Bill weathers‘anti-men’ cry

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By SOBHANA K.
  • Published 27.08.13
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New Delhi, Aug. 26: The Rajya Sabha today passed amendments to the divorce law but not before several male members dubbed them anti-men and an assault on “human rights”.

The Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha in the last session, promises women a larger share of their husband’s property during divorce. (See chart)

Trinamul Congress member Derek O’Brien led the charge, asking: “Why empower women at the expense of men?”

He argued the bill should be made gender-neutral, giving men the same rights as women. Replace the words “wife” and “husband” in the bill with “spouse”, O’Brien said.

Samajwadi Party member Arvind Kumar Singh claimed the bill could be misused like the anti-dowry law.

“If you read this bill, it seems that husbands alone are responsible for divorce. This law is being made to enslave men. One party should not get disproportionately high benefits while the other stands to lose all,” Singh said.

While many women MPs protested against this logic, Vandana Chavan of the Nationalist Congress Party stood on the men’s side.

“There are many women who may be earning the same as their husbands or sometimes even more. We have to fight not just for women’s rights but for human rights. Why make the current generation of men suffer?” Chavan said.

Many members wanted know how unemployed husbands fared in the bill.

“If the husband has no property, does he have a right over the (wife’s) property in case of a divorce?” asked Bahujan Samaj Party member Narender Kumar Kashyap.

Bharat Kumar Raut of the Shiv Sena said the bill would bring family pressure on women not to get a divorce. “Families will think that despite couples having differences, it would be better to stay together to avoid a division of the property,” Raut said.

DMK member Kanimozhi defended the bill stoutly.

“That women will misuse the bill and use it (to seek) revenge against their husbands and mothers-in-law seems to be the dominant thought here. When we have 50 per cent women in this House, we will talk about making such bills gender-neutral,” she said.

BJP members, however, ignored the issue as they pressed their long-standing demand for a uniform civil code. Party member Najma Heputallah accused the government of ignoring the plight of the country’s Muslim women.

Law minister Kapil Sibal said the bill was obviously pro-women and would send a clear message that Parliament was on the women’s side.

“Women’s rights have to be protected. We are in a patriarchal society. Around the world, while women constitute 50 per cent of the population, they own only 2 per cent of global assets,” Sibal said.

Addressing members’ concern about unemployed husbands, Sibal said men were entitled to alimony “under Section 25 of the Hindu Marriage Act”. The bill was cleared as presented by the government.

The Rajya Sabha later discussed the Mumbai gang rape, with junior home minister R.P.N. Singh making a statement.