A look at how amended divorce laws in India will affect women
Some marriages are made to last, while some are not. When the latter is the case, it is usual for one or both parties to seek a divorce. Divorce however, is a painful process, which is often influenced by laws, which discriminate against, or do not consider the rights of women, thereby leaving them without claims to property and other assets. This often results in destitution and has compelled some women to remain in incompatible and unfulfilling relationships due to their lack of sustainability and survival options. Another disturbing aspect involves those women who are subjected to domestic violence, marital rape, and dowry demands, which have the potential to put their personal safety in jeopardy. Recent amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and the Special Marriage Act, 1954 via the Marriage Law Amendment Bill have ensured certain rights and privileges for women who are seeking divorce, and make the process of divorce less harrowing and more women-friendly.
Among the suggested amendments is one, which gives a woman the right to claim property from her husband after the divorce has been granted. As per the proposal put forward by the GoM [group of ministers] who have contributed towards developing the Bill, sufficient compensation is to be provided to a woman from her husband’s ancestral property in the case of a divorce. An alternative also exists through which the woman has the right to claim a share of any self-acquired property owned by her husband. A new clause, 13f, states that if ancestral property cannot be divided, the woman has the right to calculate her husband’s share in it, following which the court will decide on the amount of compensation to which she is entitled.
Another amendment which has caused much celebration among those women who are battling partners who do not wish to grant a divorce, is one which does away with the previous provision which made it mandatory for both parties to file a joint application for divorce after a mandatory waiting period of 6-18 months. The new provision ensures that a judge can grant divorce if one of the partners fails to move a second joint application of divorce with mutual consent within 3 years.
“Irretrievable breakdown of marriage” is now considered a relevant ground for seeking divorce. Citing this indicates the breakdown of marriage for many reasons, either the marriage did not work out due to incompatibility between partners, or other issues which cannot be resolved via counseling or other means.
The new amendments might have caused much joy among women, but it has found many detractors in the form of men’s rights group and right wing followers who claim that giving women the right to claim inheritance will lead to much culture destruction, crime against men, and will cause men to become afraid of committing to marriage. However upon considering both sides of the story, one can safely conclude that women, thus far, have been given a raw deal in context with their rights in general, and were previously not entitled to any compensation or benefits.
While one can always factor in the opinions of those who appear to prefer women to be subjugated and tolerant to abuse, the majority of those who believe in a progressive and equal society certainly have reason to applaud this forward-thinking, women-friendly law, which protects her and upholds her basic human rights.