The teachers of chivalry and decorum often refer to the dictum of ‘ladies first’ implying that women have the right to enter a room or board a train or bus before a gentleman. One wonders why this does not apply in terms of their legal rights as well. There has always been a gender bias stacked against women and this is especially true of a predominantly patriarchal society like India. There are however, several legislations in place upholding women’s rights and still others are being revised in order to give a woman her due:
At par with the sons
Property Rights: There was a time when dowry or ‘streedhan’ was the only portion of the family wealth that a woman was entitled to. Today, the legal scenario is very different, the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, entitles a daughter equal share in property not only acquired by the father but also that belonging to the joint family which is referred to as the coparcenary property. This amendment is expected to work towards greater acceptance of daughters and giving them a status at par with sons.
Crimes against women
While a crime committed against any citizen is a legal offence, there are specific laws that are in place to deal with crimes that are specific to women. Under the Indian Penal Code, these include rape, which is now to be renamed sexual assault (Sec 376 IPC), kidnapping and abduction for different purposes (Sec 363-373), homicide for dowry, dowry deaths or their attempts (Sec 302/304-B IPC), torture, both mental and physical (Sec 498-A IPC), molestation (Sec 354 IPC), sexual harassment (Sec 509 IPC), importation of girls (upto 21 years of age). In addition, there are several acts which protect women from age-old barbaric practices including The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 and Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 is especially valid in our country where husbands consider their wives as their own property and regularly resort to beating them up.
Reserving their rights
Reservation for women in local self-government: The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act passed in 1992 by the Parliament ensures one-third of the total seats for women in all elected offices in local bodies, whether in rural areas or urban areas. In fact, the law also dictates reservation for women on committees of registered societies as well.
Reviewing their safety
National Commission for Women: In January 1992, the government set up this statutory body with a specific mandate to study and monitor all the matters relating to the constitutional and legal safeguards provided for women, review the existing legislation to suggest amendments wherever necessary, etc.
Building their future
The National Plan of Action for the Girl Child (1991-2000): This plan ensures the survival, protection and development of the girl child with the objective of building a better future for her.
National Policy for the Empowerment of Women, 2001: The Department of Women and Child Development in the Ministry of Human Resource Development has prepared a National Policy for the Empowerment of Women in the year 2001. The goal of this policy is to bring about the advancement, development and empowerment of women.
The Right to Education: This right is also applicable to every citizen of India. In particular, the law has been revised to make reservations in all schools to provide better education to those in the economically weaker sections of the society. Education is important to empower women and make India a superpower. Currently, only 39 per cent of women are educated in India.
It is not only urban women who are trying to empower themselves with jobs, but even rural women who work at farms and cottage industries. So, those men or women who do not think that women are of any worth, must start respecting women. At the same time, women must recognise their strengths and use them wisely. They should also be aware of the rights that exist for their protection.