In a country where the constitutional rights of women are often mangled, two possible amendments in the legal framework bring a ray of hope. Early this week, the Centre proposed two amendments to the marriage law: if the amendments are passed, the courts will have the powers to decide on how property acquired during marriage can be shared between the couple in case of a separation and to waive a six-month cooling off period before divorce can be granted in cases where the separation has mutual consent.
The first part of the proposed amendment is crucial because many times, women are left with almost nothing after a divorce or are scared to move out of a strained relationship because it would be difficult to survive without proper alimony, the process of getting which is cumbersome. Moreover, the onus is usually on the woman to prove the husband’s income and many do not have a clear idea of the amount. Studies have also shown that in 80% cases, women have no place to go to after a divorce and live with their parents.
Without an income, the decision to stay back in an abusive relationship bec-omes compelling. If the law — The Marriage Laws Amendment Bill 2010 — is passed then women will become equal owners of property. These two amendments are important because even though statistics on divorce don’t exist in India, local records do show a rising graph and, therefore, a proactive legislation can ensure a fair deal for women in the coming days.
However, good laws are not always enough for women’s em-powerment; the government needs to provide them better access to the legal system so that they can get the benefits of the amendments. The other problem in India — and that is where a bridge needs to be built — is that while we have a plethora of laws — some feel that we are an over-legislated State — there is a gap bet-ween the books and the mindset of the people who implement them. This was evident recently when the Gurgaon administration — after a rape incident — ordered that pubs cannot have women employees working after 8 pm! In other words, while legally we are trying to empower women by giving them financial strength, the administration is putting hurdles in front of women becoming financially independent.
As the country grows, there will be areas where the two Indias, one modernising and progressive and the other regressive and hidebound, will collide. This means that the crimes against women could unfortunately rise. The first priority of the local administrations should be to tackle them through strong action, not kneejerk reactions like the one by the Gurgaon administration. Otherwise, even the best of laws will have no effect. It would be like going one step forward and then many steps backward. Instead, we really need to keep in step with the law as it moves forward.