Bowing to pressure from women’s activists, the government has made some crucial amendments to divorce laws, giving women half a share in the husband’s residential property irrespective of whether it was acquired before or during the marriage. The amendment was cleared by the Union Cabinet on Thursday.
The wife’s share in other assets owned by her husband – movable and immoveable property – has been left to the discretion of the judge.
Another amendment cleared by the Cabinet allows for the six-month cooling period, required for divorce filed under mutual consent, to be waived off by the judge only if both husband and wife agree. In the original bill, the period could be waived off if even one of the parties sought it: another feature that was opposed by BJP and Left, besides women’s groups.
The amendments are part of the Marriage (Amendment) Bill that seeks to amend the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and the Special Marriage Act, 1954.
The bill seeks to introduce irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a condition for divorce through mutual consent.
This is the first time that a woman’s share in marital property has been made part of the marriage legislation. So far, the wife’s right to property was recognized but alimony and compensation were decided by the courts.
“The amendment will give a woman right to 50% of the residential property owned by her husband even if it is acquired before the marriage. This will ensure that the woman is not left without a roof over her head in case divorce is given through mutual consent. However, division of other property, money, assets will be decided by the courts,” sources said.
However, some of the activists remained unhappy with the bill, saying it remained biased against women despite the changes Cabinet cleared on Thursday. Former Rajya Sabha member Brinda Karat said this legislation would “compromise the future rights of women in a marriage”.
Karat, along with parliamentarians and others, had met law minister Salman Khurshid on Tuesday to press home the point that restricting a woman’s share only to residential property would be unfair. They argued that the woman’s right to property was established under law and she should have an equal right to all property acquired during marriage. “There has been some change but it is not enough. This is a very poor substitute and should not be passed in the name of a pro-woman legislation,” Karat said.
Sources said that following concern expressed by Parliament and women’s activists, it was also felt that the cooling period of six months should only be waived off only after both parties agree.