GENDER INEQUALITY AND HINDU MARRIAGE ACT, 1955: AN ANALYSIS

INTRODUCTION

In Indian culture, gender discrimination is nothing new. Women have historically been thought of as the weaker sex. Today, crimes against women are still prevalent and go unpunished. To ensure gender equality in this setting, the government has made significant legal changes.

Gender inequality is clearly evident in civil cases including marriage, ancestry, adoption, etc. However, there is a growing realization in society that women should have the same rights as men. This has made the administration more determined than ever to pass legislation in this area. Any one of these guidelines involves alterations to Hindu personal law. Manusmriti has its roots in the fundamental principles of Hindu personal law. Manusmriti imposed numerous restrictions on women, making the gender imbalance in his writings obvious. Therefore, it was crucial to change the situation and elevate women's standing through the legal system.

The government has implemented a number of legislation emphasising the advancement of women in traditionally male-dominated fields. This one law that was passed is the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. According to this law, marriage in Hinduism is a sacrament. A number of changes have been made to this Act's rules to make them more gender-sensitive. A review of this legislation suggests that women have received more advantages than in traditional marriage-related difficulties. Since then, there have been numerous court rulings to abolish traditional gender bias.


Conditions of Marriage: Section 5

The conditions for the legal validity of a Hindu marriage shall be defined in Section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. The majority of these laws are crucial to deter cultural practices that negatively impact Hindu women's lives.

Marriage is deemed to be null under the constitution when one of these conditions is not met. As a result, in an illegitimate marriage, women are no longer responsible for fulfilling their marital duties.

The abolition of polygamy in compliance with Section 5 is a significant gain for Hindu women (i). Before this portion was codified, the Hindu men had several weddings, including birth of a son, modesty, etc, for many reasons. Due to the fact that a man with more than one wife was regarded as noble, this added to the agony of women. Because of how terrible these rituals have made women's lives, she is powerless to stop her husband's behaviour. However, women may also bring a section 5(i) lawsuit against their husband's second marriage.

Hindu weddings, where young girls under the age of 18 were wedded, also presented a problem. Children getting married young because they lack the maturity to understand the responsibilities of marriage are sociological phenomena. Thus, young girls are pressured to focus on becoming adults.

In this regard, the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 establishes a minimal threshold before marriage becomes impossible. The age restriction is also set at 21 years for boys and 18 years for girls in Section 5(iii). Therefore, a simple 15-day jail sentence or a Rs. 1000 fine—or any combination of them—is enforced in the event of a violation. The girl who was married before turning 18 will also reject marriage [1].

It is also vital to consider the situations in which girls get married. When there was no agreement present, the union may be regarded as void. This guarantees that women will be able to end a marriage if they so want. In the case of Shakti Vahini v. UOI [2], it was also established that women have the right to choose their husband and shouldn't be forced to wed someone against their will. The Supreme Court ruled that the right to choose one is necessary for both the right to life and the right to freedom. It is also a fundamental component of Article 21 and cannot be violated.


Divorce: Section 13

The 1955 Hindu Marriage Act initially allowed for divorce on the basis of the concept of fault or guilt. Therefore, a couple can only file for divorce if the other party has committed a matrimonial offence. The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, Section 13(1), lists nine justifications for divorce in this situation.


Especially beneficial to women are those reasons for divorce:


Adultery (3) :

It is the act of beginning a mutually beneficial sexual relationship with a partner of a different sex while you are still married.

When an adulterer lived in a marriage for a long time, it was acceptable to use that as grounds for divorce. With the change to the Hindu Marriage Act 1955, it is still essential to prove one adultery case in order to secure a divorce. Since ladies had no legal recourse for their husbands' extramarital activities before this statute, it is better for women to end their marriage on that ground.


Cruelty (4)

It depends on the specifics of each situation. The law now recognises both psychological and physical abuse.

Cruelly expressed behaviour has an impact on couples' lives. The state of mind in "Pravin Mehta v. Inderjeet Metha" was referred to as cruelty. [5] Women now have the freedom to file for divorce if their spouses treat them cruelly, so that is a measure for their benefit. It is thought that women have experienced violence for a variety of reasons. Women can challenge the same thing legally under this amendment.


