Proposed changes in Hindu Marriage Act,1955: ANTI-MEN OR PRO-WOMEN?

Aastha Mehta, Student of Law, GNLU, Gandhinagar

Women have always been subjugated since ancient times, especially after marriage, wherein they were considered merely as properties of husband. The proposed changes have majorly been done in divorce provisions. Hindu Marriage Act currently provides divorce on grounds of  cruelty, desertion or conversion to another religion or if the partner suffers from   incurable or intolerable unsoundness of mind, an incurable form of leprosy, a communicable sexually transmitted disease, or if he has renounced the world and not been heard of for seven years. However new ground have been added to the Hindu Marriage Act, which is “irretrievable breakdown of a marriage”, which have commonly been witnessed by courts as grounds on which couples come to seek divorce.

NGOs, who have been working for rights of husbands (a completely new- age concept) have vehemently opposed these changes, fearing that wives would seek divorce even on smallest grounds under the garb of “irretrievable breakdown of marriage”, which would cause the harassment of litigation to husbands. However, the ground is subject to the condition that both spouses have lived separately for 3 years. Under section 25 of this Act, option of permanent alimony is given to the spouse seeking divorce and using any immovable property to collect such alimony.

The new-breaking through here is that women will be allowed compensation from both the acquired and ancestral property of the husband, making sure that women have higher quantum of money to start their new life, after divorce. Unfortunately, such protective measures cannot be availed by rural women, who still get married and divorced, by their own tribal customs, and who do not follow any statutory laws, except the traditions imposed on them from centuries.

This provision, though highly appreciated among feminists, is raising concerns that such rule would corrode whole plank on which marriage is based, since in order to fulfill their monetary gains, a women might marry a rich man and them file a suit for decree of divorce and fraudulently claim large share of the husband’s property.

Mutual consent has been one of the grounds, wherein a couple can file a divorce application to family courts, however, this amendment intend to give more discretion to the judges even if the divorce is by mutual consent if one of the spouses doesn’t move a second joint application for divorce by mutual consent.

Notwithstanding this, the other spouse is allowed to move the application for divorce by mutual consent, in order to prevent the harassment which either of the spouses will undergo, keeping in mind the long tardy process of divorce.  Even the six month waiting period after filing for divorce has been done away with in cases for divorce by mutual consent. All these steps have been taken to uplift women’s condition and to bring them out of abusive, violent and stagnant marriage by giving them variety if rights. However, one should not forget, marriage can run smoothly only by co-operation of both the partners, and by leaving men with lesser rights, do we see role-reversal done by legislature, to keep men sub-ordinate to women.

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