back in January 2008 to amend various laws to ensure the leprosy-affected persons were not stigmatised. A similar recommendation was made by the Law Commission in its 256th report while the Supreme Court recently asked the Centre and the States to mainstream those suffering from leprosy.

Though leprosy is curable, a prejudice exists against the persons suffering from it. The Health Minitry has been trying to remove the stigma attached to it. India has been recording 1.3 lakh new leprosy cases every year.

The effect of the Bill on various laws is:

  • In the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939, a woman married under the Muslim law won’t be able to seek dissolution of marriage on the ground that her husband from leprosy for two years prior to her petition in the court for the divorce.
  • From the list of the grounds for divorce under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1956, “virulent and incurable form of leprosy” will be dropped.
  • Relevant provision of leprosy as a ground for divorce will be removed from the Divorce Act, 1869.
  • The Special Marriage Act, 1954, is to be tweaked to remove the provision that allows a husband and a wife to file for divorce on the grounds of their spouse being leprosy affected.
  • The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance ct, 1956 deletes the section that allows a Hindu wife to live separately from her husband if he is “affected by leprosy” and seek money for her and children’s maintenance.

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