Competitive Exams: Social Problems Faced by Women

Dowry

Max Radin has defined dowry as the property, which a man receives from his wife or her family at the time of his marriage. Dowry may be broadly defined as gifts and valuables received in marriage by the bride, the bridegroom and his relatives.

The amount of dowry is regulated by factors like boy's service and salary, social and economic status of the girl's father, the social prestige of the boy's family, educational qualifications of the girl and the boy, girl's working and her salary, girl's and boy's beauty and features, future prospects of economic security, size and the composition of the girl's and boy's family and factors like that. What is significant is that girl's parents give her money and gifts not only at the time of her wedding but they continue to give gifts to her husband's family throughout the life.

McKim Marriott holds that the feeling behind this is that one's daughter and sister at marriage become the helpless possession of an alien kinship group and to secure her good treatment, lavish hospitality must be offered to her in-laws from time to time.

One of the causes of dowry is the desire and aspiration of every parent to marry his daughter in a higher and a rich family to keep up or to add to his prestige and also to prove comforts and security to the daughter. The high marriage-market values of the boys belonging to rich and high social status families have swelled the amount of dowry.

Other cause of the existence of dowry is that giving dowry is a social custom and it is very difficult to change customs all of a sudden. The feeling is that practicing customs generates and strengthens solidarity and cohesiveness among people.

Many people give and take dowry only because their parents and ancestors had been practicing it. Custom has stereotyped the old dowry system and till some rebellious youth muster courage to abolish it and girls resist social pressures to give it, people will stick to it.

Amongst Hindus, marriage in the same caste and sub-caste has been prescribed by the social and religious practices with the result that choice of selecting a mate is always restricted. This results in the paucity of young boys who have high salaried jobs or promising careers in the profession.

They become scarce commodities and their parents demand huge amount of money from the girl's parents to accept her as their daughter-in-law, as if girls and chattel for which the bargain has to be made. Nevertheless, their scarcity is exacerbated and aggravated by the custom of marriage in the same caste.

A few people give more dowries just to exhibit their high social and economic status. Jains and Rajputs, for example, spend lakhs of rupees in the marriage of their daughters just to show their high status or keep their prestige in the society even if they have to borrow money.

The most important cause of accepting dowry by the grooms'parents is that they have to give dowry to their daughters and sisters. Naturally, they look to the dowry of their sons to meet their obligations in finding husbands for their daughters.

For instance, an individual who may be against the dowry system is compelled to accept fifty to sixty thousand rupees in cash in dowry only because he has to spend an equal amount in his sister's or daughter's marriage. The vicious circle starts and the amount of dowry goes on increasing till it assumes a scandalous proportion.

Child Marriages

Many people marry their daughters in childhood to escape from dowry, and pre-puberty marriage is an evil in itself. On maturity, the boys may or may not be able to adjust with their wives. This crisis situation is by no means left behind after the child marriage is consummated on attaining maturity. If by chance a husband becomes educated or professionally trained and his wife remains uneducated, both partners face crises.

Death During Childbirth

Early marriage exposes women to longer childbearing period. This means greater health hazards to women and children. Several studies show that teenaged mothers risk to health for both themselves and their children. This risk is further enhanced by poor nutrition.

Various surveys indicate that women's caloric content is about 100 calories (per women per day) less than they spend, whereas men show an 800 caloric surplus intake. Women expend a great deal of energy working inside and outside the house, whereas they often have insufficient food.

Customarily they often eat after the men and other members of the family have eaten. The lack of knowledge and improper care during postnatal period, and frequent pregnancies lead to larger fetal wastage, birth of larger number of low eight babies, and death of young women.

Neglect During Early Childhood

The neglect of the girl child starts very early in life. The extent of neglect varies from family to family depending on their economic position. But in comparison to her male counterpart a female child is relatively neglected in most of the socioeconomic strata.

Throughout the country it has been noticed that when the girl child depends on breast-feeding the chances of her survival are relatively more.

Data from various sources shows that from infancy till the age of 15 the death rate for female child far exceeds the mortality rate for male child. There are several causes underlying this. Firstly, the female children are breast fed for a far shorter period than their male counterparts.

Secondly, during illness parents show a greater concern towards male children. This neglect is quite often enforced by poor economic condition. Finally, in addition to the intake of insufficient and non-nutritious food the female child is exposed to a greater workload very early in life.

Often in families of weaker economic strength the girl child is found attending the household chores as well as taking care of her younger brothers and sisters.

Atrocities on Women

Male violence against women is a worldwide phenomenon. Although not every woman has experienced it, and many expect not to, fear of violence is an important factor in the lives of most women. It determines what they do, when they do it, where they do it, and with whom.

