Using law as a tool for assertion

Contradictions have become the Indian way of life. On the one hand, we say, “Yathra naaryaha poojyanthe tatra ramanthe devathaha,” which literally means that “the gods reside where the women are worshipped (respected)” and on the other hand, we molest, rape and annihilate the female foetus. The recent gang-rape in our teeming capital in daylight proves that we as a society are light years away from what we pretend to stand for.

We have come a long way from the matriarchal society prevalent in the early Vedic age. The five millennia in our history have shown a steady decline in the social and economic status of women, except for sparks of brilliance and assertion which are few and far between.

The reasons for this regression can run into volumes, but at this point of time it will be a futile exercise to raison d’être. Instead, it will be much more fruitful if we realise how women can assert themselves with the help of the existing law in the country.

The fundamental rights of an Indian citizen ensure equality before the law and equal protection. It prohibits discrimination against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, and grants equality of opportunity to all in matters relating to employment. The law of the land certainly does not discriminate against the woman.

The Indian Constitution empowers the State to adopt measures of positive discrimination in favour of women, in order to neutralise the socio-economic, educational and political disadvantages.

In fact, the constitution shows its special regard to women, reflected in Article 42, which directs the State to make provision for ensuring just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief. Moreover, the Constitution imposes a fundamental duty on every citizen through Articles 15 (A) (e) to renounce the practices derogatory to the dignity of women.

It is time that Indian women recognise the atrocities that are perpetrated on them. Crime against women can be broadly classified under two categories.

Crimes identified under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which include rape, kidnap and abduction for different purposes; homicide for dowry, dowry deaths or their attempts; torture, both mental and physical; molestation, sexual harassment and importation of girls (up to 21 years of age).

Crimes identified under the special laws allow women to assert both at her marital home, with the help of the various acts which give her the right to a congenial marital life, motherhood, maternity benefit, property, among other things. She also has every right to take objection to marital rape, foeticide, child marriage, sati and indecent representation.

A woman can enjoy every benefit at the workplace like her male colleagues and can report the slightest discrimination and sexual abuse, to make the place safe for herself and her co-workers.

Laws related to marriage
In India, a registered marriage, also known as civil marriage, is performed under the provisions of the Special Marriage Act, 1954. Any couple, belonging to any caste or the same caste, can marry under this Act. The Act extends to the whole of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

In case a woman wants to file a divorce, the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act provides for the Hindu woman’s right to live separately from her husband by petitioning against him and claiming maintenance. An injunction order, preventing the spouse from disturbing the woman at residence or work, can also be obtained.

Although the Indian Muslim women do enjoy the fundamental rights as Indian citizens, their personal law does not recognise certain aspects of the judicial system especially with reference to their marriage.

Laws affecting women significantly have been reviewed periodically, and amendments carried out, to keep pace with the emerging requirements. Yet, the Indian woman invariably remains at the receiving end of the society. The social abuse against her begins right from birth.

Several cases of female foeticide, child abuse, child labour, sexual abuse, horror stories of dowry deaths, instances of sati, eve teasing and sexual abuse at workplace stand testimony to this harsh truth.

The law of the land can do next to nothing, if affected women do not approach it. Still, women and their kin are paranoid about approaching the law to assert their rights for three main reasons, namely, social stigma, ignorance of the law and apprehension about the procrastinating nature and prohibitive expenses that are involved in a court case.
If we want to break this vicious cycle, it is important for us to nurture ethics and integrity as a society. Better late than never!

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