Recently the Union Cabinet accepted a proposal to grant an ex-wife a right in the future inheritance of her ex-husband. It is awaiting the nod of Parliament. The logic behind the controversial proposal befuddles me. Not even in the liberal laws of the West does a divorced woman have a right in the future inheritance of her ex-husband. Children from the marriage have rights and it is the same in India too.
Let us examine who it is going to benefit — not the marginalised section of society where abuse of women is rampant. There is hardly any protection for the women who work as maids and daily wagers. In this class of society, it is the woman who works hard while the husband squanders his money on drinks and gambling. They barely have a roof over their head, so there is nothing to inherit.
As per available statistics, 37% of the Indian population lives below the poverty line. The controversial proposal is going to affect mostly the middle class and the upper class. In this class, most of the women are educated and many have their own careers. Hence the reason for framing such a law is not clear. This class of women have the capacity to stand on their own feet.
An equal share in marital property acquired during the married life seems fair and equitable. It is a fact that in the educated class divorces are on the rise and I am afraid that the proposed law may create havoc in the family and society.
The proposed law does not even state for how many years the couple should have been married. The amount of compensation is also left to the discretion of the judge. In many cases, there may not be more than one piece of property to inherit. The law can be implemented easily only if the ex-husband is the only child of his parents. It will become highly complicated if there are siblings around. To make it more complicated, the proposed law states if the property cannot be sold, the ex-husband should compensate the woman with cash. How many people are cash-rich?
Let us look into a situation where a couple may get divorced in their 30s and the husband remarries. What happens to the rights of the second, legally wedded wife? It may be the second wife who has tended to her aged-in-laws. Again, what happens to the rights of the daughter of the family? It seems that the proposal has been framed on the surmise that most families are sitting on a pot of gold and it can be easily shared. In reality, it is not a fact. The problem is most associations dealing with women’s welfare are looking at issues only from one angle — daughter-in-law’s angle — forgetting that women are also mothers, mothers-in-law, sisters and daughters. Justice to one category of women cannot be at the expense of other categories.
Imagine the plight of an elderly widow if she has to fight lawsuits after the demise of her husband. Even a will may not solve the issue as unscrupulous women with the aid of unscrupulous lawyers may go to court. We are all aware how slow our judicial system works and one will be fortunate if cases get decided in one’s lifetime.
The ultimate beneficiaries may be only lawyers. The need of the hour is gender neutral laws so that the fabric of society will not be damaged.
(The writer’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org)