It’s Our Home, Not Just His

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Illustration: Sudeep Chaudhuri
Illustration: Sudeep Chaudhuri

The parliament’s proposed changes to the marriage law, to give a divorced woman a share in her husband’s property, have truly set the cat among the pigeons. Only this time there is an unlikely protestor: the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD). Apparently, worried that women might misuse the law, members of the WCD ministry have put their weight behind blocking this law, such that the government has had to refer it to a group of ministers who will come back with their recommendations quickly so that a decision can be taken one way or another.

Ministers are busy and they are mostly men. We’ll have to wait and see what they recommend. If they’ve read even a fraction of the Justice Verma committee’s report (something they should have in its entirety, since they needed to be informed before voting on the law on sexual assault in Parliament), we can only hope that the ministers in question will have learned something. But it’s difficult to say whether ministers are at all concerned about what happens to women. A few weeks ago, two friends, both feminist activists, came out of the Lok Sabha debate on the rape law, shaking. What hit them hard was the blatant misogyny they saw, with most of the men — and many of the women — asking ‘what’s a little chedchad anyway?’ and claiming that many women misuse the law.

This business about misuse, the fear of which is what made the WCD ministry oppose the changes, is a real canard and raises its ugly head somehow only where laws related to women are concerned. No one talks about the ‘misuse’ of the law on homicide: hundreds of false cases are registered but that’s just par for the course. Nor is there much talk of the State’s misuse of the law, which is rampant; you have only to take the case of Soni Sori to see how this was done with impunity in arresting her. It’s another matter that it’s the sheer incompetence of the police that has, in the end, helped acquit her of most of the charges. But imagine a scenario where such incompetence did not exist, what recourse would an innocent woman have?

So should a woman have a right to a part of her husband’s property post-div – orce or not? Personally, I see no real problem with this. There’s so little recognition of the years of unpaid labour women put in as housewives and as working women-cum-housewives that this is something that is only fair. What surprises me, though, is the venomous and vituperative comments on this issue that have followed in media reports of the changes suggested by the law ministry. Many of these are angry, resentful (some are almost violent) and all the anger is directed not at the lawmakers but at women, as if to say that women have somehow engineered this development. If only we had so much power! More importantly, and it’s necessary to get some perspective on this, how many men in India are even propertied? How many marriages end in divorce? Most of the time women are deserted, abandoned, beaten and left to survive or die. Claiming property is a far cry for them.

Every new piece of legislation has its pros and cons. And a serious and engaged debate on these is both necessary and important. It also gives us the opportunity to raise questions and seek answers. After all, most of us do not come to these crucial issues with our views formed and ready. I am reminded of the debate on the necessity or otherwise of the death penalty in cases of rape. This was a demand that was loudly expressed by many people and prominent among those who opposed it were feminists. When the law was finalised, the death penalty found a place there. Yet feminists did not start spewing venom about this, nor did they attack those who’d demanded it. Instead they went back to the drawing board to think how they could carry on their campaign for the removal of the death penalty, hoping that they’d make a bigger dent the next time around.

There’s a lesson to be learnt here. All of us have a choice to oppose or support the proposed changes. If we exercise this choice democratically and in the spirit of fair-mindedness, there will be no need to turn our weapons on the very people this legislation is trying to help. For there are no two ways about one thing: India needs many more pro-women legislation than we currently have, if we are to get anywhere close to achieving that elusive thing called equality.

letters@tehelka.com

19 COMMENTS

  1. i appreciate this idea, and we should definitely secure rights of a woman who spent life for her husband at home, but there are few issues to be addressed !

    a) what if woman left her husband just after a month or few months of marriage because she loves someone else or she does not like her husband ?

    b) what if woman decided to remarry ? why does she deserve her ex-husband property ?, she gets another care taker after re-marriage.

    c) why a father should give share of his property to son’s wife ? when his son is at fault ?

    d) will woman take care of her ex-husband’s family after taking property share ? property is given to son usually due to this factor.

    e) what if woman is richer than man ? why not direct her to give share of her property to her husband because husband went thru trauma too ?

  2. Hi Urvasi

    Idea to give divorced woman a share in her husband’s property is noble and at the same time it is a minefield. Issue with our nation is that Law does not come to the aid of those who needs its support and needs empowerment but acts as a bludgeon in the hands of those who has the capability and wherewithal to misuse it. Issue with a plan like this is that it wont help those women who genuinely need a share of husband’s property due to the fact that she forsake her employment opportunities for the family but will be of use only to the ones who want to ruin her husband financially during a dirty divorce. It will be the powerful women who would benefit through this law and not the rightful ones.

