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Destitute Women And Widows – Are They Better Positioned In Our Country?

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of Those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

Franklin D Roosevelt

INTRODUCTION:

Women in our country constitute approximately half of the entire population. Women are given the position of Goddess in this country but the problems faced by them are completely contradicting their position. On one hand, they are worshipped and on the other, they are considered inferior and are abused in endless ways.As India is a patriarchal society, women are given only secondary importance, and men are considered to be dominant when compared to women. Women in India are in a position where a peaceful social life is still a pipe dream. Gender discrimination, workplace harassment, dowry-related harassment, widowhood, and women destitution are few of such problems faced by women in India.Freedom for an Indian woman doesn’t just mean the ones guaranteed by the Constitution but also means treating men and women equal, increase in job opportunity, and augmented safety and protection. The Government of India is also taking various initiatives in the form of policies, schemes, and acts to protect the welfare and uplift the status of women however, most of them are continuing to face such problems.

DESTITUTE AND DESTITUTION IN INDIA:

The destitute are those who are abandoned, forsaken, and are deprived of minimum necessities in life.The destitution and destitute are being prevalent all over the world from ancient times and is thus a universal phenomenon.

Indian society is one where women exercise power and hold top positions, yet on the other hand, the largest part of the women population is mostly under-privileged. Poverty and backwardness act as a great hindrance for a mother in providing adequate care to their children. In recent times, many women are falling victim to perverted men due to various reasons which result in molestation, harassment, kidnaps, etc., compel the victims into many antisocial occupations such as prostitution, chain-snatching, robbery, beggary, etc., making them destitute eventually.Prostitution indirectly causes destitution resulting in AIDS not only to the adult but also to the children hence resulting in the complete prohibition of the families from their places[1]. Early marriages which have been prevailing in our society for over centuries are also one of the main factors for women destitute.When the girls are married at a very young age to comparatively very old partner, they become a widow at a young age itself which ultimately make them and their children destitute.The situation of women is considered to be the major factor of child destitution.In some cases,women are being mentally harassed and been thrown out either by their husbands or even by their children and thus become destitute.  Trafficking is one of the key foundations for the destitution of women and even the young girls who are below the age of fifteen.

Our Indian law did not give any definition on destitute anywhere, however, the Socio-Economic security embodied in our Constitution in a number of articles can act as a mere perfect example for solving the issue of destitution in India. Article 14, 15, 29(2), 21(A), 23, 24, 39, 42, and 45 of the Indian Constitution ensures security economically and socially. As per the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956[2] a woman who is divorced and deserted by her husband can claim for maintenance if she does not remarry.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development has enacted various laws to protect the well-being of women. However, such women protection laws are mere social legislations that do not have appropriate redressal of the victim nor have serious sanctions for those who are causing the sufferings.The Persons in Destitution (Protection, Care, and Rehabilitation) Model Bill, 2016 was passed to address the problem of chronic beggary and homelessness in our countryEventually, this bill was dropped as no movement was seen after the initial introduction.

It is unfortunate that most of the destitute that create a considerable amount of population in our country do not have an identity.  Due to this lack of identity,they are not qualified to get any of the governmental benefits.

WIDOWHOOD IN INDIA:

A loss of companion which is widowhood might be one of the most agonizing and traumatic events that could happen in one’s life. Since the Hindu brides in India are likely to live with their husband’s family, with the death of their husband millions of the mare expunged out of their houses and eventually become destitute. Destitute women and widows in India face many deprivations and hardships due to the social restrictions placed upon them and the adverse social attitude toward them. Such problems faced by women are mainly due to the gender construction of our society. It is apparent that the widows in India are the most affected than in any other country as India being the 2nd most populated country and women constituting half of the entire population, the affected women are comparatively huge in number. There are about 55 million and more widows in India which are as same as the population of the countries like South Africa and more than the entire population of South Korea[3].They just exist in the shadows of society and are considered unlucky and subjected to various kinds of discrimination and even ostracism.

