About the Author-
Debarshi Khamrui is an assistant professor at Ashutosh College, Department of Political Science. He did BA Honours from Calcutta University in 2004. He completed post-graduation in Political Science, in 2006 and cleared UGC SLET Examination in 2007. He has been teaching for almost 14 years. He has written many articles which have been published in UGC journals and a few books. He has presented papers in international seminars. His area of interest is Public Administration, Indian Constitution, Legal Literacy, Comparative Politics, and Western Political Thought. Recently his book named Indian Political Landscape has published. He has a strong penchant for writing on numerous burning social issues.
Women’s Empowerment and its Consequences on Society
From the very beginning of human civilization, women’s position in society was relegated. They have been treated as second-class citizens in most countries. In the very beginning, they had no rights at all. In every culture, they were subjugated by men. No attention was paid to their physical, mental, and psychological well-being. They were forced to remain in the house and used to perform all household chores. They had no political and economic rights. During the Industrial Revolution, women were allowed to work in factories, and coal mines as chief women’s labor force were considered profitable. They were forced to perform arduous jobs for longer hours in exchange for a little wage, which adversely impacted their health. Even women with labor pain were forced to perform their work.
With the advancement of democracy, liberalism and the human rights condition of women improved. Democracy and liberalism provided a fillip for organizing the women’s movement. Different waves of the feminist movement in course of time slowly but steadily shattered the foundation of the absolute nature of patriarchy and the monopoly of male domination in society. During this time government and enlightened people talked about the empowerment of women by permitting certain fundamental rights for women. Women were encouraged to participate in the democratic decision-making process and economic activities. Through several legislative enactments, an attempt was made to ameliorate the condition of vulnerable sections of women and brought them at par with men. Nowadays most empowered women are observed working as bank managers, army officers, IAS officers, parliamentarians, Judges, and corporate bosses. At the same time quite contrastingly some of the empowered women are misusing provisions of laws with ulterior motives to harass husbands, colleagues, and even marginalized sections of women. This trend of misusing the provisions of laws meant for the empowerment of women has become a matter of serious concern and debate.
Keywords: Second Class Citizen, Subjugated, Industrial Revolution, Fillip, Empowerment, Legislative Enactment, Ameliorate.
Introduction: Since times immemorial women have suffered a lot at the hands of men in almost every country. They have been given second-class citizenship. In the beginning, their relentless suffering had escaped the attention of society as the society was dominated by the male-centric ethos and even now it is redolent and quite pervading in all societies and cultures. Women are considered the fulcrum of every family. Family life is incomplete without the positive role of female members in the family. But still, within the family, female members don’t have the same privileges and status as male members enjoy. Women have grown through a protracted struggle for securing some rights and privileges which they enjoy in the present time. For a long time, women were denied voting rights even in western countries. Politics was chiefly considered the domain of men who are capable of making rational decisions and women were considered emotional, and feeble when it comes to participation in politics. Women’s role was largely confined to nurturing and caregiving to their children while men had the responsibility for maintaining the family economically. At different stages of the evolution of society men used to take up the profession of hunting, cultivation, grazing of domestic animals, and trade. But women’s roles remained the same and confined to the production of children and their upbringing. Dominant ideas pervaded all society that women were weak and impuissant. They were considered not physically fit to take up hunting and other professions which were strenuous. Thus, they had no role in the economic field. Economically they remained at the mercy of male members of the family. This led to an accentuation of the gender gap and the basic rights of women remained on the verge of extinction. Suppression of the rights of women ensued only their agony and misery.
The Industrial Revolution brought new opportunities for women to enter the workforce to support the family. But there was a disparity in wages between men and women. Women were forced to work for a longer duration compared to men and they generally received scanty wages while most of the profits went to the coffers of managers. From 6 am to 7 pm they used to work at the factory and manufacturing industries in horrible conditions with just 30 minutes lunch break. Most of the time foods were covered in dust when given to them during lunch break which resulted in sickness and long-term health hazards. If they turned up a little late in the factory or broke a rule they could be strapped and sexually exploited. Women working class in the factory and coal mines had to go through several ordeals including horrendous working environment, long working hours, punishment, and sometimes slashes in salary. In course of time, they organized a movement against exploitation and long working hours in industrial sectors which forced the government enactment of labor laws in many western countries in the beginning and later in third world countries.
