Indian Legislation on Rights of a Married Women

Aditya Pratap is a lawyer practicing in the Bombay High Court. He can be reached at aditya@adityapratap.com

Introduction to Role of Women in the Foundation of Marriage

The contract of marriage creates a legal obligation upon the husband and his family members to provide a shelter and maintenance to the wife. In our society, a woman is perceived as a homemaker, in addition to all other roles she may be required to perform. But in the shadow of married life, women are deprived of economic resources and are dependent on men for their living. women’s works are often confined to the domestic sphere, she has to do all household works, which are not recognized and unpaid.

In order to protect this right, a woman must first believe that by virtue of her marriage, she has acquired a right to reside in her husband’s home and she cannot be dispossessed from this home. Most often, women lose their right to their matrimonial home because they themselves do not believe that they have a right to reside there. Even when they are asked to leave the home, they must believe that they have a right to reside in the home and this right can be protected by law. This is the first step. Only when women believe this, the right can be protected by law.

Discrimination Against Women under Personal Laws

In India an array of personal laws exist. Generally, the applicability of these laws is based on the religion professed by different communities. The Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs are governed by Hindu law. Muslim law applies to Muslims. The Christians are governed by Christian law and Parsi law applies to the Parsi. Jews have their own personal law.

The only common feature of all these different personal laws is that, they are prejudiced towards women and shows favoritism to men.

The Constitution and Laws on Rights of a Married Women

There are various legal provisions which are meant to safeguard the rights of the wife in her husband’s home and to ensure that she can live there with dignity and safety. Some are:

  • Right to Streedhan –  A Hindu woman’s right to streedhan is protected under section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. A wife has ownership rights to all her streedhan, that is the gifts and money given to her before and after marriage. The ownership rights to streedhan belong to the wife, even if it is placed in the custody of her husband or her in-laws.
  • Right to residence – A wife has the right to reside in the matrimonial household where her husband resides, irrespective of whether it is an ancestral house, a joint family house, a self-acquired house or a rented house.
  • Right to Parental Property – As per the amendment in the Hindu Succession Act in 2005, every daughter, whether married or unmarried has the right to inherit the property of her father after his death. Further, they also have a share in the mother’s property.
  • Right to a committed relationship – A Hindu husband cannot have an affair or marry another girl unless he is legally divorced. A husband can be charged with adultery under Section 497 of The Indian Penal Code if he is in a relationship with another married woman. His wife also has the right to file for divorce on the grounds of his extra-marital relationship under Section 13 of The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
  • Right to live with dignity & self-respect – A wife has the right to live her life with dignity and to have the same lifestyle that her husbands and in-laws have. She also has the right to be free of mental and physical torture.
  • Right to maintenance by husband – A wife is entitled to claim decent living standards & basic comforts of life by her husband as per his living standards under Section 24 of The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
  • Right to child maintenance – Under Section 24 of The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, Husband and wife must provide for their minor child. If the wife is incapable of earning a living, the husband must provide financial support. If both the parents are financially incapable, then they can seek help from the grandparents to maintain the child. A minor child also has the right to seek partition in ancestral property.

Maintenance rights in a live-in relationship

After the recommendations of the Malimath Committee in 2003, Section 125 was incorporated in the Criminal Procedure Code to alter the meaning of ‘wife’ and expand it to include women who were in a live-in relationship. This ensured that her financial needs were taken care of by the partner if she was unable to maintain herself or if the relationship became estranged. Similarly, protection against all forms of abuse is covered under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005, as it is for married women.

Judicial Approach towards Gender Justice

  • The Supreme Court in Muthamma v. Union of India and Air India v Nagresh Mirza struck down discriminatory service conditions requiring female employees to obtain government permission before marriage and denying married and pregnant women the right to be employed.
  • In Vishaka v State of Rajasthan, the Supreme Court observed that equality in employment can be seriously impaired when women are subjected to gender-specific violence, such as sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • The subordinated position of Christian woman, who was denied equal rights in the matter of divorce against her husband, was brought to the limelight by way of anti-subordination interpretation in Ammini E.J. v. Union of India. It will be a life without freedom to uphold the dignity of the individual in all respects. The Court quashed the impugned provision as violative of articles 14, 15, and 21.

About the Author – Aditya Pratap

Aditya Pratap is a lawyer practising in Mumbai. He argues cases in the Bombay High Court, Sessions and Magistrate Courts, along with appearances before RERA, NCLT and the Family Court. For further information one may visit his website adityapratap.in or view his YouTube Channel to see his interviews. Questions can be emailed to him at aditya@adityapratap.com.

Cases argued by Aditya Pratap can be viewed here.

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