Man seeks relook at gender roles over alimony

A man, who lost his job after the closure of Jet Airways, has approached the Supreme Court against an order to pay maintenance to his more qualified ex-wife, saying the role of spouses must be re-looked in contemporary society.

He challenged the validity of Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, saying it should be declared unconstitutional as it was gender-biased and violated the right to equality and non-discrimination. He argued that the provision has put additional burden on him, even though he was fighting for his own sustenance.

“Providing maintenance might be the role of husband at one point of time, but in the contemporary society where equality is considered the first pillar of the basic structure of our Constitution, the role of spouses in the marriage (both during its subsistence and afterwards) need to be re-looked and reconsidered,” he contended.

The petitioner, who stays in Mumbai, contended he was just a high school graduate with a diploma in aircraft maintenance and was currently unemployed due to shut down of Jet Airways.

But he has been ordered to pay “excessive” maintenance of Rs 30,000 per month to the divorced wife, who herself was a graduate in English, Sociology and Psychology and could make her own “respectful” living. She has refused to work and wanted to harass him by misusing the gender-based provision of Section 125 of the CrPC, his plea stated.

The petitioner said it was necessary that gender justice was done to not only one but both the genders unequivocally and without prejudice and bias.

“There is a prima facie discrimination on the basis of gender without any reasonable classification under Section 125 of the CrPC, specifically with regard to presumption that a husband, father or son is considered to have ability to earn and maintain his dependents if he is healthy and able-bodied,” he pointed out.

“While a mother or a daughter is only liable to maintain if she has a separate income of her own independent of her husband's income. Such unreasonable classification in contemporary society of today is prima facie violative of Article 14 and 15 of the Constitution,” he added.

In the United Kingdom, from where Indian jurisprudence has been derived, the spousal maintenance provisions in the Matrominal Clauses Act, 1973 are absolutely gender neutral. In the United States too, all the states have gender neutral alimony laws.

The petitioner clarified that he was not seeking a direction that the women should not allowed to seek maintenance but he was for “equality before the law and equal protection of laws”.

“It is pertinent to note that as Section 125 CrPC directs the courts to have regard to fact-specific elements such as the person providing maintenance having sufficient means and the dependent not being able to maintain itself, it becomes both unnecessary and illogical to consider gender as an additional requirement while deciding a case on merit on the question of whether the person concerned deserves to be awarded maintenance or not.” his petition stated.

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