Once married, a woman should only leave her in-laws’ house when she is taken for her final rites.” This cliched line is often used in daily soaps and movies to denote the unwavering loyalty and devotion an Indian woman is expected to show her husband and her in-laws.
While much said about the responsibilities that marriage brings, we are often silent about the rights that the law allow women. The Indian society has spent centuries grooming young girls to be future good wives (sanskari bahus), yet they have to adjust, compromise, and more often to bear trauma for the happy marriage (in particular her husband and In-laws). This makes these girls grow up to feel that they have to cater to all the absurd atrocities in their marriage. Marriage has been proposed to these girls as an accomplishment from a very young age which is another reason why they didn’t even question it when they grew up.
Most Indian women walk into marriages without the realisation that a marriage can be unhappy or a difficult one as well. Even today, we do not prepare our daughters or would-be brides on how to deal with a marital alliance that is traumatic. But times have changed, women are no longer dependant on their near ones, at least when it comes to gaining information. To combat injustice, one needs to have a thorough understanding of her legal rights. All women, married or soon to be, young or old, should know their legal rights. Women can penalise any oppression in marriage and claim freedom from the alliance and dignity if they are aware of their legal rights, here are some legal rights that every married Indian woman is entitled to.
1. Right to Matrimonial home
- A wife has the legal right to live in the matrimonial house, even after the husband dies.
- Even if the house is not owned by the husband, belongs to his parents, or is a rented apartment.
- In case of separation, she can stay at the marital house until an alternative is arranged for her or she goes to her parental house.
2. Right to property:
- A woman has equal legal rights to inherit her husband’s property as other heirs. She can inherit it only if the husband hasn’t prepared a will or hasn’t excluded her from the will.
- If a husband remarries without dissolving the first marriage, the rights to the property belong to the first wife.
3. Right to report domestic violence:
- A woman can report domestic violence under the Protection of Women Under Domestic Violence Act (D.V. Act), 2005.
- This act criminalises physical, emotional, sexual, economical, and other forms of ill-treatment.
- She can claim protection, maintenance, custody, compensation, and continue to live in the same house.
4. Right to Abortion:
- The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 gives a woman full autonomy to abort a child without the permission of the husband.
- The upper limit of getting a child aborted has been raised to 24 weeks.
5. Right To Divorce:
- Section 13 of HMA (Hindu Marriage Act) 1955 gives women the legal rights to file for a divorce without the consent of the husband.
- The divorce can be filed on the grounds of adultery, cruelty, desertion, thrown out of marital home, mental disorder, etc.
- Section 13B of the Act allows divorce by mutual consent.
Right to seek maintenance and alimony:
- Section 125 of IPC gives a married woman the legal right to seek maintenance from her husband for a lifetime.
- If the marriage fails, the HMA of 1955 provides women with the legal rights to claim maintenance of herself and her children from the husband during (interim maintenance) and after divorce (permanent maintenance).
- However, Mahr is an important concept in Muslim personal law which is directly connected with the right to maintenance.
- The amount of maintenance doesn’t include Stree Dhan and is set up by the court on the basis of the husband’s financial and living status (includes up to 25 percent of it).
In case the wife is earning:
- She can claim maintenance from the husband only if he earns more.
- If both earn the same amount, she cannot claim maintenance for herself but can claim it for the child.
- The husband can also claim maintenance if the wife earns more.
6. Dowry Prohibition And Harassment:
- Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 prohibits the dowry system. A woman can report against her parental family or the in-laws for exchanging dowry.
- Any case of cruelty she faces from her in-laws on account of dowry can be reported under Section 304B and 498A of IPC that criminalises dowry harassment.
- The Section criminalises the dowry harassment of the bride in the form of cruelty, domestic violence (physical, emotional, or sexual harassment), abetment to suicide, and dowry death.
- Marital rape hasn’t been criminalised in India yet, but forced sex can be reported under the Domestic Violence Act and Dowry Harassment.
7. Family Courts Act:
- It provides for the establishment of Family Courts for speedy settlement of family disputes.
8. Right to claim the child’s custody:
- The Guardian and Wards Act of 1890 gives equal custodial rights and duties to both the parents. However, if the child is below five years of age, the mother has superior rights.
- A woman has the right to take the child along with her while leaving the marital house without any court order.
- A woman can claim the custody of her children after divorce or separation, regardless of whether she is employed or unemployed. She can always claim maintenance from her husband.
9. Right to live a life of dignity and self-respect and have a committed relationship
- A woman has legal rights to have independence, the same lifestyle as husband and freedom to speak against any injustice.
- She legally deserves a committed relationship in a marriage. Adultery and polygamy are legal grounds of divorce.
- No law prohibits a married woman from getting educated or employed.
10. Legal Services Authorities Act
- This provides for free legal services to Indian women.