Conversion

Hindu men are increasingly converting to other religions, such Islam, in order to practise polygamy.

Thus, Section 13(1)(ii) permits divorce in the event of a convert to a new faith. Therefore, if her husband converts to another religion for any reason, the wife will no longer have any marital obligations.


Desertion

It has been emphasised that the men abandoned their wives after they married and that the wives were already obligated to marry. Therefore, when the husband separates from the wife for a continuous period of two years, he will file for divorce and be released from his marital obligations in accordance with Article 13(1)(i)(b).


Presumption of Death:-

In accordance with Article 13(1)(vii), a person is presumed dead if they haven't been heard from for at least seven years.

Women were particularly concerned about this predicament in the absence of this clause because they were required to execute their wifely duties even when their spouse had been oblivious for years. Women who had no ties to their marriages were allowed to pursue divorce and move on with their lives under that provision.

The justifications listed in Section 13(1) can be used by either a man or a woman, making them sex neutral. Therefore, Section 13(2) sets forth a few requirements for women alone to file for divorce. This basis is :-

  • If the husband and wife were legally wed prior to the passage of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the wife may seek for divorce.

This is no longer useful due to being impossible in practice.

  • The wife may file for divorce if the husband is found guilty of rape, sodomy, or bestiality after the marriage [7]

  • After one year following the issuance of a support order (under Section 125 Cr.P.C.) or decree (under Section 18 of the Hindu Adoption & Maintenance Act, 1956), if cohabitation between the parties has not resumed, the wife may file for divorce under Section 13. (2) (iii)

  • If a woman was wed off before turning 15 and later decided she didn't want to stay together, she may file for divorce under Section 13(2) of the law (iv).

In order to relieve women who had been married off before the age of 15 of their obligations under the marriage, this clause was included by the 1976 amendment [8].

After one year following the issuance of a support order (under Section 125 Cr.P.C.) or decree (under Section 18 of the Hindu Adoption & Maintenance Act, 1956), if cohabitation between the parties has not resumed, the wife may file for divorce under Section 13. (2) (iii) Under Section 13(2), a woman who was married off before becoming 15 and who afterwards renounced the union before turning 18 years old may file for divorce (iv). In order to relieve women who had been married off before the age of 15 of their obligations under the marriage, this clause was included by the 1976 amendment[8].

The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 (amendment) Bill, 2010 discovered a second justification for divorce that was labelled "the irretrievable break-up of marriage." All parties involved in this situation are unable to coexist peacefully due to philosophical differences or other issues. They no longer desire to preserve their marital relationships as a result. However, since this Bill hasn't been put into effect, there isn't a constitutional provision that takes "irretrievable divorce breakdowns" into account. However, the Supreme Court approved the divorce in the recent case of Srinivas Kumar v. R. Shametha[9] on the grounds of irrevocable marital dissolution. If women feel that their marriage is irrevocable, they may use this as justification to file for divorce.

The Supreme Court recognised this as a reason for divorce, thus their marriage must cease. In Naveen Kohli v. Neelu Kohli[10], the Supreme Court also proposed the irrevocable termination of marriage as a justification for divorce by changing the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955.Another issue that was frequently noted was the fact that divorce typically takes years to resolve through litigation. The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 now permits divorce with mutual consent in order to advance the cause. This is the rationale behind the addition of Section 13-B to the Marriage Law (Amendment) Act of 1976. It was best in a short period to go for divorce. According to Section 13-B of the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, a couple may file for divorce if they have been apart for at least a year and don't want to keep their marriage intact.

In that situation, the Court allows divorce following the complaint's resolution by re-examination over a reasonable period of between 6 and 18 months.

Divorce with mutual consent is a pretty simple process. This is due to the fact that it avoids the practice of making claims against one another, which is customary for some grounds of divorce. For people, and particularly for women who had to deal with many challenges in divorce, this made the legislation more understandable.


Matrimonial Remedies:

Restitution of Conjugal Rights –

Women are given a variety of support and solutions for their challenges that stem from their marriage partnerships. Restitution of marital rights is one of these, according to Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955.