    I will give you a simple example. Our country has one of the stringent laws against dowry. How many of those who are in need of this law gets support? On the other hand I have seen many cases where the lady’s lawyers use Anti Dowry law as a tool to intimidate, financially ruin and destroy not just the husband but also his entire family.

    Also the points raised by previous commentator is very valid. (It is also quite possible that the proposed legislation has accounted for all those) and if not then it is a very short sighted approach. I will narrate another experience. One of my colleague’s wife committed suicide. She was suffering from post-partum depression which got aggravated due to her elder brother’s death. He had an inter religion marriage and hence had limited family support. She committed suicide when he was in office and by the time he reached home, police took him to station. He was told to cough up Rs 5 lakh or else they will mention dowry harasment as reason for her suicide! He eventually had to pay off to end harassment.

    Law cannot solve a social malaise and implementation of this kind of laws which are short sighted it will only help in furthering already existing prejudices

  3. Why is all this formulated with the idea in mind the Men are at fault ? Is it not possible women wanted a Divorce ? In that case should men get a share of her property ?
    Should’nt this also depend on who files the Divorce petition. But ofcourse this will more violence against women in some cases to force them apply for a Divorce.

    The new law should only all these possibilies before jumping into a conclusion.

    (That said “Shouldnt all laws be made after considering flip sides of all laws ?)

  4. Even if I assume that a wife cooks food and looks after the house, still she does not deserve a share in husband’s property post divorce if she has not contributed to it financially. Her contribution for cooking and cleaning are that of a maid not worth more than Rs. 5000 per month. For that a husband’s hard-earned property can’t be given away.

  5. So, what happens if a woman is a Government employee staying in a Govt Quarter? What happens during his divorce? Should his wife forcibly occupy the quarter and throw him out? This shows, what kind of lies are being propagated. If a non-working woman gets 50 lakhs worth of house from husband during divorce after a 4 year marriage. Will she just keep quite? Like a tiger having tasted blood, she will go to court and claim,”He gave me roof, but gave no bread” and demand monthly alimony of Rs.40,000 for whole life, in stead of just finding a job. Then, there is no need for her to remarry. She can live-in with a boyfriend in that house.

  6. why women want to be beggar, why they marry and get harassed?
    let live on own feet. whole problem will be solved.
    Todays women only demend their rights and never do their duties.
    If they feel that they contribute a lot in a home and in case of divorce they must get equal share of husbands property, then she must pay the fooding, lodgging, maintenance, medical and other cost.

    Otherwise there will be not much difference between wife and prostitute.

  7. The law is totally unjustfiable as it is the man who has laboured and earned the property , then haow can the divorcing wife get 50%of the property, , the wife should first get half of her parental property in which the husband should also have a share.

  8. Empowerment of women logic certainly works in favour of the proposed law. For empowerment share in the property is must. A woman should get share in the property of parents as well as husband. But the same woman disempowers herself at the behest of her parents n siblings when she relinquishes her share to her parents n brothers but retains share got from husband.

  9. In short, in the guise of so-called “feminism”, as per this article, ALL marriages should henceforth be treated as financial contracts, even if the divorced woman is perfectly capable of looking after herself (& her child) WITHOUT her ex-husband’s income. Am I right?

    Don’t get me wrong, this new law does have some noble intentions – In the case of rural village housewives who go through marriage breakdowns (due to alcoholism and stuff), and are left to fend for themselves. For them, I can understand the purpose of this new law. THESE are the kind of women who need this law. But only for them, nobody else. And THAT is where the line SHOULD be drawn as far as this law is concerned.

    But, and I repeat, BUT, why on earth should this new law even apply for self-proclaimed “feminist” 21st century “progressive”, “modern”, economically independent urban women (working in air-conditioned offices) who undergo divorces (and who also ironically claim that they do not need a man to look after them)? I mean, if you women are economically independent enough, and also claim that you can look after yourselves WITHOUT your husband’s income, then WHY should YOU need this new law at all? And I’m asking this as a woman. It’s just not fair that YOU earn your own livelihood by working in air-conditioned offices, and chauffeur-driven cars, and on top of all that, you also expect your ex-husband to part with his share of property. It’s the height of greediness, if you ask me.

