As seen since times immemorial, the condition of women was that confined to their homes and led majorly by the males in the family viz. the father, husband. It never gave the liberty to women to do and act as per her wishes and that she had to fight a lot to secure equal position in every sector and walk shoulder to shoulder with men counterparts.
There have been innumerable movements in order to secure rights for women such as right to education, right to work, right to equal pay, right to property, right to live life with dignity and many more.
Not only the Constitution of India gives rights to male but it secures that each and every Constitutional right is equally provided for everyone irrespective of their religion, caste, creed, sex, place of birth, etc.
It is no wonder that the contribution of females in the development and socio-economic condition of the country is implausible and insertion of various provisions have not only improved social condition of women but also gave a platform where they can fully utilize their potential for their betterment and also contribute positively towards the overall growth of the country.
However, even after the world being technologically advanced, the rate of awareness is quite low amongst our people as far as knowing about their legal rights is concerned, especially amongst the women.
There are still various sectors in our country where the position of the females have not been improved and even where the females are educated and are securing their positions equally with men in various strata, even then not all of them are aware of their legal rights that the statutes provides for their upliftment and set themselves free from living a supressed life and live a life with dignity.
A] The following Constitutional rights penned down by the author of our Indian Constitution, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, also is very clear that everyone is equal before the law and that everyone has equal rights irrespective of their religion, caste, creed, sex, place of birth, etc. and that no discrimination will be allowed by the law. The foundation of securing welfare of the females have been laid down by the Indian Constitution by the provisions mentioned hereunder:
- Right to equality: Article 14 of the Indian Constitution enables equal legal protection to women against any women-based crime. This provision itself enables that other legal provisions and enactments be made for the protection and welfare of women and ensures enforcement of such legal rights of women.
- Right to live without discrimination: Article 15 ensures that no one should create any sort of discrimination on the basis of religion, race, sex, caste, place of birth or any other grounds. This provision also paves way for Authorities to make special provisions with regards to women & children.
- Right to equal employment opportunity: Article 16 of our Constitution secures the employment opportunities for women too and that there should be no discrimination made on any grounds whatsoever. Article 39 stipulates that equal pay is the right for equal amount of work done, which saves women from being exploited.
- Right to good working condition and safety at workplace: Article 42 casts duty on every employer to provide a safe workplace where a woman can work with dignity and is not being harassed or exploited by anyone and that just & humane conditions of work are ensured and also provides for benefits such as maternity relief to her.
- Right to hold offices: Not only women are granted with employment opportunities but with also right to hold offices. Article 243 ensures reservation of seats in Gram Panchayat for women which encourages rural women and help improve their social conditions as well.
As the Constitution laid the foundation for progression of women, there were timely introduction of legal enactments made in order to safeguard rights of women and avoid their exploitation, in today’s era of globalisation and modernisation.
The following categories of acts have been introduced timely, in order to provide reliefs and maintain dignity of women in order to enable them lead their life on their own capability, not kill themselves under the burden of stigma, shame and family dignity and responsibilities.
These enactments have been introduced to help women lead a life with their head held high and that any offence against women will not be tolerated and appropriate punishment will be granted and justice be done with.
B] To talk about social evils that have been prevailing and being glorified since ages, which are not only cruel but also horrendous humane practice, it was necessary to bring some reformations in law in order to protect the women from undergoing such torturous acts and evils, such as mentioned hereunder:
- The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act (1987):
Sati, an ancient Hindu practice where a widow sacrificed herself on the funeral pyre of her husband, and such acts were glorified by celebrating or constructing temples, etc. in the olden days.
However, such practice is still seen in rural parts of some states and hence the enactment of this act by the Government of India.
- The Prohibition Of Child Marriage Act (2006):
Indian law defines ‘child marriage’ as marriage in which either the girl or the boy is underage. ‘Underage’ means where a girl is below 18 years and a boy is below 21 years.
This enactment gives right to the said children, who underwent child marriage, to declare the said marriage to be void.
- The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (1956):
The act of prostitution, owning a brothel or similar establishment, leaving off earnings of prostitution as in case of a pimp, and even procuring or inducing of a child for the purpose of prostitution, these all are termed as illegal and the provisions under this act have laid down strict punishments for each of these offences.
This act also punishes the establishment owner, such as hotel, if child prostitution is carried out with the knowledge of such owner and their license is also likely to be cancelled along with giving prison sentence and/or fine.
- The Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act (1994):
Female foeticide has been a social evil since olden times and detection of sex of the child is such an abusive step towards female birth. The main purpose behind this enactment is to ban such misuse of prenatal diagnostic technique and stop sex selective abortion.
