Academic journal article Indian Journal of Psychiatry

Marriage, Mental Illness and Law

Academic journal article Indian Journal of Psychiatry

Marriage, Mental Illness and Law

Article excerpt

Byline: Indira. Sharma, Karri. Reddy, Rabindra. Kamath

The Special Marriage Act (SMA), 1954 and the Hindu Marriage Act (HMA), 1955 have put restrictions on the marriage of persons with mental illness, which are proving to be detrimental to patients and their families. There is an urgent need to address this problem. The deficiencies in the existing legislation have been projected and constructive suggestions have been put forward.

Position Statement: Indian Psychiatric Society

President: T. V. Asokan; Immediate Past Presidents, Indira Sharma, Roy Abraham Kallivayalil; Vice President, V. Watve; Secretary: N. N. Raju; Immediate Past Secretary: Asim K. Mallick,Speciality Section on Marriage and Law: Chairperson: Dr. Karri Rama Reddy; Convener: Ravindra Mukund Kamath

Introduction

"To be mothers, were women created and to be fathers men" (Rig Veda, IX, 85).

The institution of marriage is the foundation of peace and order of the society. Marriage entails commitment and lifelong responsibilities. Severe mental illness results in disruption of behavior and may result in disability and inability to function satisfactorily and meet the obligations of marriage. Thus different legislations on marriage have put restrictions on the marriage of persons with mental illness. These legislations were enacted in the 1950s when none of the treatments such as chlorpromazine, imipramine or electroconvulsive therapy were available and the prognosis of severe mental illness was poor. In recent times with modern treatment most patients recover well and get married. However, after marriage many face serious problems as they are often rejected by their spouses. Presence of a severe mental illness makes the marriage voidable in the Hindu Marriage and Special Marriage Acts. This enlisting of mental illness under the conditions of a valid marriage in the Acts becomes an excuse for spouses to take the matrimonial disputes to courts. Cases continue for years and often it is a no-win situation. Women and children are the worst sufferers. There is a pressing need to revise the archaic laws which are proving to be detrimental to patients and their families. In addition, it goes without saying that persons with mental illness cannot be deprived of their fundamental right to marry and live a life of dignity. Apart from this, it has been observed that in matrimonial disputes being dealt by courts, mental illness is often present in one of the parties. However, the mental illness is either denied, not recognized or not acknowledged by the parties and courts. As a consequence, the mental illness and its treatment remain neglected and the situation goes from bad to worse. There is an urgent need to address this problem. Suitable modifications in the existing legislations are the need of the day so that persons with mental illness are not deprived of the basic human right, the right to receive medical treatment. This position statement is presented by the specialty section on Marriage and Law. The deficiencies in the existing legislation have been very neatly projected and very constructive suggestions have been put forward.

Marriage is one of the most important events of life affecting social status as well as the psychological status of an individual. It not only serves to satisfy the fundamental biological need of sexual gratification through a socially acceptable way, but also helps the individual to achieve a higher level of personality maturation.

For most women in India, marriage is a onetime event in life, which is glorified and sanctified and is associated with much social approval. It is also the ultimate fulfilment for most women. If this is endangered or broken for any reason, including due to mental illness such as schizophrenia, the lives of these persons may be shattered beyond repair. The plight of such women has been portrayed as the "triple tragedy" implying the tragedy of being a woman, afflicted with mental illness and being married. …

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