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Gender Inequality And Hindu Marriage Act, 1955: An Analysis

Gender inequality in Indian culture is not fresh. Since ancient times, women have been regarded as the weaker sex. Crimes against women are still popular today and fail to stop. In this context, the government has introduced a great deal of legislative change to ensure equality between men and women.

In civil matters related to marriage, ancestry, adoption, etc., gender disparity is distinctly visible. However, the awareness that women should have the same human rights as men is rising in society. This has contributed to the government's determination to enact legislation in this regard. Any of these rules concern modifications to Hindu personal laws.

Manusmriti can be traced back to the main thrust of Hindu personal laws. Manusmriti put a great deal of prohibitions on women and so the gender imbalance in his text was clear. The legal system was therefore important to reform the situation and increase women's status.

The government has passed different laws that concentrate on giving and promoting women in historically masculine-dominated matters. The Hindu Marriage Act (1955) is among such legislation. A Hindu marriage is considered a sacrament by this statute. The rules of this Act have been changed in several ways to make them more sensitive to women. An overview of these laws reveals that more benefits to women have been granted than in conventional marriage issues. There have since been many judicial pronouncements to end conventional women's bias.

Conditions of Marriage: Section 5

In Section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, the requirements governing the validity in the eyes of law of the Hindu marriage shall be defined. Most of these requirements are important to discourage cultural rituals that adversely affect Hindu women's lives. When one of these circumstances is not satisfied, marriage is not legitimate, and thus invalid under the constitution. Consequently, in the case of an illegitimate marriage, women are no longer bound to their marital obligations.

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. This contributed to women's suffering, since a man who had more than one wife was considered noble. All these rituals have made women's lives miserable so she is unable to contest the actions of her husband. But women will also file a lawsuit with section 5(i) against their husband's second marriage.

There was also an issue with Hindu weddings, in which young girls under the age of 18 were married. Children's marriage is a social phenomenon since they are married at a young age because they are not mature enough to meet marital requirements. Young girls are thus forced to dedicate themselves to adulthood.

The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 sets a minimum limit, in this respect, until marriage is impossible. Section 5(iii) also sets the age limit for boys to 21 years and girls to 18 years. Therefore, if a breach occurs, a simple 15-day jail term or Rs 1000/- fine or any of them is imposed. In addition, the girl married before 18 years of age will refuse marriage.[1]

It is also necessary to take into account circumstances where girls are married. The union can be considered null and void in such cases when no agreement was present. This ensures that if women choose, they will be able to terminate marriage. Women are thus entitled to choose their husband and should not be compelled to marry anyone against their will in the case of Shakti Vahini v. UOI[2] this was also decided. The Supreme Court ruled that the right to life and freedom also requires the right to pick one. It is also an intrinsic part of Article 21 and cannot be infringed upon.

Divorce: Section 13

In the beginning, on the basis of the principle of fault/guilt, divorce was pursued according to the 1955 Hindu Marriage Act. Consequently, a couple can only seek divorce if a matrimonial offence has been committed by the other party. Section 13(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 gives nine explanations for divorce in this context.

Especially Beneficial To Women Are Those Reasons For Divorce:

  • Adultery [3]:
    It is an act of establishing a consensual sexual relationship with a different sex than the partner during married life. It was initially appropriate for a person to live in adultery for a permanent duration to be a basis for divorce. However, also a single case of adultery is still necessary to obtain divorce with the amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act 1955. Therefore, it is better for women to terminate marriage on that basis because they had no redress for the affairs of their husbands prior to this statute.
     
  • Cruelty [4]:
    It depends on each case's circumstances. The act now acknowledges both emotional and physical cruelty. Comportement that affects the lives of partners is being cruelly manifested. Cruelty was described as the state of mind in "Pravin Mehta v. Inderjeet Metha."[5] That is a measure for the sake of women, since they now have the freedom to pursue divorce if their husbands are cruelty to them. For different causes, women are believed to have faced abuse. Thus, women have legal support to challenge the same thing under this amendment.
     
  • Desertion:
    It has been noted that the wives were already bound to marry and that the husbands abandoned their wives after marry. Therefore, under subsection 13(1)(i) (b), the husband will apply for divorce and become excluded from his marital duties when he leaves the wife for a continuous period of 2 years.
     
  • Conversion:
    There is a trend among Hindu men to convert to other religions such as Islam to enter into polygamy. Thus, in case of convert to a new faith, Section 13(1)(ii) grants the freedom to obtain divorce. Hence, if her husband changes his faith for whatever reason, the wife will get rid of her marital responsibilities.

Presumption of Death:

According to Article 13(1)(vii), if a person has not been heard to be alive for at least seven years a person is allegedly deceased. In the absence of this clause, women were especially concerned about this situation, for their position as a wife was bound to perform, even though their husband had been unaware for years. Under that clause, it was possible for women, without marriage commitments, to pursue divorce and resume their lives.

Either a husband or a woman can invoke the reasons stated in Section 13(1) and can therefore be considered to be sex neutral. Section 13(2) therefore provides some conditions for seeking divorce only for women. The basis is:
  • The wife can file for divorce if her husband had been in a valid marriage since the period before the commencement[6] of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. This is no longer useful because of practical impossibility
     
  • If the husband is convicted for rape, sodomy or bestiality, after the marriage, the wife can seek divorce[7]
     
  • If cohabitation between the partner has not resumed between the parties after one year of the issuance of maintenance order (under Section 125 Cr.P.C.) or decree under Section 18, Hindu Adoption & Maintenance Act, 1956, the wife can sue for divorce under Section 13(2)(iii)
     
  • In case, a women had been married off before attaining the age of 15 years and she had repudiated the marriage before attaining 18 years of age, she can seek divorce under Section 13(2)(iv). This provision was added by the 1976 amendment[8], to enable those women who had been married off before 15 years of age, to get rid of their obligations under the marriage

The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 (amendment) Bill, 2010 dubbed "the irretrievable break-up of marriage," found a second explanation why divorce could be sought. This is a situation in which all sides cannot live in harmony because of conflicts of view or other problems. As a consequence, they don't want to maintain their marital ties. This Bill has not, however, been implemented, and so no constitutional clause considers "irretrievable divorce breakdowns."

