On Hindu Atheism, Law and Marriage


Most people who know me would know I am an atheist. I have this colleague, a Tamil Brahmin, religious and traditional to the core. Ever since I moved from Delhi to join this place as his colleague he has been disturbed by multiple cultural and moral shocks.

Good thing about him though, is that he only looks at me as this strange creature from outer world but considers me harmless. He is somehow convinced I pose no threat to his culture. He sees me as an alien in his little world. Unlike most custodians of the great Indian tradition, he doesn’t feel the need to defend his tradition from being polluted by me. (He has no idea)

He is curious, about how I perceive life and other important factors that drives us. So, today he asked me an interesting question. He asked, “What is your religion?”

We were having coffee, I was off guard. I casually answered, “I am a Hindu.”

He knew what my answer was going to be, because his next statement, like a canon was ready to be shot. “How can you claim you are a Hindu if you call yourself an atheist.”

“I don’t claim,” I replied.

As an atheist I do not have a religion. Not at least those religion which we find in common parlance. I could however say feminism / humanism / communism / socialism is my religion.

Technically, since I was born to Hindu parents I am a Hindu. A Hindu is a Hindu by birth, there is no concept of ‘conversion’ in Hinduism for the simple reason that it was never an organized religion that believed in growth and market. That said, in my pursuit of life religion has no role to play. So I do not and will not ever claim I am a Hindu.

Technically, who is a Hindu?

The Hindu Marriage Act (HMA) is the only Law in the country which to a very narrow extent, only for the purpose of marriage defines a Hindu. Per Section 2 of the Act, anybody who is born to Hindu parents, raised in Hindu customs is considered a Hindu and includes a Virashaiva, a Lingayat or a follower of the Brahmo, Prarthana or Arya Samaj. The Act, even though is called ‘Hindu’ marriage act, applies to Buddhist, Jaina or Sikh and to any other person domiciled in this country (some exceptions) who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew.

This classification of being Hindu is only for the purpose of marriage, divorce property etc. Only in these personal matters do we have religion playing a role. Marriages solemnized under HMA have also to be divorced (when required) as per the procedure laid down in the same Act.

As an atheist this is where I could be proactive. If I ever think of getting married, I would marry under the Special Marriage Act, 1954 (SMA) there by ending the religion that I have been carrying due to reasons of my birth.

The SMA is a special law which is free of all religion. The act doesn’t talk about any religion. It is applicable to any two people within the area to which its jurisdiction extends (which means India, except Jammu and Kashmir). Two people even if they are of the same religion may chose to get married under this law.

Under this law, marriages can be solemnized in any which way you might want, in any damn place you wish to (at a reasonable distance from the marriage officer’s office). The wedding could be performed by just a kiss or by exchanging garlands or by opening a bottle of wine or by simultaneously poking each other on Facebook, whatever. There is just one condition, both parties would have to say these words in front of the marriage officer, “I take thee as my lawful wife / husband.” There are some other technical requirement like 4 witnesses, notice etc.

Once a couple is married under the SMA their other personal matters are also governed by SMA and not by their personal laws. For example, marriages completed under this act can be divorced (when & if required) as per the procedures laid in this act. Which means a Muslim couple marrying under this law would no longer be governed by the Muslim personal law for divorce or property matters.

Although this is not given in black and white but it would be fair to assume that children born to a couple married under this law wouldn’t have any religion by birth. They would have the religion in which they would be brought up. If they are brought up by atheist parents, atheism would be their religion.

When I first learned about it, I liked this law a lot. On the face of it, it looked like a progressive one. Then I read Section 19 of the Act.

Secition 19 – “Marriage solemnized under this Act of any member of an undivided family who professes the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or Jaina religion shall be deemed to effect his severance from such family.”

I wonder why this provision is there. What significance has it got except to strongly reflect upon the idea that even though the law of the land allows you to, yet it is not moral for you to marry against the diktats of your religious law. None of the personal law allows an inter religion marriage. Thus, couple from different religions would have to be married under SMA and bam they are severed from their familes.

Why should a law have a direct effect on my connection with my family? How strange is that.

Section 21A of SMA makes it further clear that inter religions marriages are not cool. It says,

Where the marriage is solemnized under this Act of any person who professes the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or Jain religion with a person who professes the Hindu, Buddhish, Sikh or Jain religion. Secs. 19 and 21 shall not apply…

This means if two Hindus decided to get married under SMA to avoid all the extravaganza around weddings, they will not be severed from their Hindu Undivided Families. All is cool as long as it is not an inter-religious marriage.

So to sum up these varied concepts — go fall in love with the one outside your religion, perform a wedding under Special Marriage Act and the law would get you officially declared as an atheist disowned by the family.

Interesting isn’t it?

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18 comments

  1. For a moment there, I was about to point out that I am not your colleague and you could have referred to me directly, but after reading your post, I realised that this kinda conversation will never happen with me coz I am one of the last persons on earth to be bothered about religion and be bogged down by it in my daily life!

    But no matter even if you get married under the SMA or the HMA, the maritial relationship remains the same… a pain in the ass.. and for u, in the crotch! ;P

    I had written a good post a couple of years back on marriage. I was not blogging at that time and I still have the written thing with me… The reason that I call it good is coz I was able to get one of my colleagues to spill out all the troubles she was undergoing and later, she graduated to become a very close friend of mine!

