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Not by Law Alone

Rama Mehta

By J. Duncan M. Derrett
Vikas, New Delhi, 1978, pp XXVI 228, Rs. 50.00

VOLUME III NUMBER 1 July/August 1978

Duncan M. Derrett is an excellent survey of marriage laws in India. A Professor of Oriental Laws at the Univer­sity of London, Derrett has given an analytical appreciation of Hindu Mar­riage Law. Being familiar not only with legal aspects of a law but being aware of Indian condition, he has contributed in understanding marriage laws in their social context. The value of this book is mainly for social historians, but also makes interesting reading for anyone who is concerned with laws, governing marriage and divorce. He deals in detail with the various complexities of the law on divorce as it stands today and the contradictions that are inherent in legislation in a population that still lives by values that are traditional and in which the woman is subordinate to men. The Death of a Marriage Law gives a detailed historical survey and in doing so points out the conditions of India at different stages of its social history. Verrett points out that the social mytho­logy of the 19th and early 20th cen­turies equated Hinduism with the norms of brahminism and brahaminized castes. It, therefore, clearly left out the majority of Indians whose norms of behaviour deviated from Varnaasrama dharma. Because of the dominance of the elite H.S. Gour’s Bill to introduce divorce was rejected several times between 1928 and 1938. Yet at the same time, Baroda where the proportion of brahmins in the population was small, was able to pass the Hindu Act of 1937, permitting divorce. The entire book has such insights into the socio-economic and socio-religious attitudes of Indians towards personal legislation. Derrett also brings out the conflict between laws and the society in which they were enacted. He points out convincingly that in the ethno-charactero­logy of India, the divorce law as it exists has little or at best limited rele­vance. He does not, however, argue that the law itself is not a good one. He only points out through case histories the many different levels at which an Indian lives. Marriages are, for example, arranged by parents and yet the girl may be an educated and an earning member of the family. To harmonize the modern and the traditional attitudes is always difficult. He concludes the book saying that in order for the Hindu Code Bill to be effec­tive, a new Shastra, a modern Stridhan, owing little to the old but ...

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