‘Equality before the law. The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth,’ reads the Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
Our Indian Constitution, talks about equality of all genders but is it the reality? We live in a country where goddesses are worshipped and women are abused, harassed, kidnapped, raped and killed, every single day. Physical, mental, emotional and sexual violence against women has over the years left them feeling vulnerable, not empowered. There have always been talks about women empowerment and gender equality. But in fact, not only are the mindset of the people but also the laws discriminate against women.
We caught up with Lawyer, Social Activist and Former Bureaucrat Abha Singh, where she talks about how some laws are on the tip of the sexism in India. “We have lost more than two crore girl child in 20 years because of female foeticide and the only complaints received are 1,000. That means even if there is a law (Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994) which calls for imprisonment, women don’t have the courage to come forward. Even for dowry death, we have laws including the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and subsequently by Sections 304B and 498A of the IPC which says asking for dowry is an offence, but even today in 24 hours there are 23 dowry deaths. Girls are burnt and the cause of death in the police cases is mentioned as ‘kitchen fire’. So when today 23 married women die of ‘kitchen fire’ how can women be equal,” says Abha Singh.
Here we list few laws in the Indian Constitution that are clearly unfair towards women.
Right to Inheritance: Different religions have different personal laws that regulate inheritance. The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, was established to assure equal inheritance rights to both sons and daughters. Talking about the right to inheritance, Abha Singh says, “How many women go and file a case on their family that I am supposed to get equal shares but I have not been given? It is the social stigma that a woman is greedy or her husband is not doing well (if she asks for her share), everything becomes judgemental. The social pressure does not allow women to take legitimate inheritance.”
Age of Marriage: The minimum age for marriage for a boy in India is 21, and for a girl is 18. This clearly showcases the patriarchal mindset that believes that a wife should always be younger than her husband.
Hindu Guardianship Law: A mother is not the equal guardian of her children. According to the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, the father is the primary guardian for a legitimate boy and unmarried girl and their property, while the mother is the secondary guardian. However, for illegitimate children, the mother is the primary guardian, while the father is the secondary guardian. “There are some cases where mothers have been given the right to have their name on the passports but that comes after you go to the court. We should simplify the law and it should be the mother who should be considered the guardian. But since the law was made with the patriarchal mindset even today father is considered the natural guardian. These issues need to be discussed and change should come in,” says Abha.
Justice delayed is justice denied?
Abha Singh considers ‘delay in conviction’ and ‘corruption’, the two important reasons women hesitate to come forward. She explains, “The government makes laws without taking NGOs and stakeholders into a discussion. Rape is rape. Even if a 15-year-old does a woman’s rape it should be considered under the adult law. At least in rape cases, there must be 100 per cent conviction. For instance, the Asaram case is in court for more than 10 years. When we talk of fast track court does it not mean fast-tracking the trial itself? In single sitting the case should be decided. There should not be the taking of dates.” She further adds, “Also, corruption is one of the reasons women don’t get justice. Because the police do not register an FIR with the right pace. Then the charge sheets are not filed on time. If you go by the Sheena Bora case, a burnt body was found but the police did not file an FIR. And what was the reason? The other side was powerful. So we need to overhaul the system, overhaul the judiciary and above all, we need to change the patriarchal mindset. Talking about the MeToo movement, not a single person has been arrested. Many FIRs were registered. That means that the rich and powerful get away.”