No medical personnel is allowed to conduct such tests and that such medical equipment are to be sold only to the registered practitioners for the sole purpose of detecting any genetic metabolic diseases, chromosomal abnormalities, only as long as there is a potential threat to the child as outlined by the Central Supervisory Board.
C] As the Constitution laid down that males and females, deserve equal work opportunities and equal pay for equal work, there felt a need to regularize the same by enacting the following enactment to ensure that female workers are not being exploited and that equal opportunities for their training, promotion and equal wages are never compromised.
- The Equal Remuneration Act (1976):
This act aims to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender while fixing wages, transfers, training & promotion and other matters connected with employment. It focuses on equal pay to men and women for the same work or work of similar nature.
D] There are certain criminal offences being committed against women which people are not even aware that they are actually a crime. Stalking, indecent remarks and representation against women, etc. are also punishable offence. There is no need to let such issues being ignored but there are legal provisions under Indian Penal Code where a female can register the offenders for the said offences, register FIR and seek justice and punish the offenders. The entire description of the said rights to register such offences and the privileges given while registering the said complaints and giving statements have been enshrined hereunder:
- Right against being stalked:
Stalking in any form is a punishable offence and a legal action can be taken against an offender u/s. 354D of Indian Penal Code, who tries to contact a woman to force any interaction despite a clear indication of disinterest, being stalked or monitored by way of internet, email or any other form of electronic communication.
- Women have the right against indecent representation:
Representation of a woman’s figure or any body part in any manner that is indecent, derogatory or is likely to deprave, corrupt or injure public morality is a punishable offence.
- Right to Zero-FIR:
There are times where a rape victim approaches a police station to register her complaint, however, the police officer refuses to register the same and sends away the victim by stating that the area under which the offence occurred do not come under his area of jurisdiction. In such situation, it not only causes further harassment to the victim but also gives opportunity to the offender to get away from this horrendous offence.
Thus, the Supreme Court has passed a ruling of ‘Zero FIR’ under which the victim can approach any police station in the city and register her complaint under ‘Zero FIR’, irrespective of location where the incident occurred.
Thereafter the senior officer will direct the SHO of the concerned police station to lodge the FIR under whose jurisdiction such offence falls and proceed with the formalities thereby.
- Women have the right to register virtual complaints:
This law gives women, the privilege of lodging a complaint via email or a written complaint sent through a registered post addressed to a senior police officer of the level of Deputy Commissioner or Commissioner of Police.
Thereafter, the SHO of the concerned police station sends an officer to conduct proper verification and lodge the complaint/FIR, after which the officer will visit the place of residence to record the statements of the complainant/victim.
This privilege can be exercised by women who cannot, for some reason, visit police station to lodge her complaint.
- Right to record statement at her residence:
The Supreme Court has laid down the guideline which provides women the right to not be physically present at the police station for interrogation.
Sec. 160 of Indian Penal Code also gives this protection that women cannot be called to the police station for interrogation, instead, the police can interrogate the woman at her residence in the presence of a woman constable and family members or friends.
- Right not to be arrested at night:
The Supreme Court have also ruled that no woman can be arrested after sunset and before sunrise, which protects women from being harassed by the police at wee hours. Even if a woman constable is accompanying the officers, the police, still, cannot arrest a woman in the night.
However, in an exceptional case, where a woman has committed a serious crime, then such arrest can take place only if the police have orders in writing, from the Magistrate of a First Class explaining why such arrest is necessary during the night.
- Right to untimely registration:
It takes a lot of courage and strength for a woman to inform about the ill-treatment that she has suffered and registering the said crime against her makes her vulnerable.
There are many reasons as to why a woman would not readily or immediately lodge the complaint and take time to think and ponder about whether she should even get the said crime registered. She considers her reputation, dignity of her family, societal dogma, even threats from the culprit, etc.
In such situation, it is quite natural to observe delay in lodging of complaints. Police cannot in any way say no to register her compliant, no matter if it is too late to register. The law protects the dignity and self-respect of woman, thus she cannot be denied of anything as self-respect comes first.
- Right to privacy, confidentiality and anonymity:
To ensure that privacy of woman is protected, the victim who has been sexually assaulted, has the right to record her statement in private in front of the magistrate without being overheard by anyone else, when the case is under trial.
The victim also has freedom to record her statement with a lady constable or a female police officer in personal, the police will have to give such privacy u/s. 164 of Criminal Procedure Code.