    According to me, urban divorced women who are financially independent enough to comfortably look after themselves (& their child) should NOT be paid any kind of alimony or maintenance by the (ex-)husband. When a marriage breaks down, that’s the end of it.

    It’s like saying – I was working with a particular company at one time, and I am no longer associated with that company. But, half of the profits the company made while I was employed with them, should be given to me. Does it make any kind of sense?

  10. If a husband has committed a crime against his wife, then he should be punished. But when you are bringing a law that based upon “NO FAULT” divorce then why is it that only husband’s property is on the dock? And why give away his ancestral property share also?
    This amendment is not going to help the Hindu family system. In fact, unscrupulous women will use this clause to get out of marriages – in which they never wanted to be – but also reward themselves with half the property of husbands and his parents’.
    If you want true equality, begin with enforcing the HINDU SUCCESSION ACT (AMENDMENT, 2005) which gives daughters equal right to her parental assets. Enforce that first before usurping property of innocent husbands and his old age parents.

  11. Dear Urvashi,

    If it’s “Her Body, Her Choice”. Shouldn’t it be “His Money, His Choice”.

    Plz recognize no one will b immune 2 such law misuse. Bhagwan na kare but some day u or close one may fall pray 2 such draconian law.

    Kindly do not dig graves 4 others, coz suna hain ki “Kai bar doosron ke liye kabra khodne wale, Khud hi usme gir jaya karte hain”.

    God Bless.

    Regards
    – SMJ

  12. Urvashi – You are only talking about women of 20th century not 21st. I’ve seen many cases where women is at complete fault and have ruined families life. One women take away dreams of a innocent sister in law, mother in law who does not know about dowry law and never think of getting dowry but dauther in law who she takes care like her own daughter or may be more coz she sacrificed and came to her husband, father in law who believe that his son and daughter in law now lead their family. It’s such a ugly havoc played by frivolous and greedy women. This law will break every boundry and motivate greediness not family values. Try this out your own daughter in law will teach you a lesson. God bless India!

  13. if you see matrimonial laws in any western country for example couple ready to take divorce then court calculate (husband property+wife property+husband debts+wife debts)/2 ….it share equally but Indian law makers want to devide husband property alone and give it to wife..only wife can deny divorce not a husband what is that ridiculous…why laws are different by gender. ….looks like sooner or later if women murder anyone she will get 5 lakhs fine and if man murder anyone then death penalty…what the fuk…law and order must work same on man, women, poor or rich then only people and country will develop otherwise citizens will become enemies of the country and one way or the other way teach a lesson the the country.

    county running on mans tax money but in reverse country is making mans life HELL.

  14. ms. writer

    you are so much hell bent on getting the woman share of their property. first of all, if woman is working, so is husband. in today’s world, both of them work at home as well as office. No big town woman is a savitri who is preparing food for the husband / children for the whole day. waiting to see them come back. if that labour is the reason to give half share of the property then actually 1/4th share should go to all the bai that have worked in the household all along. Because they do al the things that you have talked about.

    And, if it all about money then let us legalize prenuptial agreements. let there be proper bargaining at the time fo marriage itself na. why let the bargaining happen afte marriage when whole family is held for ransom at a police station or CAW cell only to extract money.

    kindly read the statistics on how many cases resported each year at CAW cell are true and how many of them are false and hence result in settled (legal extortion / mandwali). If a law can be misused then YES IT MUST NOT BE PASSED. dont give example of other misuses of law in this country to pass the nonsense law that you have come to support just because your editor asked you to write an article.

    The real sufferering women are yet to be benefitted by any women oriented law that have been passed in the past.the laws such as 4989 etc. only allow police / caw cell to do mandwali and make money for themeselves also in the process. you want another law that allows this.

    as i said , let there be registered pre nuptial agreements and let the dhandha of bargaining start before marriage not after the guy is married and has been held hostage by his in law assholes and corrupt officers of the law system in this country.

    -jhakas

  15. My dear writer, as long as you think man and marriage are sources
    of income for women, there is no women empowerment in india and only
    parasiting. It is shame that reputed company like tehelka is writing biased
    article.

    BTW, what about wife property share to husband in case of divorce.
    What about the unpaid labor men do by paying bills of wife, body guard and
    driver and provider to wife? You mean you only support husband property share
    to wife, but not wife property share to husband? And we call this a modern
    women change? Shame to see this attitude in our indian women

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