Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Gender Biases in Indian laws

The following in today's Hindustan Times:

“We have decided to review all gender-biased laws, which affect the legitimate rights of women. All laws should be gender-neutral,” Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily told HT.

The two sentences above are inconsistent. Either Mr Moily is thinking of removing biases in all gender-biased laws, or he is thinking of removing gender-biases in laws which are weighed against women.

In case you think there are no laws which are weighing against men, think again:


Section 125 of the CrPC

(1) If any person leaving sufficient means neglects or refuses to maintain-
(a) His wife, unable to maintain herself, or ..."

Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005

Section 2(a) Definitions: "Aggrieved person" means any woman ...

Section 304B of the IPC

Dowry death - Where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage ... such death shall be called "dowry death" and such husband or relative shall be deemed to have caused her death.

Section 497 of the IPC

Adultery – Whoever has sexual intercourse with a person who is and whom he knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of another man, without the consent or connivance of that man, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape, is guilty of the offence of adultery, and shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both. In such case the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor.

Section 498 of the IPC

Enticing or taking away or detaining with criminal intent a married woman – Whoever takes or entices away any woman who is and whom he knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of any other man, from that man, or from any person having the care of her on behalf of that man, with intent that she may have illicit intercourse with any person, or conceals or detains with that intent any such woman, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

Section 498A of the IPC

Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine...


What say Mr Moily? Ready to replace all the red words? I guess not.


Pankaj said...

Some of those laws seem rather medieval, especially the ones relating to adultery. It does however make sense to have some laws bending towards women, and not being gender neutral, because social customs and the power equation is overwhelmingly poised against women.

Susan said...

Hi Pankaj

Unfortunately the laws favourable for women are being misused by the more influencial class for their benefit even when they are not rightfully entitled to them. and the weaker section of women who are actually being supressed usually do not have access to these laws.

Ketan said...

Hello Harmanjit!

The sections 497 and 498 very clearly relegate women to the status of passive 'objects' owned by their husbands. And of course, they are unfairly discriminatory against men in having margins to be misused by women.

One of the very basic problems plaguing all aspects of administration in India is - how to strike balance between practicality and token idealism.

Laws, which are biased against men and take a sympathetic view of women might be helping the truly oppressed women (though am skeptical of this claim) of (say) rural areas, but can be abused by educated women (in the urban areas).

As you have rightly pointed out that for real improvements to take place, police force will have to be improved. But the problem (which I am sure, you yourself must have realized) is one of transforming unethical individuals into ethical employees. How easy is that? In many of our analyses directed at trying to improve society and administration, we tend to overlook the fact that the large numbers of individual members of the society are not as conscientious as we would like to think! As long as psychological and societal impetus (like, the premium we lay on being 'successful' and seeming 'powerful' compared to our peers) exist, so would the incentive to indulge in unfair practices. And so, corruption is here to stay till common people realize this fact.

Any kind of legal judgement, especially where irrefutable material evidence is not available (almost all cases), will involve human discretion. The issue is how to ensure honesty and objectivity of one exercising that discretion? :)

I read a couple of your older posts and I am EXTREMELY impressed by the rationality and honesty of your thoughts. My compliment might seem irrelevant to the current post, but I very strongly felt the quality of your writing and thinking definitely ought to be praised.

Right now, am short of time, and hence this comment is actually pretty much generalized (partly in response to your older posts) rather than sticking to the topic. Will return to and comment on your other posts after a few days.

Keep writing!