As a result, if the husband abandoned his wife without good reason, she is considered to be in violation of conjugal rights and may ask the court to intervene in this matter. In the case of Sushila Bai v. Prem Narayan[12], the court determined that her husband's actions of desertion and reaction to a wife constituted a separation from his wife's society. Thus, the wife's request for the reinstatement of her marriage rights was granted.

Then, women have the option to let their husbands ask the court for a decree allowing them to cohabit with their spouses.


Maintenance:

The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 establishes women's entitlement to support from their husbands. According to Article 24 of the Act, the pending lite must be temporarily maintained.

This is required throughout the divorce process. Women may therefore claim maintenance to cover the necessary expenses if they don't have a separate source of income. The costs of the legal cases may also need to be claimed.Given that many women in Indian society rely on their husbands' income, the provision is very beneficial. As a result, they are unable to sustain themselves during the divorce process, which means they have trouble paying for both their daily needs and the legal fees. Similarly, if a divorce is granted, women are offered ongoing support to help them maintain respectable lives after their marriages are dissolved.

The 1955 Hindu Marriage Act's Section 25 provides for the preservation and protection of a gross amount as well as a monthly or recurring amount. This will continue as long as the spouse is alive or as long as the beneficiary is single. As a result, Article 25 of the Act provided that women were free to obtain aid and maintenance and to live a respectable life even after divorce. This has already been recognised and resolved by the judiciary.

"It was decided in the case of Mangat Mal v. Punni Devi[13] that maintenance includes things like food and clothing. It also covers the fundamental requirement for shelter ".The Supreme Court ruled in another seminal case, Bhuwan Mohan Singh v. Meena[14], that a wife's maintenance does not refer to a life of mere animal existence, but rather to one that is comparable to the one she led when she shared a home with her husband ". The husband's responsibility to give her a respectable living is also.


Conclusion:

Marriage should not be annulled or challenged as a sacrament in accordance with Hindu beliefs. Women's traditional status, in contrast, was biased and considered to be male.

The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 did include a number of measures that granted women civil rights, nevertheless. It was attempted to advance the status of women by defining the prerequisites for a valid marriage. So, efforts were made to end polygamy, child marriage, etc. Another significant change that made ending marriages simpler was the legalisation of divorce. Women gain from this since they are no longer confined by an unwelcome marriage and are now free to take appropriate steps to end it. Since then, a number of amendments have been made to allow for the pursuit of divorce in conformity with the Law. Under the terms of the marriage, women also have the right to live alongside their husbands and receive care and protection.

Thus, it has been ensured that women's historic subjugation status would no longer exist in society. In the event that their marital rights are violated, women will petition the courts to have them restored.

All of this implies that efforts to elevate women's status in society and eliminate their disparities are ongoing. Over the years, legal interventions have been made to control the traditional view of women's marriage. Numerous of these laws have also improved the lives of women in Indian society.


REFERENCE:-

  1. Balwinder singh. 2017 Changing dimension of the concept of Marriage A contemporary challenge to personal laws in India International journal of Advance Research (IJAR) ISSN NO:2320-5407.

  2. Vanisree Ramanathan. 2016. Live in relationship in india: judicial response and changing paradigm in Gender Justice; ISSN NO:2320-5083; Journal of international academic, Research for multidisciplinary; vol-4; issue-9.

  3. Gaurav sankpal; Change in behavior pattern of Indian married woman; ISSN NO; 2006-988X; International Journal of sociology and Anthropology; vol;5(5);pg; 147-152.

  4. Sonali Abhang: Judicial approach to live in relationship in India its impact on other related statutes: ISSN NO; 2279- 0837; jOURNAL; IOSR journal of humanities and social sciences; vol; 19, issue ;12, iv Dec 2014.

  5. The Marriage Laws (Amendment) Act, 2001

  6. AIR 1986 MP 225

  7. Appeal (civil) 3930 of 2002

  8. Appeal (Civil), 4696 of 2013

  9. (2006) 4 S.C.C. 558

  10. (2018) 7 SCC 192



This article is written by Shrishti Pansari of Kirit.P Mehta School of Law, NMIMS Mumbai.

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