India will take the ‘kept’ tag off married neo-Buddhist women

by Ganesh Kanate, DNA Mumbai, April 27, 2007

Mumbai, India -- They have to bear the tag of ‘kept woman’ even after marriage, and children born out of the wedlock are ‘illegitimate’. That’s the plight of the married women of the neo-Buddhist community, which accounts for 120,000 of the state’s population. Their matrimony is not recognised by the Hindu Marriage Act. Nor do the neo-Buddhists register their marriages in accordance with the court.

This anomaly had been there ever since the mass conversion on October 14, 1956, which saw many belonging to the Mahar community embrace Buddhism, along with their leader Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. Perhaps, the Father of the Indian Constitution would have set things straight, but he died just two months after the conversion.

Now, the state government has decided to correct the anomaly by introducing a Bill — Buddhist Marriage and Inheritance Rights Act — in the monsoon session of the legislature. Nitin Raut, a neo-Buddhist Congress MLA fighting for this cause, brought up the issue during the budget session, and the Speaker of the House instructed the government to take necessary action.

Raut said, “This has been a long pending demand of the community. Despite the issue being raised in Parliament by former Rajya Sabha member SW Dhabe and ex-Lok Sabha member Sudamkaka Deshmukh, who even tried to introduce a private member Bill, nothing has been done so far by either the Centre or the state government.” Pointing out that it was very much within the purview of the Maharashtra government to introduce a Bill in this regard, Raut said, “West Bengal has Bengal Marriage Validation Act, plus there is Aryan Marriage Validation Act. So, Maharashtra too can have its own Buddhist Marriage Act. It is very much possible legally.”

Stressing the need for the Act, Raut said everytime one from the sect approached the court either for maintenance or divorce, the latter simply refused to recognise the marriage. “It has been a grave injustice to Buddhist women,” he said, citing the famous Shakuntala vs Neelkanth (1970) case, in which Shakuntala’s demand for maintenance was rejected by both the district court and the high court.