Is intercaste marriage legal in India

Case study

Santadevi Meghwal 20 years old: She comes from Rajasthan. Her parents had married when she was just 11 months old. She says: “It is part of the tradition in our village that if an elderly relative dies, a child is married within 13 days.” As soon as the girl reaches adolescence, the wedding takes place. At 16, Santadevi found out about their marriage and vigorously contradicted that she did not want to suffer the same fate as her sister, who suffered in her marriage. She went to court to legally end her marriage. But the groom and his family refused. After many arguments, she made it anyway. Meanwhile, Santadevi has completed the second year of her studies. She wants to become a teacher and help children with life issues. (Source No. 9)



  • Population: approx. 1.2 billion (as of 2011) (source no.2)
  • UNDP Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Program (wealth factor that includes the dimensions of education index, standard of living and expectation): 135 out of 187 countries (source no.1)
  • Literacy rate: 78% of the population can read and write, 68% of women and 86% of men (as of 2015) (source no.2)
  • According to data collected from 2007 to 2008, 42.9% of Indian women aged 20-24 were married before their 18th birthday (source no.3)


Country overview

In the next 30 years India will be the country with the largest population in the world. Today India is one of the prospering economies in the world and with its gross domestic product it will be in third place after China and the USA. However, it has to grapple with major problems of poverty reduction, expansion and quality assurance of the education system and infrastructure development. (Source No. 2)

The average annual income is € 1000 per person (as of 2015).

No well-founded statements can be made with regard to poverty, as information from different sources varies enormously. The tax bases of India are very controversial. The government of India stated that in 2013 22% of the population lived in poverty. If, however, one defines poverty according to the World Bank's ceiling at 1.25 $ per capita per day, it can be assumed that 32.7% have to make a living below this limit. (Source No. 6)

About 78% of the population can read and write (2). In 2009 the law "Right to Education Act" was passed, in which the basic right to education for children from 6 to 14 years was established. However, due to the different offers of state and private educational institutions, a uniform and sufficient quality of knowledge transfer is not yet guaranteed. There is also a lack of qualified teachers, which means that school attendance at secondary schools is falling. (Source No. 7)

Girls are particularly affected. According to the 2011 Unicef ​​report “The World's Children Report”, 86% of girls attend primary school. However, participation in secondary schools falls to 59%. Often less is invested in their training due to the prevailing patriarchal structures. But also the lack of secondary schools in rural areas, inadequate school facilities and a lack of sanitary facilities for girls in schools are further reasons for dropouts. (Source No. 4)

A variety of religions are represented in India. There are 80% Hindus, 13% Muslims, 2.3% Christians, 1.9% Sikhs, as well as Buddhists, Jainas, Parsis and Baha'i (source no.2)

Official languages ​​are Hindi, English and 20 other regional languages.



In light of the Thomson Reuters Foundation's “Protecting the girl child legal annex” report, 42.9% of Indian women aged 20-24 were married before their 18th birthday according to data collected from 2007 to 2008. That is 40% of early marriages worldwide, which makes India the sad top spot in terms of absolute numbers. (3) In addition, 53.4% ​​of girls in rural areas and 29.7% of girls in urban areas are married before their 18th birthday. (8) The data show that early marriages are prevalent in rural areas. The girls are often married to older men, as men are supposed to take on the dominant part in the marriage. Girls or women must submit to him and his family, especially the mother-in-law. They often have to drop out of their training or school, which leads them to existential dependency. Due to their low social status, they are often victims of all kinds of abuse and domestic violence. (5)



With regard to India, it is insufficient to speak of “motives”. The main cause or root of the early marriage of girls is based on the basic attitude that men have a primacy in family and society and that girls or women are viewed as "paraya dhan", which means "to be one's fortune".

In essence, this fact illustrates the dowry, which is an expression of the patriarchal structures in India. In some ethnic groups, a dowry is payable when getting married. It can be described as a kind of trousseau that the bride's father has to raise for the marriage. A higher dowry is often expected for an older girl and a lower dowry for a younger girl. The background is that younger girls are easier to socialize, better controlled and raised, and less resistant.

However, the age for getting married also depends on the productivity or labor of a girl. It is therefore no coincidence that the age of marriage is often puberty, as girls can look after the elderly or take care of children while the rest of the family, e.g. B in rural areas, working in the field. In general, girls in the family of origin and in the groom's family are considered a financial burden. In this regard, one is expected to be a good, obedient wife, which is tied to certain feminine norms such as beautiful, adaptable, docile, hardworking, and talented.