Fear of violence is a cause of women's lack of participation in activities beyond the home, as well as inside it. Within the home, women and girls may be subjected to physical and sexual abuse as punishment or as culturally justified assaults. These acts shape their attitude to life, and their expectations of themselves

There are various forms of crime against women. Sometimes, it begins even before their birth, sometimes in the adulthood and other phrases of life. In the Indian society, the position of women is always perceived in relation to the man, from birth onwards and at every stage of life, she is dependent on him.

This perception has given birth to various social customs and practices. One important manifestation of these customs and practices has been that of Sati. It is seen as a pinnacle of achievement for a woman. This custom of self-immolation of the widow on her husband's pyre was an age-old practice in some parts of the counter, which received deification.

The popular belief ran that the goddess enters into the body of the woman who resolves to become a sati. The practice of sati has been abolished by law with the initiative of Raja Ram Mohan Roy in the early decades of nineteenth century. However, there has been a significant revival of the practice of sati in the last few decades. Indeed, Rajasthan has been the focal point for this practice in recent years.

Violence against women both inside and outside of their home has been a crucial issue in the contemporary Indian society. Women in India constitute near about half of its population and most of them are grinding under the socio-cultural and religious structures. One gender has been controlling the space of the India's social economic, political and religious fabric since time immemorial

The condition of widows is one of the most neglected social issues in India. Because of widowhood the quality of life is lowered for many Indian women. Three percent of all Indian women are widows and on an average, mortality rate is 86 percent higher among elderly widows in comparison to married women of the same age group.

Various studies indicated that

  • legal rights of widows are violated
  • they suffer forceful social isolation
  • they have limited freedom to marry
  • restrictive employment opportunities for widows
  • most widows get little economic support from their family or from the community.

In News

It is common to read news about violation or wrongs committed on women everyday. Our orthodox society is so much prejudiced by age-old habits and customs that a violated woman, whether she is forced or helpless, has no place in the society.

Another danger in India is that, Indian law does not differentiate between major and minor rape. In every ten-rape case, six are of minor girls. In every seven minutes a crime is committed against women in India. Every 26 minutes a woman is molested. Every 34 minutes a rape takes place.

Every 42 minutes a sexual harassment incident occurs. Every 43 minutes a woman is kidnapped. And every 93 minutes a woman is burnt to death over dowry. One-quarter of the reported rapes involve girls under the age of 16 but the vast majority are never reported. Although the penalty is severe, convictions are rare.

Marriage Legislation

In March 1961, when the bill on unequal marriages was being discussed in the Rajya Sabha, one member quoted epic against its inclusion in the institution of Hindu marriage. Dr. Radhakrishnan, the then chairman of the Rajya Sabha, had remarked: The ancient history cannot solve the problems of modern society. This is an answer in one sentence to those critics who want to maintain a gap between social opinion and social legislation.

Legislation must meet the social needs of the people; and because the social needs change, legislation also must change from time to time. The function of social legislation is to adjust the legal system continually to a society, which is constantly outgrowing that system.

The gulf between the current needs of the society and the old laws must be bridged. The laws have got to give recognition to certain de facto changes in society. One of the changes in modern India is the change in the attitude towards marriage; hence the necessity of laws on different aspects of marriage.

Major Laws

The laws enacted in India relate to:

  • age at marriage
  • field of mate selection
  • number of spouses in marriage
  • breaking of marriage
  • dowry to be given and taken
  • remarriage.

Temporal Analysis

The important legislations relating to these six aspects of marriage passed from time to time are:

  • The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 (dealing with age at marriage)
  • The Hindu Marriage Disabilities Removal Act 1946 and Hindu Marriage Validity Act, 1949 (dealing with field of mate selection)
  • The Special Act. 1954 (dealing with age at marriage, freedom to children in marriage without parental consent, bigamy, and breaking up of marriage)
  • the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (dealing with age at marriage with the consent of parents bigamy, and breaking up of marriage)
  • The Dowry Act 1961
  • The Widow Remarriage Act, 1856

The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929

It came into force on April 1, 1930. It restrains the marriage of a child, though the marriage itself is not declared void. Accordingly, contracting, performing and facilitating the marriage of boys under eighteen and girls less than fourteen years of age were an offence.

The age of girls was later on raised to fifteen years. The amendment made in 1978 further rose the age for boys to twenty-one years and for girls to eighteen years. The violation of the Act prescribes penalty but the marriage itself remains valid.

The offence under the Act is non-cognizable and provides punishment for the bridegroom, parent, guardian, and the priest, which are three months of simple imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs. 1000.

No woman is, however, punishable with imprisonment under this Act. The Act also provides for the issue of injunction order prohibiting the child marriage. But no action can be taken for the offence if a period of more than one year has expired from the date of the alleged marriage.