In historic times, ‘Sati’ or ‘widow burning’ was prevailing in our society and was considered to be the traditional norm of Hindu society for widows. It is a practice in which the widow sacrifices herself in the funeral fire of her husband. The Britishers who were ruling India during that period opposed this inhumane act and enacted Bengal Sati Regulation, 1825 and the person who attempts, abets or glorifies such act of burning or burying alive shall be punished with imprisonment under Sections 3, 4 and 5 of Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987.[4] The Britishers also legalized widow remarriage in India by enacting Widow Remarriage Act, 1856. The following are some of the provisions under the law which speaks about widow’s rights:

  • Section 2 of the Widow Remarriage Act of 1856[5] forbids women from inheriting their husband’s property after his death. It says thatall the rights and interest of the widow which she has in her husband’s property will cease to exist after the demise of the husband and the next legal hire of the deceased or any other person who has the rights to the property after her death shall succeed the same.However, under a provision of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, women who choose to remarry were allowed to inherit her deceased husband’s property.Section 10 of this act gives an equal share in the property to the intestate’s widow just like the entitled heir[6].The present scenario is that both Widow Remarriage Act, 1856 and the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 exist in our country and Section 2 of the Widows Remarriage Act, 1856 is neither amended nor omitted to make the issue a controversial one and having an adverse impact on Hindu woman who remarries after the death of her husband.  However, Patna High Court has held that the forfeiture of women’s right on remarriage is based upon general principles of Hindu Law apart from the provisions of Section 2 of Hindu Widow’s Remarriage Act, 1856.[7]Another view is that the Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act, 1856 is not repealed but Section 4 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 in effect abrogates the operation of that Act in the case of a widow who succeeds to the property of her husband under the present section and Section 14 has the effect of vesting in her that interest or share in her husband’s property as full owner of the same[8].However, the fact remains that in absence of clarity either from the Supreme Court of India or from the Government of India on this aspect the controversy persists acting as a sword of Damocles hangs over the Hindu women who remarry after her husband’s death.
  • Section 19 of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act[9] states that the father-in-law is obliged to provide maintenance to his widowed daughter-in-law in the case where she is unable to maintain herself with her own savings or if she is not able to get maintenance from her deceased husband’s property. However, this would be made enforceable only if the daughter-in-law has a share in the coparcener’s property which is in the possession of her father-in-law. This has been affirmed in the case of Raj Kishore Mishra v Meena Mishra[10].
  • Under Section 21 (iii) of the same act, a widow is considered to be a ‘dependent’ as long as she remarries. If the widowed dependent has no shares in the property of the deceased husband, the legal heir of the deceased is bound to maintain the dependent as per section 22 of the act. She loses her right to be maintained once she is remarried.[11]
  • Section 8 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956[12] states that the widow has an equal right in the property of his husband dying intestate.
  • Under Section 14 of the same Act, the property in possession of the Hindu female shall be held by her as an absolute owner and not as a limited owner, whether it was obtained before or after the commencement of the Act. In the case of Chinnappa Goundar and Anr v. Vallaimmal[13],the father-in-law died on providing some property to the widowed daughter-in-law for her maintenance. While the daughter-in-law demanded her share of maintenance during the time of partition of the coparcener’s property, the other family refused to give her contending that she has to include the properties given to her in the deed to claim her share.In this case, the court decided in favour of the daughter in law saying that she is not obliged to surrender the properties held by her under the maintenance deed as it was not mentioned anywhere in the deed.
  • Section 125 of the Criminal Procedural Code, 1973[15] talks about the maintenance of wife and also child and parent, the term wife includes divorced wife, divorced and not remarried, widow within the realm of wife and as such.  Nevertheless, they are not eligible if they live in adultery, refuse to live with them without a valid reason, or being separated from their husband by mutual consent.This provision also covers the right of women who possess Islam or any other religion[16].
  • Under Muslim personal law, the widow is entitled to get one-eighth of the share in the property of the deceased husband, if she has children and in case of no children, she is entitled to one-fourth of the share. In cases where there is more than one widow, each of them is entitled to one-sixth of the share[17].
  • Section 33, 33-A and 34 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925[18]deals with the right of succession to a Christian widow. As per this Act, a Christian widow is entitled to one-third of share in the property of the deceased partner and the remaining two-third will be given to his lineal descendant.If the widow has no children, she is bound to get half a share in the property and Rs. 5000.She would get the right to the entire property only in the absence of the distant kin of the deceased husband.

