In India persons belonging to different religious communities live together. Therefore, different personal law systems are enforced in this country. Thus, in India there is Hindu personal law, Muslim personal law, Christian personal law, Parsi personal law, etc. A distinctive feature of personal laws is that they are based on religion which is matters of faith and belief.
Therefore, like Indian Contract Act, Indian Penal Code or the Income Tax Act, etc., any one personal law cannot be made applicable to all the persons of this country. Indian Contract Act or Indian Penal Code or the Income Tax Act etc. are ‘general laws’.
General laws are applicable to all the persons irrespective of their religion. Personal laws are applicable to persons belonging to respective religious community in India e.g., Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews etc. As compared to ‘general laws’ the characteristic features of a ‘personal law’ are given below:
(a) Personal Laws are not of general application. Personal law of one religious community cannot be applied to all the persons uniformly like other general laws, such as Indian Contract Act or the Indian Penal Code etc. Thus, family- matters of Muslims cannot be regulated by Hindu personal law or, by Christian or Parsi personal law.
(b) Personal laws are applicable only to family-matters e.g. marriage, divorce, guardianship, will or inheritance etc. These family-matters of a Muslim are governed by Muslim personal law but contract or crime committed by him cannot be regulated by Muslim law of contracts or Muslim law of crimes.
(c) Within certain limits, personal law moves with the person. That is to say, a person takes with him his own personal law wherever he goes. For example, if a Muslim goes to England and dies there, his properties are inherited by Muslim law of inheritance.
Similarly, when a Hindu dies in England or France, his properties are inherited under Hindu law. Personal laws are, therefore, not territorial laws. Territorial laws are the laws of territory. Personal laws are the laws of the religious community to which a person belongs rather than the law of the territory or place.