The universal function of law, very simply put, is to moderate human behaviour, and ensure justice and equality to all. Pay careful attention to the term equality, and ask yourself if that’s really true of all our laws today. There’s no doubt that Indian laws in our constitution are archaic and often contradictory. But there are also laws that are unequal, and tend to favour one community or social group over the other. In the blessed land for patriarchy itself, you can be sure there are several that perpetuate gender bias and clearly favour the male gender of our country.
Here are five such Indian laws that reflect the influence of patriarchy and help perpetuate it:
I. Marital rape in the Indian Penal Code 1860
It took a gruesome gang rape in the National City to amend India’s rape laws. While a lot of important changes were brought about, the law makers of the Verma Committee chose to foresee the criminalization of marital rape because the opposing counsel argued that criminalizing marital rape could destroy marriages, hence affecting the sanctity of the institution of marriage. The statistics of the UN Population Fund shows that more than 2/3rds of married women in India, between the age group of 15 – 49, have been raped or forced to have sexual intercourse with their husbands. Inspite of these statistics and some really gruelling cases of marital rape, there has been no law put forth that can today protect women against this form of domestic violence. Not criminalizing marital rape only gives men the power and freedom to exploit women sexually, putting women in a more submissive position than men. The idea of equality in marriage cannot be upheld unless a woman has the freedom to exercise her rights.
II. The Family Law of Usage and Customs of Gentile Hindus of Goa
This law of polygamy is probably the most chauvinistic law to exist in India today. Under this law, a man is allowed to have a legal, second marriage if his first wife is unable to have children by the age of 25 or bear a male child by the age of 30. The issue caused by this law besides the idea of polygamy, is the pressure it puts on women, both mentally and physically to bear a child within a given time period, without letting her decide when she wishes to have a child. A man on the other hand, could also misuse this power of polygamy without having to be liable for his actions.
To make matters worse, Modi’s new government holds up the Goan Civil Code as the model in enforcing a uniform civil law applicable to all Indians, irrespective of religion. If this order of polygamy is instated to all other marriages in India, the freedom and choice of married women is sure to be curbed.
III. The Khap Panchayat Rulings
Khap panchayats are a social system of administration that consists of members from the Jat community. They are essentially the makers and regulators of laws in Norther-Western parts of Indian villages, with the strongest foothold in the state of Haryana. Khap panchayats in recent years have stirred up controversies because of their brutality against women by propagating child marriages and honour killings. Communities that are run by khap panchayats are strictly patriarchal and any decision made by its members cannot be questioned. As an example of their violence on women, a 20-year-old tribal girl was raped by at 10 members of the khap panchayat in Birbhum village as a punishment for having an affair with a youth from another community. Even after India’s judicial system declared khap panchayats illegal, they have been unable to control them. Their judgements still hold strong in these communities and they continue to function because of their ties with influential politicians.
IV. Parsi laws of Inheritance
With a very minute and shrinking population, Parsis today fear the loss of their religious identity. They don’t approve of or allow inter-caste and inter-religious marriages with the aim of protecting the homogeneity of their community. If a Parsi woman marries a non-parsi, she is excluded from the community and loses all rights to her religion and family inheritance. In cases where a non-parsi woman is married to a parsi man, she has no rights of inheritance even after her husband’s death. Inspite of being a community that believes in and propagates the education of women, Parsis uphold their traditional beliefs when it comes to the institution of marriage and family lineage.
V. Dowry Prohibition Act
The anti-dowry law has a number of loopholes and so far, it hasn’t been very effective in preventing Indian families from demanding for dowries. Several terms in this law are vaguely defined and can be interpreted in many ways. If a woman files a law suit under this act, the court requires that it must be shown that gifts, property or any other material taken as dowry, has some connection with the marriage. In cases where proving these connections become difficult, women don’t see the light of justice. Dowries even today are a cause for domestic violence and female infanticide. In a country where the sex ratio stands at 919 girls to every 1,000 boys, against 976 in 1961, the law needs to be stricter and more women friendly in order to ensure gender equality.
Till laws like these and various others favour the upper hand and superiority of men, women in India will never have equal rights. The unfortunate truth is that any kind of reforms only take place incase of alarming incidents or public outrage. To make situations better, we as citizens should be more active in reporting crimes we see happening around us and support movements of peace and equality.