7 Indian Laws that Discriminate Against Women

This women’s day we bring you some of the Indian laws that discriminate against women despite the right to equality enshrined under the constitution ...

This women’s day we bring you some of the Indian laws that discriminate against women despite the right to equality enshrined under the constitution. This non-exhaustive list shows the pervasive patriarchal outlook of Indian laws towards women. In fact, some scholars deem all personal laws to be discriminatory towards women.

1. Hindu succession laws

Even though the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 was amended in 2005 to give an equal share to daughters in inheritance, parts of the act still remain discriminatory. If a Hindu woman dies without a will, her property goes to her husband’s heirs if there is no spouse or children. The law assumes that the women become part of the husband’s family after marriage.

2. Law against adultery

Section 498 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 prescribes a punishment of up to two years for a man who has sexual intercourse with the wife of another man. There is no punishment for the woman. While the law may seem discriminatory towards men on the surface, it is highly derogatory to women. It assumes that women are not capable of making decisions on their own and the man must have seduced or enticed them.

3. Hindu guardianship laws

Section 6 of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956 considers the father to be the ‘natural guardian’ of a Hindu child. The mother is considered a guardian only in the absence of the father or if the child is under five years of age.

4. Parsi laws

Children born to a Parsi woman and a non-Parsi man are not considered Parsi in the eyes of the law. A non-Parsi wife of a Parsi man can inherit only a part of his property, but his children can inherit it completely as they are considered Parsis.

5. Age of marriage

As per the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 the marriageable age for men in India is 21, while it is 18 years for women. This manifests the narrow mindset of our lawmakers who think that the wife must be younger than her husband.

6. Divorce laws

Divorce laws in India are highly discriminatory. A Christian woman cannot divorce her husband on the grounds of adultery, but her husband can use adultery as a ground for divorce. Moreover, any divorced woman is not entitled to property in the husband’s name accumulated during the marriage even if she contributed in acquiring it. She can only claim maintenance under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

7. Polygamy

Even in the 21st century, polygamy is lawful in certain sections of the society if their religious codes or customs dictate so. Goa Civil Code permits bigamy among Hindu men if the wife fails to deliver a child by the age of 25 or a male child by the age of 30.

In addition to these laws, there are numerous others that treat women as a second-class citizen. Our laws do not even recognise marital rape to be a crime, most of the burnt of which is born by women. Consent for sexual intercourse is immaterial if two persons are married. In the last seven decades, we have failed to uphold the basic constitutional principle of equality before the law. It is time that we demand our representatives to respect the constitution and remove all forms of discrimination on the grounds of sex and gender.

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