The position of widows has changed or not?

Author: Ms. Chhaya Lalwani, Law College Dhanbad

INTRODUCTION 

Indian society has been evolving in terms of how widows are treated.   Widowhood has traditionally been dreaded in India, not only because it means a lowering of the status of any woman within the matrimonial home, but also because it is accompanied by several indignities. They must give up wearing nice clothes and jewelry, and take a course to white saris, unlike colorful dresses. They may not socialize, and must not be seen at weddings and celebrations, lest they bring ill-luck or unlucky. Widows in eastern and northern India must abstain from all non-vegetarian food the staple of every meal in the region and restrict themselves to just one meal a day. In the past, widows heads were shaven, lest they looked attractive. The idea was to keep a strict tab on their sexuality so that they should never have the opportunity of remarrying. .Even otherwise, remarriage was frowned upon, since it would entail a division of the family property Sati system was prevalent among some Hindu communities by which a recently widowed woman either voluntarily or by use of force or coercion commits suicide as a result of her husband’s death. The best-known form of Sati is when a woman burns to death on her husband’s funeral pyre.  However other forms of existence, including being buried alive with the husband’s corpse and drowning, etc. The widow is ‘uglified’ to deprive her of the core of her femininity. Historically, the practice of Sati was to be found among many castes and at every social level, chosen by or for both uneducated and the highest-ranking women of the times. They were denied of share in their deceased husband’s property.  The common deciding factor was often ownership of wealth or property since all possessions of the widow devolved to the husband’s family upon her death.

LAWS GOVERNING RIGHTS OF WIDOWS IN INDIA

1.   The Hindu Succession Act 1956

2. The Code of Criminal Procedure  1973

3. Hindu Adoptions And Maintenance Act of 1956

4.The Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act 2005

The Supreme Court has in its recent decision observed that a brother in law can be ordered to pay maintenance to a widow.

PROVISIONS UNDER THESE LAWS GOVERNING WIDOW RIGHTS

1. An earlier law forbade windows, who decided to remarry from inheriting their deceased husband’s property.

According to the Widow Remarriage Act of 1856: “All rights and interests which any widow may have in her deceased husband’s property shall upon her remarriage ceases; and the next heirs of her deceased husband, or other person entitled to the property on her death, shall thereupon succeed to the same.”

However, this Act has been repealed. Under the provisions of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, widows who choose to remarry do have a right on their deceased husband’s property.

2.Section 2(q) of The Protection of Women1956, Domestic Violence  Act 2005, which says that relief can be sought against relatives of the husband as well.

“An aggrieved wife or a female living in a relationship in the nature of a marriage may also file a complaint against a relative of the husband or the male partner, as the case may be”

3.. Section 19 of The Hindu Adoption And Maintenance Ac1956,  ,speaks of the obligation of the father-in-law to maintain his son’s widow, if she is unable to maintain herself out of her own earnings or other property or, where she has no property of her own, is unable to obtain maintenance from the estate of her husband or her parents or children

. Under Section.21(iii) of Hindu Adoption And Maintenance Act defines “widow” as a “dependent” so long as she does not remarry. If a dependent has not obtained any share in the deceased person’s property, then the legal heirs of the deceased are bound under section  22 to maintain the dependent. 

3. Under section 8 of The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 a widow is eligible to claim her share in the property of her deceased husband. 

4. Provision for maintenance of wife Is provided under The Code Criminal Procedure 1973.  Wife includes divorced wife, widow within the ambit of wife, as such, they are eligible for maintenance under the code  However, determining the amount of maintenance is one of the most important questions, which is most and itself leading to an ample number of problems The sum of amount is on the discretion of the court which many times creates a problem for the widow’s survival, even for the basic necessities.

However Under Section 23 of Hindu Adoption and Maintenace Act, various grounds for determination of maintenance are provided like, the background of dependents, relations with deceased, need and wants, present position, clauses in the will, valuation of the property, any debt, number of dependents, the, etc. 

