From the Right to Residence, to the Right to a Committed Relationship, here are six rights wives in India are entitled to.
“Once married, a woman should only leave her in-laws’ house when she is taken for her final rites.” This cliched line is often used in daily soaps and movies to denote the unwavering loyalty and devotion an Indian woman is expected to show her husband and her in-laws.
While it might be tempting to dismiss this as mere melodrama, restricted only to our TV screens, the truth is far more chilling.
Countless women across the country live by these words, suffering abuse and trauma at the hands of their husband and in-laws.
Jyotsna (name changed) was one such woman. In the winter of 2003, she tied the knot with a man her parents had chosen for her; a man from whom she had high hopes and dreams for her future.
They had a pleasant honeymoon, complete with romantic dinners and even a cruise. While her husband kept to himself and was reserved, Jyotsna chalked it down to the newness of the relationship. She believed that although it would take time, the two would grow to love and respect one another, maybe even come to think of each other as soul mates, someday.
After the honeymoon, the duo returned home and got back to the daily grind of their jobs. Jyotsna would eagerly look forward to spend time with her husband in the evenings, but he would often come in late, staying up long enough to eat dinner, before retiring for the night.
Jyotsna even planned outings with friends and relatives, in the hopes of getting her husband out of the house. But her husband would often decline, citing work problems. Plans of the obligatory post-wedding dinners with relatives too, never materialised.
The real problems, however, started a year later, when Jyotsna gave birth to a baby girl. Both her husband and her father-in-law made their disappointment known. Her husband refused to even hold his daughter, much less take care of her.
Jyotsna was constantly reminded of the “worthless expenses” that her husband would have to incur in raising a girl. He even told her that securing the little girl’s future was her look-out.
Things took a turn for the worse when Jyotsna learnt about her husband’s extra-marital affairs. It was when she confronted him about it that the verbal and physical abuse began.
Jyotsna never breathed a word of this to her parents and even avoided visitng them, afraid that she might break down and tell them about her troubles.
Jyotsna began to devote all her energy to raising her daughter. Her life revolved around her daughter and soon, her husband gave up all pretense of a happy marriage. The duo stopped going out together, with her husband even refusing to take her to office parties and family functions.
Jyotsna lived this life in limbo, with a scarred body and a broken heart for more than 12 years. When her only support in the house, her mother-in-law, passed away, Jyotsna decided to go home.
On returning from her parent’s home, she was greeted with a locked door. Her husband informed her that they were out of town and that she should carry on living with her parent’s since their marriage was a sham anyway.
The incident left Jyotsna shaken. Her parent’s came to her rescue, offering her unconditional love and support while she struggled to get her life on track. She is currently fighting her in-laws in court for the rights she never asked for.
Jyotsna is one of the many women in India who was unaware of her rights as a wife in this country.
While much is said about the responsibilities that marriage brings, we are often silent about the rights that the law allows us.
“As a matter of routine, every woman should be apprised of the fact that, as per law, they are entitled to all articles, movable or immovable received during their marriage and can even claim maintenance. Though they may have family support or may be in immense emotional trauma, they should step forward to seek maintenance for themselves and for their child from the court. It is important for them to keep themselves apprised about the finances of their husband, including details like tax-payments, bank accounts and monthly bills,” says Advocate Sudershani Ray, a renowned matrimonial lawyer in Delhi.
The constitution has provided many rights to married women. Some of the key rights are:
1. Right to Streedhan – A wife has ownership rights to all her streedhan, that is the gifts and money given to her before and after marriage. The ownership rights to streedhan belong to the wife, even if it is placed in the custody of her husband or her in-laws.
2. Right to residence – A wife has the right to reside in the matrimonial household where her husband resides, irrespective of whether it is an ancestral house, a joint family house, a self-acquired house or a rented house.
3. Right to a committed relationship – A Hindu husband cannot have an affair or marry another girl unless he is legally divorced. A husband can be charged of adultery if he is in a relationship with another married woman. His wife also has the right to file for divorce on the grounds of his extra-marital relationship.
4. Right to live with dignity & self respect – A wife has the right to live her life with dignity and to have the same lifestyle that her husbands and in-laws have. She also has the right to be free of mental and physical torture.
5. Right to maintenance by husband – A wife is entitled to claim decent living standards & basic comforts of life by her husband as per his living standards.
6. Right to child maintenance – Husband and wife must provide for their minor child. If the wife is incapable of earning a living, the husband must provide financial support. If both the parents are financially incapable, then they can seek help from the grandparents to maintain the child. A minor child also has the right to seek partition in ancestral property.
“Most women who seek to escape a failed marriage are afraid to take legal action. Only when the situation becomes unbearable do they act; many just give up and go back to their parents. To ensure comfort and trust, most women prefer to consult female lawyers for matrimonial issues,” shares Rohan Mahajan, Founder of the legal advice platform, LawRato.com.
It is better to be aware of your rights and responsibilities from the beginning, rather than regret not doing so. After all, the life you have been gifted is meant to be lived to the fullest, not to be suffered through in silence.