Author: Neha Patel, Advocate, District and Sessions Court Korba.
In India, empowerment and upliftment of women started during the british period . Though the british were initially reluctant to interfere with socal and religious customs of the different relogious communities, several social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar foght for women’s right and their education and tried to put an end to the evil customs and traditions of the society. Their constant fights forced the British Govt. To abolsh sati, allow widow remarriage, forbid child marriage, and reduce illiteracy of women.
SALIENT FEATURES OF WOMEN RELATED LAWS IN INDIA
The constitution is the supreme law of the country. The provisions here that safeguard the rights of women are articles 14 & 15 which ensure equality and non-discrimination of Indians, among others, on the ground of sex. Article 16 guarantees equality of opportunity in the public employment irrespective of sex. This article also have a proviso which enables the state to take affirmative action of women such as reservation of seats and posts for them in Govt. Jobs. The 73rd & 74th amendment of the constitution has ensured reservation of seats for women in rural and urban local bodies to give them greater political voice and empowerment.
SOCIO-LEGAL STATUS OF WOMEN IN MODERN INDIA
The role of women in nation-building is undisputed. And enhance their empowerment of paramount importance in the society. The status of women in India has undergone great changes over the past few centuries. In independent India, women participate in all walks of life- education, literature, culture, sports, politics and in other fields.
Aspiration of women, their desire to achieve success in life, attainment of education political and social movements advocating women’s right, and most importantly, changes in the society have gradually brought about an improvement in the position of women in the society. Hence, law and justice are perhaps the most important means by which the progression of women in society has been achieved.
Since independence, constitutional provisions, women.centric legislations, social welfare initiatives, polices and practices, have empowered women and provided them security against injustice and crime commited against them.
Besides constitutional provisions, laws have been framed to addressed various kinds of inustice against women, such as laws against dowry (Dowry prohibition act 1961) domestic violence (Protection of women from domestic violence act, 2005), sexual harassment at work place (Sexual harassment of women at work place prevention, prohibition and redressal) Act, 2013.
To prevent cruelty against women, Section 498 A of the indian penal code (1860). Similarly to prevent acid attacks, strict penal provisions have been incorporated in Section 326 A of IPC. Ammendments have been made in factories act to provide better working conditions. The equal remuneration Act, 1976 ensures equal remuneration to men and women workers and addresses discrimination against women on the ground of sex. The maternity benefit act, 1961 also provides the security of wages and employment to women immediately before and confinement due to pregnancy.
The Hindu Marriage act, 1955 prohibits polygamous marriages and makes special provisions for divorse. The Hindu Succession act 1956 provides confers property rights to daughters. The law of Adoption and maintainance act, 1956 provides for the maintainance of wife, widows, minor children, and poor parents with special emphasis on women.
Several social welfare initiatives, policies, and approches also been taken to reduce inequalities between men and women. However, it is not a fact that the position of women has improved markedly on account of social and legal reforms. For eample, dowry is hardly reported. Both parties consent to it. Thus dowry is a common practice. In spite of a strong deterrent in the form of section 498A of IPC (Cruelty against married women), Many of the prepetrators of dowry deaths are not punished.
Changes in the mindset of the society at large and women, in particular, are very important. Education, economic upliftment and empowerment are the key issues that need to be addressed. Proper, timely and rigid implementation of all legal provisions is another aspect that needs to be looked into to improve the socio-legal status of women in india.
HOW WOMEN RELATED LAWS HAVE EVOLVED THROUGH JUDICIAL PRONOUNCEMENT
A lot of legislations and regulations were enacted after independence, including some landmark judgement that have changed the course of society. A few of them also focused on gender issues, on improving the condition of women. These are the judgments which set new rules and standards of conduct and behaviour and stopped the perpetration of crimes. Some of the judgements and laws which helped evolve the gender laws of today are:
Reservation of seats for women in schools and colleges was upheld by the courts on a few occassions like in the Padmaraj Samarendra vs state of bihar (1978) case where the reservation of seats in a medical college for girls was contested as discriminatory, but the court held otherwise and supported reservation. This judgement was given in consonance with article 15(3) of the constitution, giving the state the power to make reservations for women and children if it considers necessary.
One of the most powerful judgments by the supreme court regarding the prevention of sexual abuse at the workplace was delivered in the case of Vishakha and others VS The state of Rajasthan and others (1997). The petition was filed in vishakha and women’s right group after a social worker in rajasthan was gang-raped for stopping child marriage. This case resulted in the formation of the famous ‘vishakha Guidelines’ which define sexual harassment at work and guidelines which deal with it. The ruling was in consideration of the various international conventions which promote gender equality, the right to work, and dignity. Our constitution also ensures these articles i.e. 14, 15, 19 and 21. These guidelines were considered a major step towards the upliftment of women.
Therefore, the Govt. Enacted the sexual harassment of women at workplace (prevention, prohibition, and redressal) act in 2013, which superseded the vishakha guidelines.
Rights of sex workers and sexually abused women have been deliberated by the courts too. In Budhadev Karmaskar VS State of West Bengal (2011) a se worker was brutally murdered. The petition was filed on this issue, demanding respect and equal rights for sex workers. The Supreme court held that sex workers need to be treated equally in society because they are being compelled to work in this industry due to poverty, not on their will. Society views them as a women of low character but try to understand their perspective and not demean them. They deserve as muuch respect as people of other professions. The court issuued directions to the state Govt. To act in their welfare, make suuitable schemes for them, and sensitize the public on this issue.
Acid attacks on women are made to humiliate them and scar them for life. It is one of the most brutal forms of assault on women. After the Criminal amendment Act, 2013, acid attacks were given a separate identity and punishment, earlier they were categorized under offences caused by ‘grevious hurt’.