Though things have changed a lot from the times when widows were asked to burn themselves, the orthodoxy is still finding it tough to recognize their right to share in the property and inheritance rights , though laws have been made still   are facing issues in their rights of property of her deceased husband  Hence there is a need for strong and specific laws are the requirement for securing the rights of widows.

A bill called ‘The Widows (Protection And Maintenance) Bill, 2015‘ was effected to give protection to Abandoned widows and Destitute Widows. It contemplated the establishment of the National Widow Welfare Board and Widow Welfare Fund. Unfortunately, the bill could not seek the light of the day and hence need for legislation in this regard is to date awaited. The lack of special laws in this regard is adding to the problems of widows

PREAMBLE OF THE WIDOWS (PROTECTION AND MAINTENANCE BILL) 2015 STATES

An to provide for the measures to be undertaken by the State for the protection and maintenance of neglected, abandoned and destitute widows by establishing a 

welfare board for such widows and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

Key Provision under the Bill

  1. Establishment of National Widows Welfare Board

It provides that the Central Government shall, by notification in the Official Gazette, establish a Board to be called the National Widows Welfare Board for the purposes of this Act.  The Board shall consist of a Chairperson, ex-officio, who shall be Minister in charge of the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment; a Vice-Chairperson preferably a widow to be appointed by the Central Government; three members of Parliament of whom two shall be from Lok Sabha and one from the Rajya Sabha to be nominated by the presiding officers of respective Houses; two officers not below the rank of Joint Secretary in the Union Ministry dealing with the administration of this Act to be appointed by the Central Government; not more than four members to be appointed by the Central Government in consultation with the Governments of States, by rotation in alphabetical order, to represent the Governments of the States; and  three members to be appointed by the Central Government from amongst the Non Government Organizations working for the welfare of widows. 

2. National Widows Welfare Board shall promote and provide, by such measures as it thinks fit, for the protection, maintenance, and welfare of neglected, abandoned and destitute widows and for their dependent children. 

3. The Board shall maintain district-wise register of widows with such particulars and in such manner as may be prescribed: collect and get verified the antecedents of every widow covered under this Act to assess her need for assistance in such manner as may be prescribed; and perform such other functions as may be assigned to it from time to time.


4. The National Widows Welfare Board shall provide to the abandoned or destitute widows, on an application prescribed for the purpose, the following facilities, subsistence allowance of rupees two thousand per month in case the widow is infirm and destitute or is having one or more dependent children or rupees one thousand per month in case she has no dependent child; residential accommodation free of cost wherever necessary;  free education including technical education to the dependent children of the widows gainful employment; vocational training wherever required and such other facilities as may be necessary and as may be prescribed.

5. Under Section 7 of the Proposed Bill, it stated for the right of widows in her husband property which was the most common problem faced by widows on large amplitude. It stated as follows Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force or in any custom, a widow,(i) shall not be evicted or thrown out of the house of the in-laws or parents, as the case may be, where such a widow was residing at the time of death of her husband, (ii) shall be entitled to inherit the property or the share of her late husband in case of joint ownership of the property from her in-laws  and (iii) shall be entitled to maintenance from the heir or in-laws who abandon a widow for subsistence.

CONCLUSION

Despite so many laws the system in India has not been so organized to improve the position of women in  India. Although widows today are not forced to die in ritual sati (burning themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre), they are still generally expected to mourn until the end of their lives. The estimated 40 million widows in the country go from being called “she” to “it” when they lose their husbands. They become “de-sexed” creatures. Clearly, it’s more than a problem of language, although that discrimination goes further, with epithets such as “husband eater” used against them. In the northern Indian state of Punjab, a widow is referred to as Randi, which means “prostitute” in Punjabi. In this region, they usually arrange for the widow to marry her deceased husband’s brother because being owned by a man is a way to avoid being raped. According to the Home Ministry’s National Crime Bureau of India, violence against women is the fastest growing crime. Every 34 minutes a woman is raped, and every 43 minutes a woman is kidnapped. Forty million widows continue to be deprived of their basic dignity as a kind of atonement for some sin. It’s the punishment for being a woman and a widow in India.  

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