Whenever I think of a woman two quotes flash through my mind. The first quote by Brigham Young who said “You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation.” The second quote by Joseph Conrad who said “Being a woman is a terribly difficult task, since it consists principally in dealing with men.” So no more description is necessary, I presume.
This article, however, seeks to deal with some laws which concern a woman in general and a woman professing the religions like Islam, Hindu and Christian in particular. The discussion is very brief and is not at all exhaustive and the idea is to give a bird’s eye view of the vast topic.
THE CONSTITUTION ITSELF!
All of us know that the constitution is the fundamental legal document of a nation and is the mother of all laws. All the laws spring from it. Our founding fathers took special care to give protection to women in Article 15 of the constitution the relevant part of which reads as follows. “The State shall not discriminateagainst any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, and place of birth or any of them. Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children. Thus the constitution itself provides against any discriminative treatment of woman and even provides for making special laws. We shall see such special laws later. Article 42 provides for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief. Article 234D and Article 234T makes provision for reservation of one third of the seats for women including women belonging to SC/ST in the elections to Panchayat and Municipalities respectively.
MOTOR VEHICLES ACT 1988
Under the Motor Vehicles Act 1988 it is mandatory to wear helmets by all persons riding a motorcycle. Exemption is granted to Sikh persons in turban. In Delhi on demand by Sikh women exemption was granted to all women on the ground that it is difficult to identify by appearance whether a woman is Sikh or not. A Public interest litigation is now pending before the Delhi High court whereby a person challenged the exemption to women as an instance of discrimination since section 129 of the said Act applies to all persons.
Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005
This Act was passed by the parliament mainly to protect helpless women who suffers from physical and mental abuse/assault from her husband or male members staying with her or their relatives. "Domestic violence "includes actual abuse or the threat of abuse that is physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and economic. Harassment by way of unlawful dowry demands to the woman or her relatives would also be covered under this definition. The woman aggrieved by the violence can file a complaint before the protection officer appointed for this purpose in each district in addition to service providers like charitable societies etc specifically chosen for this purpose. There is provision for giving shelter homes also to such woman. A word of caution. The act defined verbal abuse in a wide manner and hence may be misused by woman to settle scores or petty disputes!
The Factories Act 1948 contains beneficial provisions to protect the interest of women. It provides for crèches where more than 30 women are employed and they shall not be required to work before 6AM and after 7PM. The Act does not allow women in working near dangerous machines like pressing of cotton etc. Similar provisions are there in the Mines Act 1952 and also under The Plantation Labour Act 1951. Employees State Insurance Act 1948 provides for the periodical payment to insured women in case of confinement or miscarriage or sickness arising out of pregnancy, confinement, premature birth of child or miscarriage in addition to the medical facilities etc. The maternity benefit Act 1961 provides that a woman worker who worked for not less than 80 days shall be eligible for maternity benefit and in the case miscarriage shall be entitled to leave with wages. The equal Remuneration Act, 1976 was enacted to provide equal remuneration to male and female workers for the same work or work of the similar nature without any discrimination. Please note that Article 39(d) of the constitution provides that there is equal pay for equal work for both men and women.
THE MUSLIM WOMAN (PROTECTION ON DIVORCE) ACT 1986 is an important enactment which created much uproar amongst Muslims in India. The objective of the law is to protect the rights of Muslim women who have been divorced by, or have obtained divorce from, their husbands and to provide for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. This law was enacted after the famous decision of the Supreme Court in Shah banu’s case. Shah banu was divorced by her husband and as per Muslim personal law was not entitled to get continued maintenance from her husband. But Supreme Court granted her maintenance using section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP) in supersession of the personal law that governs the Muslims. This caused widespread criticism and ultimately Mr.Rajiv Ghandhi was forced to enact the above law which gives an option to parties to base their claim either under the Act or under section 125 of CCP. It may be noted that a Muslim marriage is held to be a civil contract as per the famous decision of Justice Mahmood in Abdur Kadir v Salima ( ILR(1886) 8 ALL 149 as well as a devotional act. The marriage can be dissolved by Talaq and through judicial process as per the personal law applicable to the concerned Muslims. The inheritance is based on the provisions in Koran as amended by later injunctions and traditions.
The Indian Divorce Act 1869 as amended in 2001 governs the law relating to divorce of Christian woman. The amendment in 2001 to some extend removed the discrimination and more favorable treatment given to Christian husbands. THE INDIAN CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE ACT, 1872 governs the marriage matters of Christians. The succession of Christians is governed by Indian Succession Act 1925. After the decision in Mary Roy’s case by the Hon Supreme court the Indian Succession Act 1925 applies to Christians in Travancore and Cochin also.
THE Hindu Marriage Act 1955 applies to Hindu woman and makes provision for marriage and divorce etc. The bridegroom should be 21 years and bride should be 18 years of age to contract marriage. A Hindu woman is subject to Hindu Succession Act 1955 in the matter of intestate ( ie without will) succession. She can write a will also if she wish to pass over the property in a manner different from the Succession Act 1955.
THE DOWRY PROHIBITION ACT 1961
The system of payment of dowry in connection with the marriage has been and continues to be the greatest social evil prevailing in India. To curb this menace the above law was enacted. Dowry death is now viewed more stringently and is regarded as an offence cognizable, non-bailable and not compoundable. But this law has not been very much effective.
THE CHILD MARRIAGE RESTRAINED ACT 1929
This Act prohibits child marriages. A male whose age is above 18 but below 21 who contracts a marriage with a child below 18 years is punishable. A greater punishment is prescribed for male above 21 years contracting marriage with a child.
The above explanation is very brief and gives only a general idea about the law relating to woman in India. There are so many other laws and provisions as well as judge made laws which the author has not dealt with. There are important provisions in Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and Indian Evidence Act etc which has not been dealt with at all.
(SIVADAS CHETTOOR, CHARTERED ACCOUNTANT)