The Hindu Marriage Disabilities Removal Act, 1946

Among Hindus, no marriage is valid between persons related to each other within the prohibited degrees, unless such marriage is sanctioned by custom. However, this Act validated marriages between persons belonging to the same gotra or parivara (agnatic groups). This Act now stands repealed after the passing of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955

This Act came into force from May 18, 1955 and applies to whole of India, except Jammu and Kashmir. The word Hindu in the Act includes Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists and the Scheduled Castes.

The persons whose consent may be obtained in order of preference are: Father, mother, paternal grandfather, paternal grandmother, brother paternal uncle, maternal, maternal grandmother and maternal uncle. No particular form of solemnization is prescribed by the Act. The parties are free to solemnize the marriage in accordance with the customary rites and ceremonies. The Act permits judicial separation as well as annulment of marriage.

Either party can seek judicial separation on any one of the four grounds; desertion for a continuous of two years, cruel treatment, leprosy, and adultery.

The conditions for marriage between any two Hindus as provided in the Act are:

  • neither party has a spouse living
  • neither party is an idiot or lunatic
  • the groom must have completed eighteen years age and the bride fifteen years age. The amendment in the Act made in 1978 has raised this age to twenty-one years for boys and eighteen years for girls
  • the parties should not be within the degrees of prohibited relationships, unless the custom permits the marriage between the two
  • the parties should not be sapindas of each other unless the custom permits the marriage between the two
  • where the bride is under eighteen years of age and the groom is under twenty-one years of age the consent of her/his guardian in marriage must have been obtained.

Annulment of Marriage

The annulment of marriage may be on any one of the following four grounds:

  • the spouse must have been impotent at the time of marriage and continues to be so until the institution of the proceedings
  • party to the marriage was an idiot or lunatic at the time of marriage
  • consent of the petitioner or of the guardian was obtained by force or fraud. However, the petition presented on this ground will not be entertained after one years of marriage
  • the wife was pregnant by some person other than the petitioner at the time of marriage.

Dissolution of Marriage

The dissolution of marriage may be on the grounds of adultery, conversion of religion, unsound mind, leprosy, venereal disease, renunciation, desertion for seven years, and cohabitation not resumed after two years after judicial separation.

A wife may also apply for divorce if her husband had already a wife before marriage, and he is guilty of rape or bestiality. The 1986 amendment permits divorce on the ground of incompatibility and mutual consent also. The petition for dissolution of marriage can be submitted to the court only when three years have elapsed after marriage.

This period has, however, been reduced to one year after the 1986 amendment. The divorcees cannot remarry till one year elapses since the decree of divorce. The Act also provides for the maintenance allowance during judicial separation and alimony after divorce. Not only wife but also husband can also claim the maintenance allowances.

The Special Marriage Act, 1954

This Act came into force on April 1, 1955. It repealed the Special Marriage Act, 1872 which provided a form of marriage for those who did not wish to conform to the existing forms. The 1872 Act provided that persons wishing to marry (under the Act) had to declare that they did not profess Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Muslim, Parsis, Christian or any other religion.

In 1923, an amendment was made in the Act under which a person wanting to marry (under the Act) had not to give any such declaration. Each party was simply required to make a declaration that it professed one or other religion.

The Act, thus, recognized inter-religion marriages. The conditions pertaining to age, living spouse, prohibited relationship and mental state as prescribed by the 1954 Act for marriage are the same as provided in the 1955 Act. Under the 1954 Act, a marriage officer solemnizes the marriage.

The parties have to notify him at least a month before the marriage date. One of the parties must have resided in the district in which the marriage officer's office is located.

During this one month, any person can raise objection against the marriage. If the marriage is not solemnized within three months from the date of notice, a fresh notice is required. Presence of two witnesses is necessary at the time of marriage. This Act also provides for the annulment of marriage, judicial separation, as well as divorce and alimony. The grounds for these are the same as provided in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

Hindu Widows Remarriage Act, 1856

From Smriti period onwards, widows were not permitted to remarry. According to Manu, a widow who marries again brings disgrace on herself; she should, therefore, be excluded from the seat of her lord. The 1856 Act removed all legal obstacles to the marriage of Hindu widows.

The object was to promote good morals and public welfare. The Act declares that the remarriage of a widow whose husband is dead at the time of her second marriage is valid and no issue of such marriage will be illegitimate.

In case the remarrying widow is a minor whose marriage has not been consummated, the consent of father, mother, grandfather, and elder brother or nearest male relative is required.

Any marriage contracted without such consent is void. However, if the marriage has been consummated, it will not be declared void. The Act forfeits the widow her right of maintenance out of the estate of her first husband.

The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961

This Act was passed on May 20, 1961. The Act does not apply to Muslims. It permits exchange of gifts for not more than Rs. 2, 000. It prescribes the penalty of six month's imprisonment or a fine up to Rs. 5, 000 or both for its violation. The police, on its own, cannot take any action for the violation of the Act unless some complaint is lodged with it. No action can be taken after one year of marriage.