Thursday, 8 March 2012
International women's day: Landmark judgments in favour of women - part one
Hyderabad: Judiciary in India has been a guiding force behind a number of legislations
that have helped in bettering the lives of women. Courts in the country have many a time
looked at law from a more human perspective, providing the much-needed judicial healing
touch to a vast majority of women. Thanks to landmark judgments, women are now eligible
for a share in property, able to work in offices in dignity, exercise their reproductive
rights, continue with their maiden names after marriage, and secure equal rights in armed
Judiciary has also been instrumental in fine-tuning the laws related to marriage and
divorce, inheritance, guardianship of the minor child, eradication of child prostitution,
and protection of sex workers from exploitation. Right from Shah Bano to Visakha and
Geeta Hariharan, the Supreme Court of India has been in the forefront not only protecting
the rights of women, but also ensuring that they get their rightful due – whether getting
maintenance for divorced women, protection of women from sexual harassment at workplace
and grant of the right of guardianship to mothers.
Courts in India have touched practically every aspect concerning women, redefining the
term homemaker insofar as compensation under Motor Vehicle Act is concerned, giving a new
meaning to the now-increasing “live-in relationship”, and interpreting Shariat in the
light of the Holy Quran with regard to divorce of Muslim women.
Courts have been playing an active part, but there needs a lot to be done to ensure that
timely justice is done to the affected women. Advocate T Vasantha Lakshmi emphasises the
need to reduce the procedural delays once a case related to women reaches court.
“Procedural delays often help the accused to find ways to escape from the clutches of
law,” she points out.
Though Supreme Court has delivered several judgments that could be considered
“landmark”, women in India continue to suffer because of different laws governing them
and lack of a court with common jurisdiction to deal with issues related to women. Women
are forced to approach different fora to seek each relief separately.
Women have to grapple with numerous legislations. There are Acts like the Hindu Marriage
Act (divorce), Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act (maintenance), Guardians and Wards Act
(custody), and the Hindu Succession Act (inheritance). In case of Muslim women, there are
Acts like Shariat Act and the Muslim Women Protection of Rights Act. The Indian Divorce
Act and the Indian Succession Act are primarily meant for Christian women.
Referring to multiplicity of the Acts governing women, the Department of Women and Child
Development, Government of India, in its document on court cases agrees that each of
these Acts vests jurisdiction in a different court. “This multiplicity of litigation
increases the physical and financial burden of litigation manifold. Above all, there is
the problem of ignorance of the law.”
Agrees senior advocate Ch Nirmalatha, “in many divorce cases, women do not get
maintenance as the divorced husbands disobey the decree. There should be stringent laws
to ensure that maintenance is paid. Courts should work out mechanism to oversee the
Judicial activism notwithstanding, political pressure often creates hurdles in the
delivery of justice to victims. “Political pressures have been on the rise and this
impacts the fair functioning of the police department. In several cases, the culprits go
scot-free, while innocents bear the trouble. It is not good for democracy if the police
failed to act in cases of violence against women. In Andhra Pradesh Sri Lakshmi case was
a landmark judgment as the culprit was severely punished,” argues legal expert J Jnanamba.
The apex court created a history of sorts in the Visakha's case, which is now cited
almost in every legal argument related to women. It protected women from sexual
harassment at the work place, and framed detailed guidelines not only to prevent this
burning problem, but also its redressal. There have been a number of orders, which state
that the character of a rape victim should not form part of the proceedings during trial.
Women rights groups have been largely satisfied by the SC guidelines in Visakha case that
they feel no new legislation is needed to protect the rights of women. P Durga Bhavani,
vice-president of AP Mahila Samakhya, observes that existing laws are sufficient to
protect women. “What we need is proper implementation of the legislations, Acts and
judgments”. Agrees social activist T Shakuntala, “it is often the implantation of orders
that cause more trouble. Domestic violence Act is the case in point. It is observed more
in breach and innocent people often end up as victims”.
Advocate SK Nagoor, however, sees “loopholes” in Constitution as the cause of women’s
trouble. “Constitution is pro-women only on paper,” she argues, adding, “Loopholes in
Acts should be plugged”. Amendment should be made to Sections like 498A and make
women-related cases non-bailable offences.
Taking the approach of an activist, the Supreme Court drew guidelines on dealing with
exploitation of sex workers and curbing the menace. “Counseling, cajoling and
correction”, should be adapted to eradicate child prostitution and rescue of girls from
red light areas.
Mother too could be treated as a natural guardian, the SC held in Gita Hariharan relating
to Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act. The Act treats father as the sole natural guardian.
Word Of The Day - Improve Your Knowledge
Word of the Day
|Definition:||Equipment, such as clothing, tools, or instruments, used for a specific purpose or task.|
Quote of the Day
Every traveler has a home of his own, and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering.