This article on ‘Historical development of Christian Laws in India’ was written by an intern at Legal Upanishad.
This article will discuss the historical development of Christian Laws in the country from British India until now. Christian Law is greatly based on English law but various laws were derived from the power of precedents and traditional practices.
What is Personal Law?
Personal law is a law that identifies what law should be applicable to a person who is belonging to a particular religion in the country. In India, there are various different personal laws for various religious groups. There are five different personal laws for the different religious groups in India as follows: Hindu personal law, Christian personal law, Muslim personal law, Parsis personal law, and Jewish personal law. Under the extent of these personal laws, there are affairs such as marriage, succession, divorce, adoption, etc.
What are Christian Laws?
Christian laws are a code of laws in the country that regulate matters such as divorce, marriage, and succession of the Christian community in India. These laws are drawn primarily from the supply of the Christian Marriage Act and the Divorce Act. The Christain Law of succession is governed by the resources in the Indian Succession Act.
As late as January 1986, those Christians habitant in Cochin were subject to the applicability to the Cochin Christian Succession Act while those habitant in Travancore now known as Kerala were subject to Travancore Christian Succession Act, these two Acts have now been repealed and the Indian Succession Act governs the Christians.
The meaning of the word ‘Christian’ according to Section 3 of the Indian Christian Marriage Act 1872 means persons proclaiming Christian religion and Indian Christian include the Christian descendants of natives of India who converted to Christianity. When a marriage between two people, one of whom is a Christian, such marriage is governed by the Christian Marriage Act.
Formation of the Christian Law in British India
The current Indian legal system has been significantly influenced by British rule in India. It is essential to understand that era of Indian history because many of the laws that the British passed are still in effect today.
The situation of Christians in British India during the nineteenth century was challenging. Since they were primarily Muslims or Hindus who had converted, their old religious laws no longer applied to them, so it was unclear what kinds of laws applied to them and their offspring. It was also impossible to apply English law in cases of succession, marriage, divorce, etc. because they weren’t even British. The situation then became a little uncertain and the need for a new personal law emerged because Indian Christians found themselves in a legal void which then resulted in the need for a new personal law because there is no Christian law in the sense same of Hindu or Muslim law.
At first, the idea that the converts should be subject to the laws that were in place for them prior to the conversion was considered, but that wasn’t really necessary due to the families’ refusal to give their property to individuals who converted from other religions to Christianity. Even though the law of the previous religion could be applied to converts in terms of inheritance, such a thing would be completely impossible in terms of marriage, divorce, or adoption.
In order to succeed or inherit after the members of their family, the Christians needed to demonstrate that they were still Muslims or Hindus. However, they also desired to establish their own legal system and establish their hybridity. Between 1865 and 1872, a number of laws were passed in response to the need to control the legal situation of Indian Christians, giving rise to the Indian Succession Act in the process.
The intention was to give all citizens access to uniform inheritance law, but this goal was not realized because the law was opposed by Hindus, Muslims, and Parsis, who were exempt from it because they already had their own inheritance laws. Therefore, the Christian converts were the only individuals subject to the legal provisions of the Indian Succession Act.
Because Christians had so many issues with marriage, the Native Converts Marriage Dissolution Act was passed in 1866. It was time to address the marriage issue now that the inheritance laws had been established. The Christian missionaries first noticed it at the start of the 19th century when they discovered that only one of the two couples, which primarily consisted of men, had converted to Christianity while the other had not.
Now that the husband had converted to Christianity and was still married, he was not permitted to remarry because polygamy was against Christian doctrine. However, the Hindu partner was now permitted to remarry. Due to a lack of rules, these converts were forced to practice their new religion in sin or live alone until their former spouse passed away.
European colonizers were primarily responsible for spreading Christianity in India. Numerous Christian laws were incorporated into English law as a result of the British being Christians and therefore being unable to offer alternatives to their own solutions to the issues faced by Indian Christians. In this area of personal law, there has been a significant expansion of the law. There are more than 2 crore Christians living in India. When the country’s laws are being applied, it is crucial to take their wishes and rights into account.
The Indian Christians encountered a legal gap at some point in history that needed to be filled. Due to the British decision to forgo enforcing a uniform civil code in favor of letting Indians maintain their traditions, there are no laws governing newly converted Christians. In contrast to Muslim or Hindu personal law, which derives its rules from religious texts, customs, and other sources, Christian personal law was solely developed by the British, making it a special case.
Undoubtedly, the appearance of the system and how it functions today differ significantly from that of the British hegemony era as a result of the Britisher’s non-interference policy.
- The Formation of Christian Personal Law in British India from 1865 to 1872, available at: http://www.tbsp.wpia.uj.edu.pl/documents/4137545/135093886/8.+Drwal_8_2016.pdf/542b25e6-8626-4c12-8a97-1ea77b465ffb (last visited on 2nd July 2022)
- Christian Law Regarding Marriage And Divorce In India: Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872, available at: https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-1764-christian-law-regarding-marriage-and-divorce-in-india-indian-christian-marriage-act-1872.html (last visited on 2nd July 2022)
- Christian Law of Succession in Indian Law, available at: https://www.lawteacher.net/free-law-essays/property-trusts/christian-law-of-succession.php (last visited on 2nd July 2022)
- The Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872, available at: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1166543/ (last visited on 2nd July 2022) and
- https://www.indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/2186/1/a1872-15.pdf (last visited on 2nd July 2022)