In the landmark case of Laxmi VS union of India and ors. (2015) a public interest litigation was filed he by Laxmi, who was attacked by three men in Delhi who threw acid on her face because she refused to marry one of them who was continuously pursuing and harassing her. She had to go through multiple surgeries and a lot of physical and mental trauma. Laxmi filed a public interest litigation regarding the easy availability of acid and the lack of regulations and provisions relating to rehabilitation of survivors. The court upheld the petition and strengthened the laws relating purchasing acid. The Indian penal code was amended and sections 326-A and 326-B were inserted. These sections exclusively deal with acid attacks. Section 357C of criminal procedure code was added, under which all private or public hospitals are now bound to provide medical treatment to acid attack victims free of cost. The government also declared acid as ‘poison’ and issued a ban on its sale.
Domestic violence is widespread in India. The government of India addressed this issue by enacting separate legislation, the protection of women from domestic violence act (2005). The act recognised domestic abuse not only physical violence but also as mental, verbal and economic abuse. The law mainly laid down protection measures for the victims of domestic violence. Thus, the judiciary has appreciated the plight of women and the inustice faced by them in various walks of life and has tried to address them by framing guidelines, policies and issuing instructions to the governments.
INCIDENTS OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN INDIA
Women have perpetually been victims of physical and sexual violence and abuse. Every day in newspapers and news channels we read about such incidents. These acts are committed typically because women are considered the weaker sex.
Aruna Shanbhag case (1973)
1990 Bantala Rape case.
Anjana Mishra Rape case (1999)
Imrana Rape case (2005)
Ayesha Miran Rape Case (2007)
2012 Delhi Rape case
2013 kamduni Gang Rape and Murder case
Violence against women:- particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence is a major public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights.
Estimates published by WHO indicate that globally about 1 in 3 (30%) of women worldwide have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Most of this violence is intimate partner violence. Worldwide almost one third (27%) of women aged 15-49 years who have been in a relationship report that they have been subjected to some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner.Violence can negatively affect women’s physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health.
Violence against women is preventable. The health sector has an important role to play to provide comprehensive health care to women subjected to violence, and as an entry point for referring women to other support services they may need. Intimate partner and sexual violence is the result of factors occuring at individual, family, community and wider society levels that interact with each other to increase or reduce risk (protective). Some are associated with being perpetrator of violence, some are associated with experiencing violence and some are asociated with both.
There is growing evidence on what works to prevent violence against women, based on well-designed evaluations. In 2019, WHO and UN women with endorsement from 12 other UN a bilateral agencies published RESPECT women- a framework for preventing violence against women aimed at policy makers. While preventing and responding to violence against women requires a multi-sectoral approach, the health sector has an important role to play. Global plan of action to strengthen the role of the health within a national multisectoral response to address international violence, in particular against women and girls and against children was initiated.
Lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic and its social and impacts have increased the exposure of women to abusive partners and known risk factors, while limiting their access to services. Globally many as 38% of all muurders of women are committed by intimate partners. In addition to intimate partner violence, globally 6% of women report having been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner, although data for non- sexual partner sexual violence are limited.
Violence against women is now well recognised as a public health problem and human rights violation of worldwide significance. It is an important risk factor for women’s ill health, with far reaching consequences for both their physical and mental health. There is a need to understand better the magnitude and the nature of the differnt forms of violence against women. Clear definitions are needed to be able to compare information across studies and to generate a knowledge base that will allow us to identify the various and overlapping ways in which violence against women occurs and what actions may serve to prevent it and respond to its consequences. Across five regions, 82 percent of women parliamentarians reported having experienced some form of psychological violence while serving their terms. These included remarks, gestures, and images of a sexiest or humiliating sexual nature, threats, and mobbing.
HOW HAVE WOMEN'S LEGAL RIGHTS EVOLVED OVER THE LAST 50 YEARS
Today, women have just three-quuarters of the legal rights of men. In 1970, it was less than half. The women business and the law 2020 report presented results from our recent effort to document how laws have changed since 1970. Business and the law index is associated with more women in the labour force, a smaller wage gap between men and women, and greater investments in health and education. Analysis of 1518 reforms across 50 years and 190 economics yields some interesting insights. First of all, significant progress has been made around the world. Second, the pace of reform has varied across the eight different areas of the law. Most reforms were recorded in the areas of workplace protections and laws dealing with working parents. Despite the progress that has been made, more work remains.
India, the laegest democracy in the world has since independence, believed in affirmative action for women. The constitution-makers aware that unless unequals are treated differently, the plight of women will continue. They understood that that equality would be of no use in this regard. Thus the fundamental rights, directive principles, and the fundamental duties, all have laid special emphasis on women’s welfare. All this is true but what has actually happened in practice is very much debatable. Lack of political will has come as a hindrance in many cases. A classic example is the non-implementation of reservation of seats for women in parliament.
Socio-economic conditions have also come in the way of deserving and needy women. Violence against women still continues unabated in various parts of the country. Womwn still find it hard to report incidencesof rape and molestation as the social structure is such that they do not get proper support from the house, the society, and the beliefs mindsets and male domination still continue to control the destiny of women in india.
Even where the law comes to the help of women, the social structure has found a way to bypass it. The 73rd amendment of the indian constitution provides for reservation of seats for women in panchayats. Women do get elected, but in reality, the institution are run by their husband or male members of their household. The elected Sarpanchs also perhaps feel comfortable not to come forward and contribute towards the upliftment of other women of the locality.
So, legislation alone is not enough. The social structure has to change. A strong political will is the order of the day. Confidence building measures need to be initiated to make women feel comfident about their abilities. I feel, education, health-care, and economic empowerment are the key takers on which the country should focus if we want to see the gender laws making any tangible difference in the lives of Indian women.