Women And Personal Law In India
Each religion has separate laws with respect to marriage, inheritance, divorce, adoption, succession, etc. This is collectively governed by what is known as Personal Law in India. Personal Law was first formulated by Warren Hastings in 1772, and there are 13 different Acts that govern general matters relating to Personal law, marriage and divorce for different religions/cases in India. It is because of Personal law in India that women have lesser rights than men, and not all women have the same rights bestowed on them.
All India Muslim Personal Law Board
Personal law for Muslims in India is propagated, applied and dictated by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (NGO). Apart from being against women’s rights of course, this board has voiced strong opposition to gay rights, against free education for children (Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009) and Yoga (Vedic culture in general). The board does, however, fight for the permissibility of child marriages, polygamy, triple talaq and self-appointed guardians of the religion (aka religious authorities over the law). Many Muslim women have started speaking out against the board and Muslim law in India, and they absolutely should, getting more aware of being robbed of their basic fundamental rights.
Muslim Personal Law
Under Muslim Personal Law, a man can divorce his wife by saying talaq (divorce) thrice. And if this isn’t bad enough, this law has managed to tap its way into social media for all the wrong reasons. Now extending it to any social medium such as Whatsapp, Facebook, email, etc. Imagine a Muslim woman that has to live in fear of her husband divorcing her at any point, while she has no rights whatsoever. While on the subject of marriage, let’s also evaluate the legal age at which a girl can get married. Under Muslim Personal Law, a girl can be legally married at the age of 15, which is in contradiction to the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 (amendment issued in 2006) that stipulates that a girl must be at least 18 years old to get married.
Why disappoint one woman when you can disappoint four?
The very same Personal Law permits polygamy in India, where a Muslim man may have more than a single wife, up to a maximum of 4. Forget the cliche, wives really are trophies here. Polygamy is also legal for Hindus in Goa under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. Polygamy is illegally practiced by the Adivasis (15%), Buddhists (8%), Muslims (6%) and Hindus (6%) as well. The Supreme Court is considering banning polygamy altogether. Considering? About time! Christian Personal Law doesn’t allow a woman to inherit the property or land of her deceased children. A Christian couple cannot file for divorce until completion of 2 years from the date of marriage, for other communities it is a minimum of one year. Getting too personal now.
A Uniform Civil Code, for those of us civil enough
Religions and places of worship cannot dictate the law. Who appoints the head of a religious institution or organization to frame laws, rules and restrictions that govern us based on our religious label? Personal Law is discriminatory and biased and needs to be replaced with a Uniform Civil Code. It is also important to understand that legal systems evolve over time to accommodate and represent our changed views.
A Uniform Civil Code is a proposed set of laws drafted to replace all Personal Laws in India. The Supreme Court, the BJP (promised to implement a Uniform Civil Code if elected to power) and the Left support a Uniform Civil Code in India, while Congress and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board oppose it. A Uniform Civil Code was first proposed by women activists in the early 20th century but was opposed throughout the past century, just as it is facing opposition today. Our society should ideally be shaped on universal principles of equality, liberty, justice and fraternity. A Uniform Civil Code would reflect equal laws for all citizens of India irrespective of race, gender, caste or religion and the same law is applicable to all individuals in a court of law. Religion shouldn’t be a reason for the failure to implement a Uniform Civil Code because equality comes above everything else. So if your religion isn’t fair or equal, then something is wrong with your religion, not the concept of equality and reform. Goa already has a Uniform Civil Code and a Common Family Law. Currently, there is no formal draft of a Uniform Civil Code proposed for India. Looks like that’s the next step, to get the Code drafted as a bill and passed into an Act.
When Justice Is Non-existent
Have you heard of the Gulabi (pink) Gang? They’re an all women group working towards justice for abused and oppressed women. And they’re pretty kickass for many reasons. This first ever all women’s group sprung up in Uttar Pradesh in 2003, a State where women’s rights are irrelevant and non-existential. They began with the motive to abolish caste-based discrimination, dowry demands, child molestation and abusive spouses or in-laws. You could say they are a vigilante group that does take action ranging from public shaming and protesting to physical violence (or beatings) when justice is denied. Many other cases of social injustice against women have been reported in the article Pigs in our society.
Who are feminists, really? Forget stereotypes. Let’s really get to know them. Coming up in chapter 4.
(Photo credits: Illustration by Sandeep Adhwaryu; As seen on TOI)