Gender bias and discrimination based on gender were major encumbrances to women’s empowerment. Gender bias persists in social, economic, political, and cultural domains in all societies and countries. Even within the family girls and boys are not provided with the same facilities. When it comes to the health and overall well-being of the children, girls are mostly neglected. Even it is observed that families belonging to middle-income groups are sending sons to prestigious English medium schools and colleges while daughters are educated at average non-English medium schools and colleges. They are not even safe in educational institutions. Often incidents of harassment in educational institutions by professors come to light for giving a grade. Some female students who pursue Ph.D. often complain about either implicit or explicit sexual advancement by their guides. Some choose to complain about this unwelcome gesture and advancement while some remain silent due to fear of inviting the wrath of their guides in a Ph.D. course. Incidents of molestation of girl students by peons and security staff often hit the headline in newspapers across the country.
Concept of Empowerment: Empowerment of women at the preliminary stage denotes making them capable of taking important decisions concerning their day-to-day life. Opportunity for education and carving out a niche in the employment sector, granting them political rights, involving them in the decision-making process, and ultimately empowering them economically and socially. The term empowerment of women has become popular in common parlance, especially after the 1980s. It refers to the process and policies adopted for strengthening the hands of women who have been suffering from various discriminations, disabilities, and gender discrimination. The term empowerment of women could be understood as the process of providing equal rights, opportunities, responsibilities, and power to women so that they shall be capable enough to play a role on par with men in society. Women are vulnerable sections of society and do not have significant space in a male-dominated society. Granting some privileges and rights shall go a long way in the empowerment of women. These are (i) acknowledgment of women’s rights, (ii) freedom to take decisions and make choices, (iii) access to education and employment, and (iv) opportunities for political participation.
An empowered woman shall understand her responsibility towards society. Women empowerment and achieving gender equality help society ensure the sustainable development of a country. Many believe that sustainable development is unimaginable without gender equality and women empowerment. Sustainable development places utmost importance on environmental protection and social and economic development including women’s empowerment. Here it is relevant to mention the positive role tribal women played in the protection and preservation of forests which is popularly known as the Chipko Movement. This movement emerged in the hill areas of the Himalayas and soon became very popular attracting national and international attention.
Every government across the world has acknowledged the concept of women’s empowerment and has adopted several measures to bolster women’s empowerment. Paramount importance is given to the welfare of female children encompassing social, psychological, cultural, and educational development. Greater political participation for women will empower them and, in this regard, 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments Acts are considered to be very significant and path breaking. Through 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments Acts, one-third of seats are reserved for women in both rural and urban bodies of local self-government. Special powers are accorded to women through these amendments. It is indeed a very positive step towards the empowerment of women. It is now expected that rural women who have been performing menial drudgery like farm labourers, working in the kiln industry, cleaning the utensils, cooking food, and serving the same shall now be able to wield and exercise some political power with their male counterparts. They shall have access to the decision-making process in managing the affairs of all tiers of local self-government. Since the election is the cornerstone of democracy and as being elected to local bodies of self-government voice of elected women shall have greater weightage in the democratic decision-making process and this way their self-esteem shall increase. Provisions of this Act for the women are revolutionary since they have been ousted decades after decades from the arena of local self-government which was mainly considered the domain of elected male candidates.
In managing the common affairs of village panchayat and institutions of urban government women have been performing their responsibilities quite satisfactorily. In Parliament, seats are also reserved for women. In a survey, it was found that women politicians are more conscious of intricate issues concerning policy formulation and execution of those policies into practice compared to their male counterparts. They are also more committed to their responsibilities in comparison to male politicians. But the status and extent of empowerment of women in all countries of the world are not the same. In advanced countries of the west women are empowered and several laws have been enacted by the government to make them empowered. Still, the condition of women in Islamic countries and Saudi Arabia is deplorable. The United Arab Emirates laws allow the man the use of limited physical means to discipline his errant wife and children. Child prostitution, the obnoxious custom of female infibulation, child marriage, the use of women for flesh trade, and forced to live in squalor to satisfy their customers in exchange for a small amount of money can put a question mark on the empowerment of women.
Today’s women mostly from urban areas are taking up top posts like bank managers, police officers, IAS officers, and judges. Some of the empowered women have secured top posts in the corporate sector. But as compared to the total population of women their representation in these sectors is still awfully dismal. While in their profession even top-ranking women in charge of important departments have to bear with lewd comments and unwelcome physical gestures and sexually colored remarks by male colleagues. Nights are very unsafe and unkind to working women. In 2018 while returning from the hospital a lady doctor in her mid-thirties was ravaged by a truck driver and helpers and she was set ablaze after this despicable crime. The entire country was shocked and shuddered by this medieval barbaric act. Shortly, the perpetrators were nabbed by the police officers and while they tried to flee from the police custody, they were killed by police officers in an encounter. At a certain quarter, the question was raised about the validity of this encounter and not keeping faith in the judiciary to try the case of the victim. In reply to this question and validity of encounter, it was argued by women groups that on most occasions culprits escaped from comeuppance by appointing a competent and skillful lawyer and by exploiting loopholes of law and defense of consent on the part of the victim in a trial of the case.
