Modi 2.0 government is amidst Cabinet Reshuffle and several top ministers including Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad have resigned this evening. A lawyer by profession, Prasad was responsible for three ministries under him – Law and Justice, Electronics and Information Technology and Communications portfolios in the Government of India.
During the 2014 election campaign, then PM designate Narendra Modi had promised that if the BJP came to power, for every law passed, his government would repeal 10 obsolete ones. In June 2017, Modi government scrapped 1,200 redundant Acts and also identified 1,824 more for repeal. However, there has been no discussions or debates surrounding matrimonial laws in the country, especially around the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 (HMA) which are extremely biased against Men in India.
While on one hand Men have been fighting to remove the criminalisation element for all matrimonial laws (Section 498A), Modi government went ahead and criminalised the Triple Talaq Bill (2019). Arguing in his favour how even Hindu Men were being penalised, Prasad then quoted:
Why no religion-centric issues are raised when wholesale amendments for right reasons were sought to be done in the Hindu Marriage Act, when the marriage was sought to be made void in the absence of subsistence of the marriage. Not only void simply, but even punishment for seven years? That time, nobody said how would the family be run. On the Dowry Prohibition Act, no one raised the issue that when the husband goes to jail, how he will feed his wife or children.
Adding further, former law minister said,
No questions were asked. When Section 498A came about, three years’ punishment and the offence made non-bailable, not a question was raised on this. Section 498A in the Indian Penal Code is related to a woman being subjected to cruelty by her husband or his relative.
Speed Up Maintenance To Women
In the year 2017, law ministry under Ravi Shankar Prasad had expressed concern over difficulties faced by women in accessing money awarded to them as maintenance by courts, urging the judiciary and state governments to monitor disbursal of funds in such cases. In a letter to chief justices of various high courts, law minister said the issue of “procedural delays” had also been flagged by his then cabinet colleague and woman and child development minister Maneka Gandhi. His letter read:
All the stakeholders, the government of India, the judiciary, legal services authorities and state governments need to take collective responsibility for ensuring that institutional mechanisms, such as the proposed committee comprising district judge and superintendent of police, work seamlessly to provide justice to women.
The law minister also urged the judiciary to advise district courts to monitor timely disbursal of maintenance and speedy execution of warrants awarded by the court in collaboration with state police forces.
Interim Maintenance as a concept is totally flawed in India. The same is awarded to women even before the merits of a case are decided. There have been court verdicts expecting jobless Men to beg borrow steal but pay up. Several women have been taking advantage of the loopholes in the system, and separated husbands are made to pay them for life without relief.
The adultery law was decriminalised under the ministership of Ravi Shankar Prasad.
In July 2018, the Union government opposed a plea seeking action against women for adultery. The Centre filed an affidavit against the PIL filed by Joseph Shine in the Supreme Court. The PIL seeked to make men and women equally liable under the offence of adultery explained under Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The petition was challenging the 157-year law, which held only men liable for the crime of adultery. Shine’s PIL has contended that not just the man, but the married woman he has a sexual relationship with, must also be punished as she is the “abettor,” not victim of the crime.
We, at MDO, firmly believe no matrimonial law should be criminalised, but then the criminalisation of Section 498A and Domestic Violence Act 2005 only for the Men and their families, still continues.
The law minister has always blamed Congress for their past failures, and this is precisely why citizens who voted for Modi government I & II, had high hopes to bring about a balance in the matrimonial laws, which completely favour women and are one-sided.
Archaic Matrimonial Laws in India
Our courts are flooded with endless matrimonial cases and this government who wowed to clean up the legal mess at courts, has not had a single debate around divorce laws in India. As per NCRB Suicide 2019 Report – 98,000 Men end lives due to matrimonial and family dispute.
For people who are not well verse with how divorce cases work, here’s a brief that practically happens at courts:
- Whenever a couple approaches court for divorce (contested), the onus of providing maintenance immediately rests upon the husband as the wife, even if earning files for maintenance
- Maintenance can be claimed by women under Section 24 HMA, Section 125 CrPC, Hindu Adoption & Maintenance Act – most often even before the merits of any case are decided, which effectively means that a man ends up paying maintenance even if his wife has been cruel to him
- There is no fixed timeline in interim maintenance cases; this means a woman can be awarded monthly maintenance and even if she decides to contest divorce proceedings for several decades, she will be entitled to that tax free monthly income
- Our current laws do not see “Duration in Marriage” or “Rehabilitative Alimony” – Even if the marriage lasted for 1 day, the husband is responsible to maintain his wife for life. Most countries have adopted rehabilitative alimony which allows women in short-lived marriages to get alimony only for a fixed time period, where they are expected to rebuild their lives again
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- Child Custody is one of the most sensitive areas which has been ignored completely by every law ministry; Many countries have moved to the concept of Shared Parenting, while in India we still hand over custody of children to mothers (unless in very rare cases) and expect the fathers to become life long ATMs even if the wives do not allow any access to children. Supreme Court had directed the centre to revert on a Shared Parenting PIL filed in 2019, however, there has been no response from the ministries yet
- India started debating Irretrievable Breakdown in Marriage Law in the year 2012-13; However, there has been no word on the same since then. Couples are not legally set free if either spouse wants to settle score with the other. There are several couples who are fighting their divorce cases for more than 10-years; they can neither move on in life and also the courts end up wasting precious time at the cost of ex-chequer
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- Section 498A Anti-Dowry Law is one of the most draconian laws which deals in arrest of husband and his family members; While Supreme Court had given instructions of no direct arrest without notice, the power to arrest is rested in the hands of police, which is prone to corruption and arm twisting of Men and their families
- Such matrimonial laws have only become a tool in the hands of disgruntled women to threaten in-laws if their demands are not met
- India does not have a Domestic Violence law for Men; whenever men approach police to complain against abuse and physical violence by wife, they are returned asking to sort out their family dispute
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Men account for 50% of the population of India and concentrating every single law in favour of women is extremely unjust. All successive governments look at women as their vote bank and even in 2021, we constantly the drive the narrative of Women being the only victims and Men being the only perpetrators in domestic disputes.