It was wonderful the last two days to visit the Dr. Ambedkar Law School of Excellence. I was so warmly greeted and immediately invited to attend and speak briefly at a one-day conference yesterday on Changing Dimensions of Family Law in India!
It was fascinating to get an introduction to the complexity of family law in India. There is no uniform family law. Instead, religion and law are intertwined like sap in a tree; the law recognizes Hindu (which includes Buddhist and Sikh) religious traditions, Muslim, Christian, Parsi and Jewish customs! On top of that, some of these customs have been codified, others have not, and there are recognized regional variations. However, citizens may choose to marry under a secular law as well, which then governs divorce, inheritance, etc.
The separation of church and state, so holy in the US, is not so separated in India. To the Western lawyer’s mind, this is rather shocking. But this is India! An Indian family lawyer has much to understand and navigate.
What are the “changing dimensions” of Indian family law? Essentially, the Indian legislature and the courts have inserted themselves into these religious traditions to protect the equal rights of women. Also, new issues have arisen, including surrogacy and single parenting. The legislature has banned the growing commercial surrogacy industry, wherein poor women are paid to carry babies for infertile couples. Some women (most likely wealthier and more educated women) are also taking things into their own hands and birthing or adopting children on their own. New cases and laws have to govern these modern trends.