Women are still striving to achieve real empowerment in India and elsewhere. For securing their rights and achieving empowerment several women’s organizations have been formed like Mahila Mandal (Maharashtra), Sakhi Kendra (Kanpur), and Stree Adhar Kendra (Pune). Women organizations have been campaigning for the protection of their rights and the atrocities they face. They have been trying to bring various heinous crimes (dowry, wife-beating, forced prostitution, rape, acid attack) inflicted on them to the attention of policymakers, academics and bureaucrats, and the judiciary. Some radical women wings are vociferously working for banning pornographic films, obscene journals, obscene satire, and literary texts. They have been campaigning for equal rights for women in promotion and service security and a non-hostile work environment.
Given prayer, petition, and protests by a plethora of organizations devoted to the cause of women, the Government in India has launched several women empowerment schemes, such as Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme (save girls and educate girls), Women Helpline Scheme, UJJAWALA: A Comprehensive Scheme for Prevention of trafficking and Rescue, Rehabilitation and Re-integration of Victims of Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation, SWADHAR Gresh (A Scheme for Women in Difficult Circumstances), NIRBHAYA, Mahila Police Volunteers, Mahila Shakti Kendras (MKS).
For achieving the purpose of empowerment some special privileges have been given to women in the legal domain. To stop matrimonial offenses, the congress government enacted Hindu Marriage Act in 1955, and in 1983 introduced section 498 A in the Indian Penal Code to protect married women from dowry-related offenses that they often face in their matrimonial relationship. The government also enacted the principle of equal inheritance by sons and daughters regardless of whether the daughter was married or unwed. This was contradictory to the prevailing notion of the Hindu view of family where married daughters were considered as belonging to the family of their husbands, not to the family of their fathers. The entire country witnessed fierce religious opposition to the enactment of such laws for marriage, succession, and adoption. The Argument was raised at a certain quarter that Hindu Marriage cannot be subjected to legislative intervention. By the Hindu Succession Act of 1956, the Hindu woman’s limited estate is abolished. Any property possessed by a Hindu female is to be held by her as absolute property and she shall have full power to deal with it and dispose it of by will as she wishes. This act also enabled females’ ownership of all property acquired either before or after the signing of the act, abolishing their limited owner status. However, it was not until the 2005 Amendment that daughters were allowed equal receipt of property as sons.
Most married women in India face dowry harassment and are the victims of the socially entrenched custom of dowry. Dowry means any property or valuable security agreed to be given either directly or indirectly by one party to a marriage to the other party of the marriage. The practice of dowry is mainly prevalent in the Indian states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan although other Indian states are no exceptions and the largest number of dowry-related offenses are reported from these states. To curb the system of dowry and dowry-related offenses, the government enacted Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. In 1984 Indian Parliament amended the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961. After amendment offenses under the act have been made cognizable and a police officer can arrest an accused person for demanding dowry without a warrant from the Magistrate and police have the power of initiating criminal proceedings against the culprit.
Four sections under the IPC cover dowry-related offenses-first, cruelty on women by husband or any relatives of the husband under section 498 A of IPC. This section automatically gets activated if the husband or his family members subject the woman to cruelty or harassment. Secondly, dowry death in case the woman dies by burns or bodily injury in unnatural circumstance within seven years of marriage and before her death she was subjected to cruelty and harassment in connection with any demand for dowry then such death shall be considered as dowry death under section 304 B of the IPC and the accused husband and relative of the husband shall be liable to be punished. Thirdly, intentional death of woman-if a person intentionally causes a woman’s death that would be considered murder under section 302 of the IPC. Fourthly, abetment of suicide of woman-if the husband or any relative of the husband treats woman to such an extent that shall drive or compel her to commit suicide within seven years span of a nuptial bond the case would come under the ambit of section 306 of the IPC, that is abetment to suicide. Dowry death generally happens in the privacy of residential homes making it impossible to obtain cogent and direct evidence which is indispensable for the conviction of the culprits. To overcome this hurdle, Amendment Act, 43 of 1986 has inserted section 113 B in the Indian Evidence Act, to strengthen the prosecution’s hands by allowing a certain presumption to be raised if certain fundamental facts are established and the unfortunate incident of death has taken place within seven years of marriage.
