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Divorced women gain rights to property under new Indian law

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Jackie Gregory
WVoN co-editor 

Getting a divorce will soon be speedier and easier in India after the government amended the law.

Women will also be entitled to a share of the property from the marriage, and the rights of adopted children will be considered the same as biological children.

Ministers approved the Marriage Laws Amendment Bill last Friday, which means couples will also be able to gain a divorce on the grounds of an “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage”.

But the mandatory six month ‘cooling off’ period has been scrapped, leaving this now to the discretion of a judge.

While the reforms are broadly welcomed by women, some are concerned by the new grounds for divorce.

Speaking to the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS), lawyer Meenakshi Lekhi believes that this would amount to giving the husband an excuse to walk out of the marriage for a much younger spouse.

However the new law states women would be able to lodge an objection if a man sought to dissolve a marriage on these grounds.

Meanwhile, the leader writer of India Today welcomed the move to share property rights. Until now women have relied on their former spouse to make maintenance payments.

“The share in the property acquired by her spouse, that the amendment guarantees, would go a long way in providing women some degree of financial security after a divorce.

“Moreover, when one views the issue purely in terms of power relations, an assured share in property is a much more empowering compensation than the rather patronising payment of maintenance.”

It adds that the challenge now is to ensure that poor, illiterate women are made aware of the divorce law changes.

Ranjana Kumari of the Centre for Social Research, and a prominent campaigner for women’s rights, welcomed the new grounds for divorce, but was concerned about the watering down of the six month ‘cooling off’ period.

She told IANS: “A hold on period at times helps in cooling frayed tempers and the marriage is saved,” she says, adding that “after all in our society marriage is sacred thing” .

Kumari welcomed the woman’s right to share in marital property but believes that the amount to which she is entitled (eg 50 per cent) should have been specified. Instead this has been left to the courts which Kumari fears could mean more slow-moving litigation.

India is well-known for its torturously slow divorce proceedings as Pamposh Raina highlighted in the New York Times.

She quotes lawyer Kirti Singh, speaking ahead of Friday’s decision, who said that her research showed that 80 per cent of more than 400  separated or divorced women surveyed blamed “cruelty or domestic violence in their marital homes”.

The violence centred around dowry demands, extra-marital affairs, and the taking of a second spouse.

The study, called “The Economic Rights & Entitlements of Separated and Divorced Women India,” was conducted by a team of researchers, women’s rights activists and lawyers, for the Economic Research Foundation of India between October 2008 and September 2009 and will be published later this year.



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