Gender Discrimination Laws in India by Ishita Dutta @LEXCLIQ

Gender discrimination has been a social issue for many centuries in India. In various parts of India, a girl child is not welcomed is a known fact. In fact, discrimination begins from even before the girl child is born and sometimes she is killed as a fetus, and if she manages see the light of day, she is killed as an infant. India is a patriarchal society which makes women inferior to men. A girl is considered as a liability and often is not allowed to see the light of the world. In the 21st century women have proved themselves to be strong leaders in every aspect but in spite of the progress, even in the present day a girl child is discriminated in most of the Indian households. The principle of gender equality is enshrined in our constitution, but it is far from practice. There are various laws which discriminate women regardless of the notion of gender equality. It displays the pervasive point of view of Indian laws concerning women.

For example the Hindu Succession laws, the Act was amended in 2005 to give equal shares to the daughters in inheritance, parts of the act still remain discriminatory. If a Hindu women dies without a will, her assets will habitually go to her husband’s heirs if there is no spouse or children. The law assumes that women become a part of the husband’s family after marriage.

The Section 6 of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act of 1956, considers the father to be the natural guardian of the child and the mother is only considered a guardian only in the absence of the father or if the child is under 5 years old. Discrimination can similarly been seen in the age of marriage, marriageable age for men is 21years, whereas it is 18 years for women. This manifests the conservative mindset of our lawmakers who think that the wife must be younger than the husband. Divorce laws in India are highly discriminatory in nature. A Christian women cannot file for a divorce on the basis of adultery but her husband can divorce her on the grounds of adultery. A divorced women has no entitlement to her husband’s property throughout marriage even though she contributed in purchasing the property. She can only claim maintenance under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Even in the 21st century, polygamy is still predominant in certain sections of the society if their religious codes or customs commands so. The civil code of Goa allows the practice of bigamy amongst Hindu men if their wife is unsuccessful to deliver a child by the age of 25. There are many laws in our country that treat women as second class citizens. It is disappointing that India does not even recognize marital rape to be a crime, maximum of the times women are subjugated to this.

The old-style mindset, classifies gender into male and female, but overlooks the transgender community. Transgender people bear economic and social discrimination based on their gender identity or expression. The policymakers, service providers, the media and society at large have dismissed or discounted the needs of transgender people, and a lack of hard data on the scope of anti-transgender discrimination has hampered the work to make substantive policy changes to address these needs. In spite of the acknowledgement, discriminatory laws still exist for the transgender community.

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code does not distinguish between consensual and coercive sex. Thus cases of abuse and voluntary sex between two consenting adults can be prosecuted under this provision. This would violate the constitutionally protected right to privacy under the expanded definition of right to life .The definition of “unnatural offences” is obsolete. It invites questions such as what is “the order of nature”. As conceived by whom. This section does not prohibit homosexuality, but only prohibits certain sexual acts, which both homosexuals and heterosexuals, married and unmarried people, might engage in.

The other forms of legal discrimination exist in the provisions in the Navy, Police and Army Act which discriminate transgender. Homosexual relationships are not recognized when it comes to defining the family for the purposes of insurance claims, compensation under the workman’s compensation act, gratuity benefits and for the purposes of nomination.

In the last seven decades, we have failed to sustain the basic constitutional principle of equality before the law. It is time that we demand our governments to respect the constitution and remove all forms of discrimination on the grounds of sex and gender. The need of the hour is to make a change in the mindset of the society and terminate the prejudices that damage the future of the oppressed genders. . What is required is a concerted effort to sensitize the society in eradicating this issue of gender inequality. It is high time that every gender is treated equally and given every opportunity required to grow to his/her full potential.

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