Legality of Marrying Cousin in India


In India, marriage is a merger of many diverse cultures. Across human history, cousin marriage has been frequent and is still popular in many international communities today. Over 9.87% of marriages are between cousins in our country. But is it lawful and appropriate in this nation? Let’s take a look.

Is Marrying a Cousin Legal in India?

In India, the legality of cousin marriage is contingent upon the particular religious and regional regulations that are relevant to the individuals involved.

Muslim law, which is based on uncodified personal law, permits marriages between first cousins. However, Hindus may find it unlawful under the law that states that a person cannot marry their first cousin since it falls under the category of forbidden relationships. If he does, the marriage will be void, meaning it will have no legal significance, but he will not be punished under the IPC because there is no provision for punishment.

The Special Marriage Act of 1954 is a civil marriage legislation that exists in addition to the religion-based personal laws that regulate marriages. A marriage under this law is an option for those who do not want to wed according to the personal laws controlled by cultural and religious customs. It prohibits first-cousin relationships, both cross- and parallel-family. Personal law and the banned degrees outlined in this legislation may disagree, but in the absence of any additional rules, the dispute remains unsolved.

Legal Framework Related to Cousin Marriage in India

Cousin marriage has different legal statuses in different religions; in some, it is permissible, while in others, it is condemned. Here are some laws related to cousin marriage in India:

Hindu Marriage Act

The Hindu Marriage Act forbids cousin weddings among Hindus unless local tradition permits it. Section 5 of this act, which regulates Hindu marriages, states that a marriage with one's first cousin is illegal because it is within the prohibited relationships list. There are no matrimonial rights or obligations between the partners in an invalid marriage, nor is it legally enforceable. Indian law thus prohibits Hindu relatives from getting married. Moreover, such marriages are punishable by up to one month in prison and a fine of up to one thousand rupees under Section 18 of the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. Also, an individual can't wed up to their second cousin on their mother's side or their fourth cousin on their father's side. Additionally, neither side must be superior to the other.

Muslim Law

Islamic law permits cousin marriages, and Muhammad himself performed them, especially between first cousins. In India, family law takes cultural and religious customs into account. Muslims, whose personal law is uncodified, are permitted to marry their first cousins. All first cousins, including maternal and paternal, are exempt from the ban on certain marriage degrees under Muslim law. According to the prophet, he might wed either his mother's or father's side daughters. Experts in the field agree that this blessing was intended for other believers as well as the Prophet. In every nation since the Prophet's time, Muslims have customarily performed weddings between first cousins.

Special Marriage Act

When it comes to things that are forbidden in marriage, the 1954 Special Marriage Act completely alters the situation. This Act has a separate list of forbidden marriage degrees for men and women. Therefore, no one, regardless of faith, is prevented from choosing a legal marriage by these entries. However, the final four entries in the two lists shown below provide a challenge to certain communities:

List 1 (Women cannot Marry):

  • Father's brother's son
  • Father's sister's son
  • Mother's sister's son
  • Mother's brother's son

List 2 (Men cannot Marry):

  • Father's brother's daughter
  • Father's sister's daughter
  • Mother's sister's daughter
  • Mother's brother's daughter

As a result, the Special Marriage Act classifies all first cousins—paternal and maternal, parallel and cross—as forbidden marriage relationships. Nonetheless, neither of the two lists of prohibited degrees in marriage includes any second cousin under the Special Marriage Act of 1954.

Other Religions

Christian law allows for the Church to provide a special dispensation that permits marriage to a cousin. The Bible's listings of forbidden relatives do not include cousins. All marriages that are not with first cousins are permitted in Roman Catholicism. Zoroastrianism permits the union of cousins. Sikhism adheres to the prohibition of same-clan weddings.

Cultural Perspective on Marrying a Cousin in India

Similar to legislation, different Indian folks have distinct viewpoints about cousin marriage. Here, we witness the Northern and Southern points of view on cousin weddings.

Northern India

In North India, Hindus view cousin marriage as illegal and unethical. It can even be considered improper for two siblings to be married to somebody from the same community. States where the northern kinship model is prevalent include West Bengal, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, and Punjab.

Southern India

However, Hindu cross-cousin weddings are popular in South India, with matrilateral cross-cousin marriages involving the daughter of the mother's brother being particularly encouraged. The states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh follow the southern kinship model.

Many social, cultural, and historical elements have influenced this practice, including:

  • Customs and Cultural Practices: In South Indian culture and customs, cousin weddings have long been practiced. They are frequently viewed as a means of preserving bonds inside the family as well as the community.
  • Social Structure: The caste system, which historically affects marriage decisions, is highly valued in South Indian culture. Preserving economic and social systems has been achieved by marriages within the same caste or sub-caste, including cousin weddings.
  • Locational Closeness: Families find it simpler to arrange weddings when cousins reside near one another geographically. It may also enhance the comfort and familiarity that relatives share.
  • Family Matters: In South India, marriage symbolizes the unification of families as well as individuals. It's common knowledge that keeping societal peace and fostering family ties may be achieved through cousin marriage.
  • Property and Economic Factors: Getting married inside the family might assist in preserving assets and family property within the same family.
  • Religious Belief: Religious customs and beliefs influence marriage decisions in many South Indian cultures. Marrying within the same religious group is seen as significant, which frequently entails cousin weddings.
  • Socioeconomic Aspects: Cousin weddings are viewed in certain cultures as a means of preserving social and socioeconomic standing within the family.

It is important to keep in mind that throughout South India, as well as across other tribes and castes, the acceptance and incidence of cousin weddings might vary.