    And a post by Sanju on marriage seems quite strange!!! Sanju and marriage, I thought, were two parallel lines which could never cross the other and which can never meet!

  2. @Sukumar

    I am everything but predictable :D

    But why did you even begin to think it can be you…when the opening line says its my colleague…Strange

  3. Not sure how Hinduism is recognized by the law but i’ve always believed that ‘hinduism’ is a way of life rather than a religion. Take the case of conversion. I am sure there is no way to convert to the Hindu religion. One fine day you could wake up and start being a Hindu. interesting eh?

  4. i am an agnostic.. pretty much confused about the world around me.. i havewondered abt this how am i a hindu many a times but didnt research it like u .. although my business card says abhishek khanna, analyst , market research :D
    doesnt matter hindu or non hindu..
    aish tu kar yara aish tu kar.. dunia jaye tel lene aish tu kar ;)
    cyao

  5. I guess religion and atheism are two different things. Agree totally with Sreejith that Hinduism and all other religions for that matter of fact are just ways of life,although most of the religions are theistic. Atheism on the other hand just rejects the idea of metaphysical theory or “GOD”. So Samy is “irreligious” which is a broader term than Atheist. By the way, Hinduism also has an Atheistic school of thought which is called the Carvaka School and it is the basis of religions like Buddhism and Jainism..
    On a lighter note if you have ever said “Oh my GOD” in your life then you are not an Atheist..
    Do not agree with Suksy at all that Samy and marriage are parallel lines.. She is just scared of marriage but she will not agree to it.( oops sorry samy,,just let the cat of the bag):-)

  6. Hi,

    The line is Hindu Undivided family. Now, that we all stay in Nuclear families, does that mean that we will be disowned from the Nuclear set up also? If yes, then I can ask my dad to adopt me after I get married under SMA. :-)

  7. I think there have been schools of thought in Hindusim that are Atheistic in nature.

  8. Good info, Sanjukta.

  9. Quoting samyukta :
    “I could however fancifully say feminism / humanism / communism / socialism is my religion. ”

    But why did you keep “COPY SCAPE” in your website ?
    Rather strange ideals !

    I would recommend you to go for CC – Creative commons.

    http://www.creativecommons.org

    Also join http://www.antidrm.org/

    —–
    Anyways on the brighter side .. your blog Rocks!

  10. @ Sreejith

    You are right, according to the religions scriptures there is no concept of conversion to Hinduism, one can only be born as a Hindu.

    @ both Sreejith and Seema
    True Hinduism or any other religion or Isms I mentioned there are just ways of life, personal and political but in case of a religion the basis of the ways of life is trust in God. While there are other basis to live life like science, economics, politics

    @ Gopal

    There could be, Hinduism is probably the only religion that kind of tolerates atheism.

    @ Pavithran

    I didn’t get the connection between Copy Scape and the isms quoted by you. Dunno much about the copy scape thing..had put it long time back..and never paid much attention, what is the issue with it?

  11. that clause is there to prevent a person/ one of the couple/ couple to claim benefits/ legal remedy under any other (personal) law while having married under this law. it is an estoppel clause.

    nice discussion.
    btw, a person claiming to be a Hindu need NOT ascribe to belief in God (actively). s/he need NOT show knowledge or acceptance of such belief. It is sufficient if s/he does not negate such acceptance.

  12. ear Reader,

    Please find Copy of Kerala’s “Controversial” Seven Std Social Science Text BOOK.PDF format documents available to download.

    http://www.4shared.com/dir/7762101/9733433f/sharing.html

    Please download and JUDGE your self why Bishops, Mullas & their blind followers are
    strikeing aganist this TEXT…???

    Please leave your comment at the site ..SCERT will look in to the comments.

    Regards,

  13. Dear Sanjukta,
    It is interesting that I should come to learn about your existence through a common interest which we share, which is the subject of your blog. As you know now, I too am one of those many those who are Hindu-by-law-only.

    The SMA is an interesting artifact, I call it that since I daresay it would be an infrequently used law. I wonder if the individual who gets booted out of the family through it loses his inheritance, that would make an excellent deterrent against its use,lol! If you do file a writ against the damn thing and the many others enshrined in our Constitution and Law which are blatantly unconstitutional and illogical, count me in. Stay in touch and take care.

  14. Hi all,

    Intersting discussion…I came here starting from the 7th std contraversy..just curious..

    I read the text book & it is just politics behind it to make all these noise..It just says to believe in man..which is really the right thing to do…

    Congress doesn’t have any real issues to bring to the table…if at all there is any… like the inflation or uncontrolled cost or lack of water or power etc….these guys share the same table if not here at the center…so just some drama to kill time..;P

    Hindu is not religion it is only a way of life. Each religion has a founder whereas Hinduism evolved through ages. Atheism is perfectly alright with Hindu culture. Some interesting stuff for further reading..

    http://www.hitxp.com/ved/index.htm

    Preist’s & Mulla’s job ends once people start loving each other & start believe in the God they want to percieve or like. They are just making ‘noise’ in view of insecurity feeling….;P

    Take care everyone..

    Best Rgds,
    Manoj

  15. cyril augustine devadoss · ·

    how could a person declare himself/herself as atheist legally. sma may be used for marriage ,but what about the legal sanctity in all civil matters concern

  16. manoj saini · ·

    i am wth u.
    Manoj

  17. The problem with Special marriage act is its not gender neutral,there are many disadvantages for men if they get married under that act when things go wrong in marriage.

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