By Vrinda Singh:
Recently, a much-needed furore was created online about sexism in Bollywood songs. Well, sexism in Bollywood is a cause of concern, but, even more pitiable is the sexism inherent in our laws.
Laws are made to set standards of ideal behaviour for people. The idea of equality is shattered when the laws themselves reflect a sexist bias in them. The following are some of the laws that will make you think twice before you say “I live in a gender just India.”
With the Indian capital city being called the rape capital of the world, the government seems to be unwilling to add this category to the definition of rape. Marital rape is considered alright in our country where one in five men have confessed to forcing their wives into sexual intercourse. The exception to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code reads “sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.” Ladies beware, because once you marry a man the idea of ‘no means no’ does not really exist. It appears that in India marriage gives husbands the licence to rape their wives.
Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code read with Section 198(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code lays down that only a man who has sexual intercourse with the wife of another man can be charged for adultery. Firstly, it is only the man who is charged for adultery. The rationale lies in the outdated mentality that a woman is a man’s property which could, in theory, be taken away by another man. Hence she cannot be accused of adultery. The idea is reinforced by the fact that a case can be registered only by aggrieved husbands. This means that married men who have an extra-marital affair with an unmarried woman cannot be prosecuted for adultery at all under Section 497.
According to the Hindu Marriage Act, the legal age for marriage is 21 years for boys and 18 years for girls. You might wonder what is sexist about this. Well, everything. Why is there a difference between the legal age of marriage for a boy and a girl? This difference clearly implies the lawmaker’s belief that it is appropriate for boys to get married late so that they are financially independent by the time of marriage. However, the same is not required of girls. It smacks of the idea that girls are a burden on the parents who would want to marry them off as soon as possible. I am not advocating for an increase or reduction in the age. The only thing that is problematic is the difference in the marriageable age which speaks a lot about the blatant gender-based discrimination in Indian laws.
In India, there is no concept of marital property i.e. shared property of the husband and wife. After divorce, the court asks the earning spouse (generally the husband) to provide the wife with a nominal maintenance. Unless the property is registered in her name, the wife does not get a share in the property. Also, maintenance stops if the husband dies. Then what? The divorced wife has no property in her hands. Her contribution towards the household is not taken into consideration so as to distribute the property, at least that which was acquired during matrimony, in a proportional manner. Instead, everything remains with the husband and is inherited by his heirs.
Even after the numerous changes brought in The Hindu Succession Act with the 2005 amendment, a lot needs to be done. For instance, Section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act states that the property of a female Hindu dying intestate should devolve upon (after her children and grandchildren) the heirs of her husband before her own parents. This clearly promotes the dominance of patriarchy in the institution of marriage by decreeing that a married woman is supposed to give primacy to her husband’s family over her own family.
As the adage says ‘Change begins from within,’ I think it is high time to make changes within the laws so that a gender just example could be set for the people to follow.