Deepika Arwind

Designed to document the gamut of rights women are denied after separation or divorce

Questionnaire is exhaustive and sample size 500

BANGALORE: Women who are divorced or separated from their husbands constitute a growing segment in the country, one that cuts across all classes, regions and religions. As a category they are particularly vulnerable, since there are few laws that protect their rights after they leave their marital homes.

The New Delhi-based Economic Research Foundation and Women’s Legal Forum have undertaken a survey to assess the economic status of divorced and/or separated women in order to formulate marital laws that are gender-just and address their specific problems.

Not paid regularly

“The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, grants maintenance to the spouse, which is often neither enough nor paid regularly. The Domestic Violence Act, 2005 gives the woman the right to residence, but not the right to ownership of immovable property,” says Kirti Singh, lead researcher of the survey and Supreme Court advocate. “More often than not, the immovable property is bought in the husband’s name,” she adds.

The survey has been designed to document the gamut of rights that women are denied after separation or divorce and the rights and entitlements that the State gives them at present in the form of pensions or schemes.

The questionnaire is exhaustive and contains about 60 questions that will be canvassed in different cities in India. “Our sample size is a total of 500 women,” says Ms. Singh.

The survey, which began in April 2008, will be complete in a few months’ time, and based on its findings a report on the economic status of divorced/separated women and the deficiency in existing marital laws will be prepared.

“About 60 per cent of these women are from poorer sections,” says Ms. Singh. The team of researchers has contacted women’s commissions, family lawyers, family courts and women’s organisations in different cities to conduct the survey.

An important issue that the survey will collect data on is the number of working hours women put in during the period of marriage. This is often not accounted for by family courts while dividing marital assets after divorce.

‘Triple burden’

Women often beat a “triple burden,” Ms. Singh explains. “She performs household work, with different sorts of care-giving activities like looking after children or the elderly, and she often also works outside the home.”

She adds that many women also sacrifice the opportunities to earn because they must stay at home. These are issues that existing marital laws do not take into consideration.

According to Ms. Singh, divorced and separated women are also largely invisible, because there is no data that reflects their condition. “With this survey, hopefully, the census will account for them as a separate category,” she says.