Women's Issues

by Flavia Agnes

Summary from the Program

Women's Rights in India are not only constrained by a set of patriarchal norms but are also moulded by several social, economic and political currents. While the colonial state did try to liberate Indian women from certain barbaric customs like sati, female infanticide, etc., its anti-women biases present in the Roman Law and the English common law crept into India through the Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence and subverted the traditional legal systems which provided women with a certain measure of economic security.

The constitution of Independent India tried to restructure the feudal family laws to suit the needs of women within a modern democracy. But in the newly independent India, it was important to assure the minorities of their right to a cultural identity, to ensure political stability and hence personal laws were allowed to continue in the case of the minorities while family law reforms were confined to the majority community.

In India the rights discourse is over written with other complexities. Located within an adversarial, dilatory, formidable and expensive court structure, even the limited rights granted by the statutes have become illusory and beyond the reach of most women. In the clamour for reforms, the impact of existing legal provisions upon individual women at a micro level or on the broad category of women at a macro level has not been adequately assessed. The adversarial system modelled on the notion of formal equality has become ineffective. Unless the statutory measures are re-located within informal, inexpensive and easily accessible legal systems which are governed by an interventionist approach, the most ideal and gender just statutes will, in effect, be redundant.

by giles