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Rights of Married Women in India

 Today, in a world that is increasingly becoming more well-connected and informed, women seem to be left behind as they are often denied the same access and privilege of information that men have. As a consequence, many women are trapped in situations wherein knowing their legal rights would aid them to overcome their difficulties. Hence, all women, especially married women, must know the rights that they have to prevent their own exploitation.

First and foremost, a wife has the legal right to live in the matrimonial house, even after the husband dies. Even if the house is not owned by the husband, belongs to his parents, or is a rented apartment. In case of separation, she can stay at the marital house until an alternative is arranged for her or she goes to her parental house. There isn’t any directive in the Hindu Marriage Act (HMA), 1955 that a married woman cannot stay at her parental house. She can lawfully stay, if and when she wants to.

Secondly, according to the 2005 amendment of the Hindu Succession Act (HSA) 1956: a daughter, whether married or not, has equal rights to inherit her father’s property as her brother. A woman has equal legal rights to inherit her husband’s property as other heirs. She can inherit it only if the husband hasn’t prepared a will or hasn’t excluded her from the will. If a husband remarries without dissolving the first marriage, the rights to the property belong to the first wife.

Thirdly, a woman can report domestic violence under the Protection of Women Under Domestic Violence Act (D.V. Act), 2005. This act criminalises physical, emotional, sexual, economical and other forms of ill-treatment. She can claim protection, maintenance, custody, compensation and continue to live in the same house.

Fourth, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 gives a woman full autonomy to abort a child without the permission of the husband. The upper limit of getting a child aborted has been raised to 24 weeks.

Fifth, Section 13 of HMA 1955 gives women the legal rights to file for a divorce without the consent of the husband. The divorce can be filed on the grounds of adultery, cruelty, desertion, thrown out of marital home, mental disorder etc. Section 13B of the Act allows divorce by mutual consent.

Sixth, Section 125 of IPC gives a married woman the legal right to seek maintenance from her husband for a lifetime. If the marriage fails, the HMA of 1955 provides women with the legal rights 
to claim maintenance of herself and her children from the husband during (interim maintenance) and after divorce (permanent maintenance). The amount of maintenance doesn’t include Stree Dhan and is set up by the court on the basis of the husband’s financial and living status (includes up to 25 percent of it).

Seventh, Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 prohibits the dowry system. A woman can report against her parental family or the in-laws for exchanging dowry. Any case of cruelty she faces from her in-laws on account of dowry can be reported under Section 304B and 498A of IPC that criminalises dowry harassment. The Section criminalises the dowry harassment of the bride in the form of cruelty, domestic violence (physical, emotional or sexual harassment), abetment to suicide and dowry death. Marital rape hasn’t been criminalised in India yet, but forced sex can be reported under the Domestic Violence Act and Dowry Harassment.

Lastly, The Guardian and Wards Act of 1890 gives equal custodial rights and duties to both the parents. However, if the child is below five years of age, the mother has superior rights. A woman has the right to take the child along with her while leaving the marital house without any court order. A woman can claim the custody of her children after divorce or separation, regardless of whether she is employed or unemployed. She can always claim maintenance from her husband.

Hence, the law provides more than adequate grounds for women to claim their dignity and be independent in the true sense. It is now society's job to help them be aware and cognizant of these rights so they can be exercised.

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