Since men see their power in fatherhood in connection with the lineage of name, wealth, status and religion, the only way to maintain this is through control of female sexuality. The proof of power is virginity and, connected with it, the chaste behavior of the girl or woman. The caste (social class) or the view that the continued existence of society or group can only be maintained through purity of blood, determines that a girl, as soon as she reaches puberty, has to marry in order to ensure virginity. This ensures that the growing wealth and privileges of the family are protected.

For this reason, in some areas, the younger the girl, the more respectful and sacred it is to give her away. According to statements from an interview with men from Jharkhand, which was published in the 2015 Report, in 2015 the question about the dowry was only a symbolic gesture in the past. But rising living standards, growing wealth and the associated growing inequality lead to arrogant behavior when it comes to the question of dowry. Also, a man with a higher education can ask for a higher dowry because he can offer his wife a better life. Similar norms determine that a lower dowry is acceptable for “good” and beautiful girls.

These examples show that factors such as wealth, social norms, international economic dynamics, education, inequality in the caste system and the maintenance of social ties influence and change the system of dowry, the basic attitudes of the patriarchal structures are not removed. (Source No. 8)


Legal situation

The legal marriage age in India is 18 years for girls and 21 years for boys.

These age limits already existed in The Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 and have been retained in the 2006 update of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act. There are no legal exceptions to the minimum age for marriage, either under the Prohibition of Early Marriage Act or under common law. The law applies to all of India (except for the provinces of Jammu and Kashmir) and to all Indians, regardless of their ethnicity or religion.

Nevertheless, the law has weaknesses. For example, under the prohibition of the “Child Marriage Act” under point 3, early marriages are not regarded as generally illegal, but rather as contestable. Victims of child marriage have the option to contest the wedding two years after they come of age. In some limited instances where children are abducted, trafficked, coerced or deceived, child marriages before the age of majority are void and invalid. However, the vast majority of the cases brought to court to date have not been involved in kidnapping or child trafficking. For whatever reason the marriages were often not canceled. (3) In addition, the dowry and its acceptance are also prohibited by law in the "Dowry Prohibition Act" since 1961 and are void under Paragraph 5. The offense against it is punished with at least 5 years imprisonment and a fine. Despite the strict formulation of the law, the practice is widespread. National Crime Records Bureau data shows that there has been an increase in deaths from dowry failure in recent years. In the first place, the brides were killed by the groom's family for failing to keep the bride price.

In the 2006 legislation, so-called “Child Marriage Prohibition Officers” were appointed for each state, but they often turn a blind eye to early marriages for a sum of money. (Source No. 3)


Intervention examples

  • Kriti Bharti is a child rights activist and psychologist who founded and heads the NGO Saarthi Trust in Jodhpur Rajasthan. Saarthi Trust is committed to grass-root level interventions. She is particularly active in the interests of women and children in the interests of an equal and healthy society.
    Kriti has achieved more than 28 marriage annulments in family courts and has won national and international awards for her work. (Source No. 9)
  • The “Integrated Child Development Services” has launched a project with the support of the global NGO Landesa, which mainly campaigns for land rights. Girls between the ages of 11 and 18 meet in a discussion group. Issues such as early marriages, motherhood and rights are addressed. These gatherings are led and supported by professionals from the village and a health officer based on an Integrated Child Development Services curriculum.
    Another part of this program is learning gardening skills and growing vegetables. This can be used to feed the family or sold on the market to finance school fees.
    More than 40,000 girls are currently participating in this program. Within three years, one million girls from beyond West Bengal are to take part. (Source No. 10) Project Watch: After my garden grows
  • The Institute of Health Management Pachod (IHMP) found that girls with low self-esteem are more likely to marry early. It is for this reason that it has taken action to develop new and creative ways of identifying and supporting the children at risk. IHMP works with unmarried adolescent girls and focuses on life skills and empowerment programs that are designed to lead to measurable increases in self-esteem and self-confidence. IHMP has developed various empowerment programs for girls in rural areas, in which they carry out life skills training, education about rights and advice. A program has also been introduced with the help of the Mc Arthur Foundation that works with girls who are already married and also includes their spouses. There is now a program for parents too. (Source No. 11)



1.) United Nations Development Program Human Development Reports


3.) Thomson Reuters Foundation January 2014