In addition to this, the right to confidentiality is also conferred upon such victims, where the identity of a rape victim cannot be revealed. Neither the police nor media can make known the name of the victim in public. Such disclosure of victim’s identity is a punishable offence u/s. 228A of Indian Penal Code. This enactment helps to prevent the social victimisation of the victim of sexual offences.
Even when the judgement is in progress at lower courts or high court, the name of victim is not indicated and that she is only described as ‘victim’ in the judgement.
E] Female personal rights:
With the increasing contribution of women in the various strata, be it corporates or politics, the working place may also become a source of harassment and exploitation. In addition to being a home-maker, those women who are working and employed also deserve a right to seek some time in order to take care of their child(ren) during pregnancy, by not being overwhelmed and overburdened with multiple responsibilities. In order to provide with such personal rights, the following enactments have come into picture:
- The Hindu Succession Act (Amendment) (2005):
This enactment has also honoured the constitutional right of woman to have equal rights in the property of her father. The 2005 Amendment that brought revision in the rules on coparcenary property, allowed the daughters equal receipt of property as with sons; thus invariably granting, the females, property rights.
- The Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place (Prevention and Protection) Act (2013):
With the women upliftment and equal participation in every strata, there are many instances where the women have gone through a lot of harassment such as stalking, sexual assault, indecent exposure, obscene communications over mails, calls, letters, text messages, or social media. Any instance outraging the modesty of women is an offence under criminal law as well.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court have issued a guideline mandating all firms to set up a Redressal Committee within their organisation itself to handle and resolve such complaints of sexual harassment occurring in the organization.
This Committee should be headed by woman and that 50% members of the said committee should be women, in order to understand the problems faced by the women and to cater justice to them.
- The Maternity Benefit Act (1961):
This act safeguards the employment of the women during the time of her maternity and it stipulates that the woman shall be entitled to and the employer shall be liable for the payment of maternity benefit i.e. the woman is entitled to have paid absence from work to care for her child. This act is applicable to all establishments employing 10 or more people.
- The Medical Termination of The Pregnancy Act (1971):
This act provides for termination of certain pregnancies by registered medical practitioners. Though the relief granted, it comprised of various procedures to be followed which caused a lot of hardship in exhausting the remedy available under the said provision.
However, the revision in the said rules and regulations have brought a great relief and has eliminated time-consuming procedures for the approval of place by making such services more readily available for the women.
This act does not provide for termination of every pregnancy. There are only certain stipulated cases where such termination is permitted and the act is self-explanatory about such conditions.
F] Relief under Marital laws:
Marriage in India is considered a sacred tie which binds people and families together. Though many turn out to be loving and successful marriages, others turn out to be terrifying and oppressive.
Societal pressure makes it difficult for women to speak and raise her voice against marital injustices. However, a woman should not feel helpless in an abusive marriage and can raise voice against such oppression in marriage and claim freedom from the alliance and seek dignified life by penalizing such injustices done to them. This can be achieved only if they are aware about the legal rights available to the married woman. Such rights and legal enactments are listed and explained below:
- The Dowry Prohibition Act (1961):
The act of giving or taking dowry has become a social evil and that is not restricted to uneducated or people in rural areas but it has escalated in the towns and cities as well amongst the educated ones too.
Though the law does not penalize on the gifts exchanged at the time of marriage when no demand has been made by either the bride or groom and their respective families, however, the direct or indirect demands and manipulations asking for monies, gifts, and materialistic things definitely comprise that of the dowry demands.
Any case of cruelty faced by her from her in-laws on account of dowry can be reported under Section 304B and 498A of IPC, which criminalizes exchange of dowry and any sort of harassment related to it viz. cruelty, domestic violence (physical, emotional or sexual harassment), abetment to suicide and dowry death.
- Women have a right against domestic violence:
A woman facing domestic violence such as acts of physical, emotional, sexual, economical violence and other acts of ill-treatment by the hands of her husband or his family members, can file a complaint under the Protection of Women under Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
Sec. 498A of IPC also looks to protect a wife, female live-in partner or a woman living in a household e.g. mother, sister from domestic violence by the hands of a husband, male live-in partner or relatives. The accused shall be punished with imprisonment and shall also be liable to fine.
- Right to Matrimonial home:
A wife has the legal right to stay in her matrimonial home, under any circumstance, even after the death of her husband. Nobody have the right to ask her to leave, even if the house is not owned by the husband, belongs to his parents or is a rented apartment.
Even in case of separation or divorce, the woman can choose to live in her matrimonial home until a proper or alternate place is arranged for her to move in.
