Women are playing the waiting game when it comes to getting divorced.
Between January and August this year, divorce cases in Mumbai fell by 23% compared to the corresponding period last year.
Women have directed their lawyers to slow down proceedings till the Marriages Law (Amendment) Bill is passed in the Lok Sabha in the winter session of Parliament. The bill proposes that a woman should get up to 50% share from her husband’s inheritance and properties.
According to the Bandra family court, there were 2,826 divorces in the first eight months of last year. The figure fell to 2,157 in the same period this year.
Divorce lawyer Mrunalini Deshmukh says a few of her female clients, especially those from affluent families, are adopting the wait-and-watch approach before rushing for a divorce. “They stand to gain a lot more from the husband’s property if the Bill in its current form becomes an Act,” she said. “You hurt the person where it hurts him the most, and money plays an important role.”
Shilpi Shamani, a divorce lawyer from Mumbai, said at least three of his female clients have requested him to go slow on the divorce process. “They want to see the fate of the Bill and act accordingly.”
The law says...
From 2009 to 2010, there was a 26.6% increase in divorces in the city. The numbers fell thereafter. There was a 14.9% decline in 2011 compared to 2010 and a further 4.5% drop in 2012 compared to 2011.
The trend coincides with a long drawn out debate on the Bill before it was passed by the Rajya Sabha on August 26. It’s scheduled to come up in the winter session of Lok Sabha.
The Bill has introduced a number of amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and the Special Marriage Act, 1954. The property clause in the Bill lays down that the husband stands a chance of losing up to 50% of his property to his wife. This includes his inherited and inheritable property, apart from what he has acquired after marriage.
Moreover, it allows divorce on grounds of irretrievable breakdown of marriage if the spouses have lived separately for three years. It will speed up the divorce process, thus avoiding years of litigation.
It also says that while the husband cannot oppose the divorce, the wife can, claiming financial hardships.
Men in a fix
Men seeking divorce are finding themselves in a fix. Goregaon resident Rajiv Aggarwal, 32, (name changed), who filed for divorce two months ago, is wishing he had done it earlier.
“I am stuck. The intimidation from my wife’s family was getting out of control, so I had to file for divorce. If the Bill is passed, men like me, who belong to the salaried class, will be doomed,” said Aggarwal, who separated from his wife barely a year after his marriage.
“There are several other laws to protect women in our country like section 498 (a) of the IPC which deals with dowry. It was slapped on me the day I filed the petition.”
Men’s rights groups have termed the Bill ‘biased’ and ‘anti-men’.
Activist Amit Deshpande said the Bill would hardly empower women as it is ‘wife-friendly’, not ‘women-friendly’. He says the Bill takes care of the wife but not the husband’s mother or sister.
“Divorces have slowed down, specially after talks of inclusion of the property clause in the Bill surfaced around December 2012.
So, if this Bill is cleared in the Lok Sabha in its current form, it could offer more returns for the same thing,” said Deshpande.
New Bill, new fears
Men like Deshpande fear that just like the anti-dowry law, the proposed law may be misused by women. Deshmukh, too, believes many women might misuse this Bill for financial gains.
However, women’s rights groups across the country have welcomed the Bill.
Also, experts believe there could be a massive jump in divorces once the Bill becomes an Act. According to a Save India Family Foundation survey, divorce cases increased in countries such as Australia and China after similar laws were passed.
Deshpande said, “India can face the same situation if this Bill is cleared. Only the payer (husband) wouldn’t know how much he will have to pay since prenuptial agreements are not legal in our country.”
Geeta Luthra, a divorce lawyer in Delhi, said she receives many queries about the Bill every day, both from men and women. She said there will be further amendments to the Bill, as it is “discriminatory to men” and also contradicts the Hindu Succession Act.
‘It’s not about property’
Ashima Das (name changed), an IT professional from Mumbai whose divorce case is pending in the Bandra family court, refuses to buy that the ‘property’ argument can be reason for divorce cases going down.
“It might matter to some, which is reflecting in the statistics. For me, it’s more important to get out of a bad marriage as soon as possible, instead of waiting for a Bill to turn into an Act,” she said.
Similarly, in Bangalore, getting out of a bad marriage supersedes the ‘property’ factor for most women, say lawyers.
Activists slam ‘one-sided’ Bill
Men’s rights groups have termed the Bill ‘biased’ and ‘anti-men’. Men’s rights activist Amit Deshpande said the Bill would hardly empower women as it is ‘wife-friendly’, not ‘women-friendly’. He says the Bill takes care of the wife, but not the mother or sister of the husband
Men fear that just like the anti-dowry law, the proposed law might also be misused by women. Lawyers, too, believe many women might misuse this Bill for financial gains.