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Move to amend marriage law irks men's rights group

July 18, 2013 15:12 IST

The decision of the government to amend the Hindu Marriage Act has come under fire from men's rights organisations.

The Save Indian Family Foundation says that the government is in such a great haste to amend Hindu Marriage Act that, it is doing flips flops in its own stands about details of property division in last one year. This shows that its own ministers have neither clarity nor consensus about how to handle the issue of alimony and property division, when this no fault divorce law is enacted. The other parliament members representing the common man are even more clueless, about what is cooking. Yet, the government is under pressure to pass this law in haste before its term expires in less than a year.

In the process, the government has refused to involve law commissions, parliamentary standing committees to draft this will, which will impact lives of millions of young men and women in future. It is certain that, if this current draft bill is passed as approved by Group of Ministers, the end result will be another badly drafted law, which will only add to the misery of people facing marital problems.

SIFF demands that the bill in its current form should not be tabled. SIFF is also against too much discretion to be given to judges and courts in deciding monthly spousal support and how the property is to be divided.

This law cannot be generalized as “women friendly” as more than 70% poor families in India are often in debt with no property and they have huge liabilities like daughter’s marriage. This law is only meant for rich and upper class women. Political Parties like BJP, SP, BSP and others must oppose and vote against this bill in parliament, because it will increase India's divorce rate to atleast 30% in next 10 years.

Any Marriage law amendment has to be seen in a holistic manner taking into account other laws like shared parenting, child support, spousal support or monthly alimony. Will the man end up paying lifelong alimony even after parting with his own property and ancestral property? These questions need to be resolved in a calm manner in a discussion with various stake holders rather than forcing a badly drafted law on people in haste.

Suggestions:

Government must first rollback this law and must not table this bill in the current session of parliament.

Government must bring in gender neutral language by replacing the word “Husband” and “Wife” by “Spouse” and “Man” and “Woman” by “Person”. Also either spouse must have equal right to oppose the divorce petition as it guarantees equality before law.

The government must create a simple formula for estimating contribution of a woman to the marriage or her husband's family.Naturally, this will depend on duration of marriage, number of children, whether she is a housewife or a working woman etc. If a woman is a housewife with 3 children, taking care of old in-laws, then she has contributed a lot more to house than a working woman with no child in a marriage of just 1 year.

On the basis of this formula monthly spousal support, alimony or other settlements have to be worked out. A Judge can use a bit of discretion over this formula.

So, if a woman’s contribution to husband or his family (according to this formula) exceeds the cost of the property, then she can just take the complete property.Alternately, she can choose to not take property, but receive monthly spousal support instead. The point is she cannot have both the property and also spousal support.

Government must appoint a committee or law commission to create this formula.

Government must consider shared parenting by both biological parents and child visitation rights of grand parents as a default arrangement, unless otherwise ordered by a court of law. The government must make it a criminal offense, if any custodial parent is obstructing shared parenting and rights of grandparents to visit the child.

Government must not give too much discretion and powers to courts to decide about the quantum of property division, monthly spousal support and child support. Too much discretion to judges, will lead to judges deciding on the basis of their whims and fancies with no accountability to anyone. Most men do not trust family courts, which have been highly insensitive to rights of men. In most cases, courts have taken years to even allow these men to meet their own children. By that time, the children have completely forgotten who their father is.

Government must ensure that women get equal share of parental and inherited property from their own parents first. They must add new clauses to Hindu Marriage Act about a woman’s right to residence in her own parent’s house, in case she gets separated in a short marriage. It must be considered criminal offense, if the parents force her to go to her husband’s house. Similarly, it must be considered a criminal non-cognisable offense if parents and bothers of a woman disinherit her from property, acquired or inherited.

Image: Parivartan Sharma/Reuters

Vicky Nanjappa