UCC is a chance to set free Simran and respect Kaikeyi | India News

By Kartavi Satyarthi
It Can Help Address Disparities Built Into Existing Laws And Social Mores That Relegate Women To The Margins And Deny Them Agency
Stories of patriarchy and gender-related injustices are as old as time. Even the Epics speak of women as sacrificial beings without agency. The pursuit of power or autonomy by women is vilified. For example, Kaikeyi in the Ramayana is depicted as flawed and selfish, but seen from the perspective of women’s autonomy and independence, she is not a villain but a woman seeking to assert her rights.
Likewise, mainstream cinema portrays women in submissive and domestic roles – Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge’s Simran cannot marry until she gets her father’s permission. Above all, the law sees women in a powerless position with a need to be saved or protected. This is apparent in the way the personal laws treat women.
● Most personal laws provide a different age of marriage for men and women, based on unscientific assumptions like a perceived difference in the age of maturity.
● Guardianship laws identify the father as the legal guardian of a child, relegating the mother to the status of custodian.
● Muslim personal law has different mechanisms for men and women to obtain divorce. They are conditional for women, but men can divorce unfettered.
● Even beneficial concepts like stridhan and mehr seem more like charity than empowerment. Assets given as stridhan are often taken over by the in-laws while mehr is often negotiated down to a minimal amount.
● The aim of maintenance provisions is to prevent vagrancy and destitution, not empowerment and independence. In maintenance proceedings, unpaid labour and other sacrifices made by wives for the relationship continue to be unrecognised.
● There is no law on the division of marital property. In a marriage, the net worths of husband and wife grow at significantly different rates. Without a marital property law, the wife has to rely on maintenance to claim any right in the assets she helped build. Lack of consideration for women’s agency and independence reflects most severely in property ownership.
● Under Muslim personal law, daughters are entitled to receive only onehalf of the share inherited by the son, upon the death of a parent.
● Under Hindu law, there are different schemes of succession for women and men who die intestate (without a will). The parents of a woman who dies intestate do not receive her property.
● In some Indian state laws, male heirs receive significant preference over female heirs in inheritance of agricultural land. It’s not surprising that women landowners made up only 11-14% of rural landowning households between 2009 and 2014.
Studies suggest the practice of labelling women “daayan” and hunting them as witches in some communities is also a way to keep them from inheriting property, and scholars have long argued that financial independence and the ownership over assets make up the route to dignity and empowerment of women. Therefore, some reforms are needed in the personal laws and the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). A drafting exercise like that for a UCC may be able to:
● make space for new concepts like equal ownership of marital property as a matter of right,
● recognise the contributions women make to a marriage through domestic labour, and consider it while calculating the quantum of maintenance,
● allow for non-gendered classification of heirs,
● allow mothers equal or even sole legal guardianship of children,
● respect the autonomy and dignity of single women as parents,
● provide women a preferential right to inhabit the marital home on the death of the husband.

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