Church leaders in India are debating the Hindu-led government's proposal to change a 130-year-old Christian divorce law. The bill would provide women with new grounds for dissolving their marriages. The Parliament plans to discuss the Indian Divorce Amendment Bill 2000 (IDA 2000) during the first week of March.

Under existing law, a Christian husband can petition for the dissolution of his marriage because of adultery, whereas a wife must not only allege adultery but add a charge of cruelty, desertion, or bigamy.

Some Christian leaders, who had been demanding changes for a long time, reacted sharply after claiming that the government failed to consult with them. The government says it heard from all sections of the Christian community before it crafted the measure.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) was one group that made recommendations. "Although divorce is not part of the Roman Catholic faith, we have accepted the bill to support the other Christian groups' demands in the country," said Dominic Emmanuel, CBCI spokesman. "We have also asked the government to name the bill the Christian Marriage Act. … We have also asked [that] the annulment power of marriage … remain with the church."

Richard Howell, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, is among those complaining. "The whole package given by the government is not acceptable to the Christian community," Howell said. "Yes, there is a need to relook into the old laws concerning divorce, but certain sections, [such as] the marriage of Christian and non-Christian, the government need not touch. … We have raised objection to this."

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