Date: 01 July
A recent UN report studying India’s legal code lists all the ways laws officially support men over women.
Diksha Madhok, qz.com · Jul 1, 2014 · 07:36 am
In Goa, a Hindu man can remarry if his previous wife does not give birth to any male children by the age of 30. And this law is just the tip of the sanctioned sexism across India.
A recent UN report lists all the ways laws officially support men over women. Here are some of the worst offenders:
1. Hindu laws of inheritance: Right now different religions have different personal laws that regulate inheritance, marriage, separation and guardianship in India. In the case of Hindus, the property of a woman who dies without a will is handled differently from that of a man. In the absence of spouse and children, the husband’s heirs inherit the woman’s estate.
“Even if the deceased woman was ill-treated in her marital home, her husband’s mother or father will get her property instead of her own mother or father,” says Kirti Singh, the family and property lawyer who authored the UN report.
2. Parsi laws of inheritance: Despite shrinking numbers, Parsis still penalise those who marry outside their community – and it’s allowed. A non-Parsi woman who is either a wife or widow of a Parsi cannot inherit. Their children still can, although those born to a Parsi woman married to a non-Parsi man are not considered part of the community.
3. Prohibition of Child Marriage Act: The marriage of a one-year-old or ten-year-old is valid. The law only prevents the marriages of children; it does not render them illegal once they actually happen. According to the UN, this is one of the main reasons why the custom still flourishes in rural areas.
The married children, however, have the right to declare it void. A woman can call off a marriage until she turns 20, whereas a man has till age 23.
4. Age of consent: Sexual intercourse with a girl below the age of 18 is considered rape. But since child marriages are not illegal, a man can legally have sex with his wife even if she is a minor, as long as she is above the age of 15. Further, marital rape is not criminalised in India.
5. Rape of a separated wife: The rape of a separated wife carries lesser punishment than the rape of any other woman. Forced sexual intercourse with the former is punishable with two to seven years of imprisonment. The prison sentence for the rape of any other woman ranges from seven years to life.
6. Marriageable age: The minimum age for marriage for a boy is 21, but 18 for a girl. This is a legal extension of the patriarchal mindset that believes that a wife should always be younger than the man.
7. Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act: Women are still not equal guardians of their children. A father is considered the “natural guardian” of a child, although the custody of offspring under the age of 5 will ordinarily be awarded to the mother.
8. The Goa Law on polygamy: A law recognises the second marriage of a “Gentile Hindu” man of Goa if his previous wife does not have any children before the age of 25 or if she does not have a male child by 30.
The new BJP government has promised a uniform civil law applicable to all Indians, irrespective of religion. But it also holds up the Goan Civil Code as the model to be enforced all over the country. This polygamy provision hardly makes it upstanding.
9. No right to marital property: Upon separation or divorce, an Indian woman is entitled only to maintenance from her husband. She has no right to the assets, such as house or commercial property, bought in her husband’s name during the marriage. So if she leaves him or gets divorced, even years after the marriage, she is potentially without assets. Indian government policies do not consider the work done at home by a woman as having any economic value.
This post originally appeared on Qz.com. It has been edited.