As a woman, it’s imperative to understand your rights and how the law works for you.
“I don't want to be remembered as the girl who was shot. I want to be remembered as the girl who stood up,” Malala Yousafzai said, pointing out the biggest problem that women face.
Issues are not around the fact that men illtreat women, or they are weakened by societal norms, but rather that it is the women who refuse to stand up.
If you believe you can stand up to any odds and face any inhibitions, I believe nobody can stop you.
This is easier said than done, and honestly, it gets complex when it comes to the law and its procedures.
Here are some myths that I have heard from women as I grew up in a family of lawyers, and with my personal experience as a practising advocate for women's rights.
Here is the truth behind these myths.
On women’s rights to ancestral property, its partition and on stridhan
Myth: I am a lady and I cannot inherit my father’s property or ask for a part in it. They have given me stridhan”
Truth: Until 2005, the laws related to succession among the Hindus were that the men or sons of the family inherited ancestral property, and daughters were taken care of only until they were married. Post marriage, a daughter was considered “paraya dhan” (stranger’s wealth). However, in a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court amended the Hindu Succession Act, granting daughters the same rights and liabilities as sons.
The major features of the act that you should know are:
- The heirs acquire right over a property by birth
- Both ancestral and self-acquired property can be claimed.
- A daughter can demand the partition of her father’s property.
Lastly, stridhan is a gift given to a woman either during or after her marriage, the same is not to be exploited by the husband or his family. It is a woman’s exclusive right to possess stridhan, and any misuse of the same by her husband or his family, in order to deprive a woman of her stridhan is considered an offence under Section 405 (criminal breach of trust) of the Indian Penal Code.
On identity protection and confidentiality
Myth: “I don't want to go to the police or the lawyer, I fear my, and the family’s reputation will be at stake.”
Truth: A woman who has been raped, or if an attempt of rape has been made on her, generally hesitates to take legal action. Though we see many cases of rape being reported in the newspapers and TV channels, that is a small percentage of the actual cases coming to light.
Many perpetrators go scot free as women fear losing their dignity, and bringing their family to the perils of being shamed. Firstly, rape is not a medical condition or an illness that should shame you, it's a crime that should enrage you to take action. Under section 228A of the Indian Penal Code, “Whoever prints or publishes the name or any matter which may make known the identity of any person against whom an offence under section 376, section 376A, section 376B, section 376C, or section 376D is alleged, or found to have been committed, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years and shall also be liable to fine.’’ Therefore, do not succumb.
On complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace
Myth: “Everybody in the office will know that I have been harassed, they might judge me, I might lose my job and my career will be at stake.”
Truth: I have heard the above lines from some well-educated working women. I understand their fear, but that leads you nowhere. We have absolute rights to reach great heights and with dignity.
As per section 16 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013, the contents of the complaint, the identity and the address of the aggrieved woman, witnesses to the act of harassment, and the details of the proceedings/inquiry done by the internal complaints committee or the local complaints committee and action taken should not be published or communicated to the public, press and media in any manner.
An organisation found not complying with the provisions can result in severe punishment, and even license termination. In fact, this act applies not just to women working in organisations, but even to daily wages workers and domestic help working in individual homes.
On maternity benefits at the workplace
Myth: “My company doesn't give much leave, it’s my company policy.”
Truth: Sadly, I heard these words from a woman whose husband is a practising advocate.
She had requested a work-from-home option as she had complications in her pregnancy, and the same was refused by the company, which ultimately led to her resigning.
The Maternity Benefits Act 1961 underwent changes on September 9, 2017, making India the third prominent country after Norway and Canada to provide 26 weeks of maternity leave, whereas the latter provides 44 and 50 weeks, respectively.
In case of miscarriage or any illness arising out of pregnancy, the woman is entitled to a one-month paid leave. A female employee is entitled to get a medical bonus if no pre-natal confinement or post-natal care is provided by the company. When an employee is on her maternity leave, an employer cannot terminate her services. The company should not also make the employee do strenuous work during the pregnancy.
On the right to matrimonial home
Myth: “My in-laws don’t like me, my husband is upset with me, so he pushed me out of the house.”
Truth: Fighting for the rights of women in courts, I have noticed that a majority are deprived of their matrimonial home. Shockingly, our society considers that a woman thrown out of her husband’s house is a disgrace to her paternal family.
What’s shocking is that many women have adapted themselves to the myth that the husband has the right to keep her out of the house, as it is his house. The truth is, it is not only your husband’s house. It's your matrimonial home. Under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005, the Section 17 clearly states that a woman cannot be deprived of her right to reside in a shared household, whether or not she has any right, title or beneficial interest in that household. An aggrieved woman can file for residence orders under the DV act.
On filing police complaints and taking legal recourse
Myth: “The police will make you sit long hours in the police station and it’s a waste of time.”
Truth: This is where you let the entire legal system fail. Every woman who approaches the police for help has the right to procure legal aid. The police cannot refuse to take your complaint as there is a concept of Zero FIR for certain offences, wherein you can file the complaint under any local police station and the initial actions should be taken by the police.
A woman cannot be called to the police station personally for any manner of interrogation as per Section 160 of the Criminal Procedure Code. In cases of a rape victim, her statements shall be recorded in private by a woman police personnel, a woman cannot be arrested after sunset and before sunrise. A female police personnel has to accompany others while arresting an accused who is a woman.
Also, cases where a woman delays giving a complaint regarding rape and abuse to the police, shall not be rejected.
On desertion and maintenance of senior citizens
Myth: “We took care of our children, now that they are grown up, they don’t need us.”
Truth: It is not just a son’s duty to take care of his parents, but daughters have an equal right and duty to take care of their aged parents. Apart from the provisions of maintenance under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, India has a specific law (Senior Citizens Act 2007) for the maintenance of senior citizens and parents.
Maintenance and welfare of parents, and herein every senior citizen - be it parent or grandparent - is empowered to claim maintenance from the children or grandchildren. In case of non-compliance with the maintenance ordered, the punishment shall be imprisonment for one month, or until payment of maintenance is done, whichever is earlier.
India has one of the lengthiest Constitutions in the world, but no laws or rights make any sense when they are not implemented. Do not succumb to fears and myths pertaining to legal rights. Timely action will help many victimised women get justice, and prevent atrocities on women in the future. Spread the awareness.