Feminists often claim that women are not free in what they call as Patriarchal system of family. Marriage to them imposes the obligation of being the care-giver on the woman. The work of a house-wife according to them is bondage which is worse than serfdom. Hence women need to be liberated.
But, a careful examination of the situation proves otherwise. Marriage imposes the role of Protector and Provider on men. A man is obliged to support his wife financially. In case he fails to do so because he is jobless, convalescing from serious/terminal illness or old age, he can be arrested and put behind bars.
Even after divorce, a man is obliged to pay life-long maintenance to his estranged wife till the time she remarries. A huge lump-sum amount may be paid in lieu of life-long alimony.
In India even where the wife has deserted the husband‘s company and put him behind bars by filing false complaints under anti-dowry laws, the husband has to pay maintenance to his wife [called interim maintenance]. The irony is that a part of it is used for suing him in the law court. He has to pay even though the wife has left him without anybody to look after his home or hearth. The situation may continue for years together without any end in sight, thanks to Indian law courts, which take long time to decide cases.
A few days ago the Law Commission, headed by Justice A P Shah recommended that there was “sufficient basis in classical Hindu law to cast a legal obligation on the father-in-law to maintain the daughter-in-law, when the husband of the latter is unable to do so”. (1)
“The right of a Hindu woman, whose husband is unable to provide maintenance to her, must be protected,” held the Commission, while recommending to Law Minister to insert a new clause in the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956. According to the panel, insertion of sub-section 4 under Section 18 should read as: “Where the husband is unable to provide for his wife, on account of physical disability, mental disorder, disappearance, renunciation of the world by entering any religious order or other similar reasons, the Hindu wife is entitled to claim maintenance during her lifetime, from members of the joint Hindu family of the husband, except where the husband has received his share in the joint family property.”
It must be noted that classical Hindu laws does not recognize divorce and marriage is considered to be sacrosanct. Divorce was introduced in Hindu society through the Hindu Marriage Act after India gained independence from British. The Classical Hindu Law considers the woman’s role in society as mothers and housewives important. Therefore she is given economic protection. Hence if classical Hindu law is to be invoked for providing maintenance to wife from members of joint family of husband, then it must recognize her obligation to look after the family.
A wife living in adultery is also not entitled to maintenance under Hindu law. This has been diluted in recent years.
Also under Hindu Marriage Act, a man can claim alimony from his wife. But this is rarely awarded by courts.
Today even highly educated and able body women routinely claim maintenance. This is despite the fact that some positive judgments have been delivered by various Indian Courts against well-qualified women claiming maintenance by sitting idle (2).
Even among married couple, where both spouses are working, the law places no obligation on the wife to maintain the family. Hence many unscrupulous working women do not share the economic burden of running the family and spend their money on profligacy.
Feminist often show the village woman as hapless women who must be protected while calling for even stiffer laws on alimony. But Facts are different.
Today a great majority of village women are earning their bread by participating in national employment guarantee schemes like Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act [MGNREGA]. (3)(4).
Paying lifetime alimony is therefore a real bondage for Men. If true equality is to be established, between man and women, Man must be freed from his role of as protector and provider. Maintenance must be quid-pro-quo for a woman’s company and her role as a care giver. In case she refuses to fulfill her obligation, she should be punished for dereliction of duty and deprived of right to maintenance.
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