- Right to seek maintenance and alimony:
There are multiple provisions enacted for seeking maintenance from husband. Sec. 125 of IPC gives a married woman right to seek maintenance from her husband for lifetime.
Also, if the marriage fails, the Hindu Marriage Act gives right to a woman to claim maintenance for herself as well as child(ren) from the husband during (interim maintenance) and after divorce (permanent maintenance).
Though the right to claim maintenance is provided for, the court can fix the said amount on the basis of the husband’s income and living status.
Also, even if the wife is earning, it cannot be the only ground to reject her maintenance application. The woman can still claim maintenance for the child(ren).
- Right to ‘Stridhan’:
‘Stridhan’ is and includes all the items received by the woman during and after her marriage and it gives an exclusive and absolute ownership of it to the woman, according to the Hindu Succession Act (sec. 14) and Hindu Marriage Act (sec. 27).
If her ‘Stridhan’ is not returned to her or denied, she can claim them under sec. 19A of the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act.
- Right to property:
The 2005 Amendment of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 gives rights to the daughter, irrespective of her marital status, to inherit in her father’s property.
A woman can also legally inherit her husband’s property as other heirs, only if the husband has not formed a ‘Will’ that excludes her. Additionally, if the husband remarries without legally divorcing the first wife, the right to all his property belongs to the first wife.
- Right to claim child’s custody:
A woman has the supreme right to claim the custody of the child(ren), especially if the child(ren) is/are below 5 years of age. She can take her child(ren) alongwith her if she leaves her matrimonial household, without any court or legal order.
Despite giving equal custodian rights under the Guardian and Wards Act 1890, a woman can have her child(ren)’s custody in an event of disputed home. She can always claim maintenance from her husband for the child(ren) after divorce or separation, irrespective of her employment status.
- Right to live a life of dignity and self-respect; have a committed relationship or seek divorce:
A woman deserves to have a relationship full of respect and commitment along with a right to have certain independence, the same lifestyle as that of her husband and also have equal freedom to speak against any injustice.
However in the case of infidelity, cruelty, desertion, mental disorder, being thrown out of her matrimonial home, physical & emotional violence and such other ill treatments, women can legally file for divorce without the consent of the husband u/s. 13 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. Sec. 13B of the said Act even allows for divorce by mutual consent between both the parties i.e. husband and wife.
Women can further rightfully claim maintenance for financial support for herself as well as her child(ren).
- Right to Abortion:
Giving birth to a child or not is a huge decision and it is woman and only woman to decide, as it is her body. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 gives a woman full autonomy to abort a child without the permission of the husband or family, at any time until 24 weeks.
The Indian Courts also allow women to terminate their foetus after 24 weeks, in the light of certain exceptional cases.
- Right to free legal aid:
Usually, when the victim of a sexual offence approaches the police station, she is being humiliated most of the times while recording her statements. In order to prevent these instances and further hurting the modesty of the victim, the provision of Legal Services Authorities Act came into existence.
Under this enactment, it is the right of the woman to receive legal aid from the Legal Services Authority who would arrange a lawyer for the victim.
As India is known to be a land of various religions and is full of varied religious beliefs, every religion teaches us to treat women with respect and dignity. However, society has developed various types of evils and ill practices, both mental and physical, against women which demands the rise of certain legal rights that will ensure the safety and dignity of the women. These enactments give encouragement to women to use her skills and rise above all miserable situation and a constant awareness is needed too for understanding such enactments and also educate men regarding women issues which will inculcate a sense of respect and duty towards women as equals.
About the Author:
Advocate Shivanee Pradeep Shah
[B. Sc. (I.T.), LL. B, DCL, PGDIPR]
Adv. Shivanee Shah hails from a very compassionate family and has deep roots in serving the society. She being an active volunteer at heart and also being associated with non-profit organisations and a warrior working towards promoting about importance of emotional and mental well-being enabled her to come across a lot of people who are actually victimized in the name of law and certain others who are made to suffer silently. This is when she decided to pursue law to help them with legal aid and is set on a mission of seeking justice for genuinely victimised people.
She is a practising advocate (Bombay High Court) since last six years having expertise in matters of cheque dishonour, financial recovery suits, handling family and divorce matters, domestic violence cases and others. She is a B. Sc. (I.T.) Graduate apart from holding the degree of Law. She also has done her Post Graduate Diploma in Intellectual Property Rights as well as Diploma in Cyber Laws. Determined to spread awareness about the rights of the people, she has a vision of helping spread the legal education which will enable people use the knowledge in order to achieve justice for themselves as well as the others!