However, in the recent case of Srinivas Kumar v. R.Shametha[9], On the basis of irrevocable marital dissolution, the Supreme Court granted the divorce. This may also be a justification for women to pursue divorce if they believe like their marriage has been irrevocable.

Their marriage must end as this was recognised by the Supreme Court as a basis of divorce. By amending the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, the Supreme Court has also suggested the irrevocable dissolution of marriage as an excuse for divorce in Naveen Kohli v. Neelu Kohli[10].

The reality that in the normal course of litigation divorce takes years is another issue that was commonly noticed. Therefore, to promote the case, the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 now allows divorce with mutual consent. Under the Marriage Law (Amendment) Act, 1976, Section 13-B was added for this reason. In a brief amount of time, it was better to pursue divorce.

Section 13-B of Hindu Marriage Act 1955 states that if they have lived separately for one year or more, and do not want to pursue their marriage ties, a couple will seek divorce. In that case, the Court grants divorce after the complaint has been resolved by re-examen over a fair duration of about 6-18 months.

The way to have a divorce by mutual consent is very easy. This is because it avoids the procedure that is standard practise on some grounds of divorce, to make claims against one another. This made the law simpler for citizens, in particular women who were faced with different difficulties for divorce.

Matrimonial Remedies:

  • Restitution of Conjugal Rights [11]
    Women in various problems arising out of their marriage partnerships are provided with various support and remedies. In Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 the restitution of marital rights is one of these. Accordingly, the wife may request that the court take action in this regard if the husband has abandoned his wife without fair cause for it, she is deemed to be in contravention of conjugal rights.

    The court in the case of Sushila Bai v. Prem Narayan[12], held that her husband's behaviour of desertion and reaction to a wife was a withdrawal from his wife's community. The wife's appeal for restoration of married rights was thereby permitted.

    Women then have a solution to be left to their husbands to request an order from the Court to co-habit their husbands.

Maintenance

The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 lays down women's right to their husbands' support. Article 24 of the Act stipulates the pending lite shall be temporary retained or maintained. This is necessary during the divorce proceedings. Accordingly, in the absence of an independent source of revenue, women may demand maintenance to cover the required costs. It could also be necessary to assert the costs of the legal cases.

The provision in Indian society is extremely helpful since many women rely on husband's income. Therefore, they are unable to support themselves during divorce proceedings, i.e. they face problems meeting day-to-day expenses and the costs of proceedings.

Likewise, after divorce is given, permanent support is provided for women to live a decent life after marriage is stopped. Section 25 of the 1955 Hindu Marriage Act includes the preservation and protection for a gross sum or a monthly or periodic sum. This will occur throughout the spouse's life or until the beneficiary stays unmarried.

Thus, Article 25 of the Act guaranteed that women were free, even after divorce, to receive welfare and maintenance, to live a dignified life. The judiciary has already acknowledged this and sorted out it.

"In the case of Mangat Mal v. Punni Devi[13], it was held that maintenance includes food and clothing and the like. It also encompasses the basic need of shelter". "In another landmark judgment, Bhuwan Mohan Singh v. Meena[14], the Supreme Court held that maintenance of a wife does not mean mere animal existence, rather it signifies a similar life as she had, when she lived with her husband". It is also the husband's job to provide her with a dignified life.

Conclusion
In keeping with the Hindu traditions, marriage should not be disbanded or contested as a sacrament. In comparison, women's conventional position was biassed and women were assumed men's.

Since the passage of the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, however, there have been a number of provisions to grant women civil rights. By specifying the pre-conditions for a legal marriage the status of women was pursued. Therefore the attempt was made to eradicate polygamy, child marriage etc.

The advent of divorce was another big reform, making it easier to dissolve marriage. This is of benefit to women since they are no longer trapped by an unwanted marriage and can take lawful action in order to put a stop to it. Several reforms have since been made to make it possible to pursue divorce in accordance with the Law, in the form of revisions.

Women are entitled to co-existence with the husband, care and sustenance protection, under the marriage as well. Thus the traditional subjugated status of women has been assured that they no longer remain in society. Women will approach the courts to restore them in case of breach of their marital rights.

All of this suggests that continuous attempts are being made to increasing women's status in society and ending their inequalities. Oversight of the conservative approach towards women's marriage has been subject to the legal interventions over the years. Many of these laws have also had a positive effect on women's lives in Indian society.

End-Notes:
  1. Section 18(a)
  2. (2018) 7 SCC 192
  3. Article 13(1)(i)
  4. Article 13(1)(ia)
  5. Appeal (civil) 3930 of 2002
  6. Section 13(2)(i)
  7. Section 13(2)(ii)
  8. Marriage Laws Amendment Act, 1976
  9. Appeal (Civil), 4696 of 2013
  10. (2006) 4 S.C.C. 558
  11. Section 9
  12. AIR 1986 MP 225
  13. (1995) 6 SCC 88
  14. Criminal Appeal No.1331 OF 2014

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