The absence of exclusive law on the safety and security of widows in our country makes their position most onerous.There were few attempts in our parliament where Bills were introduced to enact laws on this subject namely THE DESTITUTE AND NEGLECTED WOMEN (WELFARE) BILL, 2006 and THE DESTITUTE WOMEN AND WIDOWS WELFARE BILL, 2009. The Bills were aimed to provide for the welfare and maintenance of the destitute women and widows by setting up a welfare board and providing incentives. Being single-member Bills, these proposed laws were not appropriately discussed in the parliament and did not see the light of the day.

CONCLUSION:

Despite so many laws being enacted to safeguard the women in India, most of them fail to serve the purpose. Although the“Sati” system has been abolished in our country, the widows are still expected to mourn for their deceased husband forever.According to the National Crime Bureau, violence against women is the fastest growing crime where for every 34 minutes a woman is raped and every 43 minutes a woman is kidnapped[19].Our country is a welfare state, its primary duty should be to rehabilitate such unfortunate widows and to implement welfare schemes for them.  But even after more than half a century has passed since independence many destitute women, widows, and divorced women still remain deprived of Government assistance and facilities.  Mostly such women are poor, unemployed and are short of even the basic necessities for their survival.  They are also suffering from many numbers of diseases.  It is so awful to know that over 55 million widows in India are deprived of their basic dignity as penitence for some sin.  Hence, it is the primary responsibility of the Government to ensure that they are provided with all such opportunities and facilities so that they may live and nurture in a healthy atmosphere and are protected from all kinds of exploitation.


[1] Vishal Jeet V Union of India, (1990) 3 S.C.C318 (India).

[2] Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, No. 78, Acts of Parliament, 1956 (India).

[3]C.P Chandrasekar & Jayati Gosh,What it means to be a widow in India today,Business Line, Oct 9, 2017, https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/columns/c-p-chandrasekhar/what-it-means-to-be-a-widow-in-india-today/article9895691.ece.

[4] Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987, No. 3, Acts of Parliament, 1987 (India).

[5] Widow Remarriage Act, 1856, No. XV, Acts of Parliament, 1856 (India).

[6]Hindu Succession Act, 1956, No. 30, Acts of Parliament, 1956 (India).

[7] Mt. Anarajia vs Tengari Kabar And Anr, A.I.R 1962 Pat 65 (India).

[8]D.F. MULLA, MULLA’S HINDU LAW, 796 (13th ed. 1966).

[9]Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, No. 78, Acts of Parliament, 1956 (India).

[10]Raj Kishore Mishra v Meena Mishra,A.I.R 1995 All 70 (India).

[11] Pramila And Ors. vs Sarvar Khan And Ors, A.I.R 2003 ACJ 542 (India).

[12] Hindu Succession Act, 1956, No. 30, Acts of Parliament, 1956 (India).

[13] Chinnappa Goundar And Anr v Valliammal, A.I.R 1969 Mad 187 (India).

[14] Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, No. 43, Acts of Parliaments, 2006 (India).

[15] The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, No. 2, Acts of Parliament, 1974 (India).

[16] Shamima Farooqui V Shahid Khan, A.I.R 2015 SC 2025 (India).

[17] Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937, No. 26, Acts of Parliament, 1937 (India).

[18]Indian Succession Act, 1925, No 39, Acts of Parliament, 1925(India).

[19] ANI, International Widows’ Day: What it’s like to be ‘vidhava’ in India,INDIA.COM (Jun. 23, 2016 9:43 AM), https://www.india.com/news/india/international-widows-day-what-its-like-to-be-vidhava-in-india-1280901


Cite this article (The Bluebook 20th ed.)-

Naga Swetha, Destitute Women And Widows – Are They Better Positioned In Our Country?, Ex Gratia Law Journal, (October 1, 2020), https://exgratialawjournal.in/journal/volume-1-issue-2/destitute-women-and-widows-are-they-better-positioned-in-our-country-by-naga-swetha/.

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Author

Naga Swetha
Student - SASTRA Deemed to be University