Provisions are also available in the Code of Criminal Procedure for the maintenance of divorced wives and children born out of wedlock. Section 125 of the CrPC specifically laid down provision for interim maintenance of the wife and minor children during the pendency of the cases by her husband. All legal expenses which are borne by the wife during all stages of trials in divorce proceedings shall be taken care of by the husband as per the provisions of laws. It is interesting to note here that the maintenance clause under 125 of the CrPC is not only available to the wife, even indigent parents can invoke this provision of maintenance against their sons and daughters in case they have no source of income. The honorable Supreme Court has directed all lower courts to dispose of all maintenance cases within 60 days. The only exception which will not entitle the wife to claim maintenance is if it is found that the wife has withdrawn from the society of the husband without any reasonable cause and has been living in adultery.
Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act is available to both husband and wife and invocation of this provision can be initiated when either of the party to a marriage has left the other party without any valid reason and the court forces the errant party to resume a conjugal relationship. This provision of the Hindu Marriage Act has received flak from women groups espousing the cause of women’s rights. They have argued that very often greedy husbands after coercing the wives for dowry demands drive the women out of the house and when the women take recourse to section 125 of the CrPC for maintenance mischievous husbands file restitution of conjugal rights case as provided under section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act. In the restitution of conjugal rights case after several rounds of mediation between disputant husband and wife and counseling of both by the experts according to the directives of the court, the wife is asked to return to the unsafe matrimonial home where she is further subjected to ill-treatment, harassment, and torture. They have also argued that section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act is in contravention of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The court cannot force women to go back to such a matrimonial home where there is no guarantee of life, liberty, and safety.
Gross violation of woman’s rights is accentuated by section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act. If any woman is not willing to return to her matrimonial home even after several rounds of mediation and counseling the Judge sometimes passes a decree in the restitution of conjugal rights cases in favor of the husband asking the wife to resume a conjugal relationship with the husband. If the wife does not return within one year or more the husband files an execution case of the said decree. Then it automatically becomes a ground for divorce and the husband gets the decrees of divorce without providing alimony to the wife as she is not complying with the decrees in the restitution of conjugal right cases which was earlier passed in favor of the husband. Even the court can proceed to attachment of property of the woman for not complying with the order in the restitution of conjugal right case which was passed in favor of the aggrieved husband. The Provision of attachment of property by the court stands in sharp contrast to women’s rights. So, the judiciary nowadays seriously contemplating doing away with the attachment of property clause and scrapping section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act.
In 2005 government passed the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) with due regard to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against women. PWDVA is a pathbreaking step to secure the all-round empowerment of women. Domestic violence constitutes any gender-based violence acts that result in, or are likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women. The violent acts include threats of such actions as well as coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty. These acts may happen either in public or in private life. Such violence might ensue within the family and includes battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation, and other traditional practices harmful to women and their modesty. The General community or society is engulfed by the spate of such violence which may include ravaging of women, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at the workplace, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women, forced prostitution, and exploitation of women by the pimp in a brothel to satisfy the brute perverse instincts and urges of customers.
Domestic violence is deeply rooted in our society for a long time. In India, it was recognized as a human rights issue in the mid-1980s on account of the growing number of dowry deaths. This culminated in the incorporation of 498-A for cruelty against women in the Indian Penal Code. PWDVA recognizes how domestic violence inhibits women at multiple levels and provides various support services to women to help deal with adverse situations. PWDVA provides mandatory assistance from medical facilities and shelter homes, provision for legal aid, and counseling under the direction of the court. This act allows Magistrate to order or grant monetary relief and monthly payments of maintenance. PWDVA provides that the Magistrate may at any stage of the trial of the case, direct either one or both the parties to the suit to undertake counseling with any member of the service providers who hold the required qualification and experience of counseling. Women activist groups are critical and have raised serious concerns about the counseling provision of the act as it is often observed as a tool for preserving the strained marriage and placing women back in the violent situation.
In the operation of laws for the protection of women, there is a legal vacuum that most of the time is exploited by the perpetrators. It has been observed that culprits by engaging a very competent lawyer and by exploiting legal loopholes get themselves exculpated from the charges of committing heinous crimes. In rape cases, defendants’ lawyers often enter the ground of defense of consent on the part of the victims. Browbeating by the defendants’ lawyers and putting a sensitive tricky question to the woman in the trial of rape cases amounts to outraging her modesty further and this forces the woman to alter her statement given in the original petition and even tamper with the evidence by subterfuge makes the case of rape victim weak. Moreover, under the common law system of our country, the accused person is presumed to be innocent unless his guilt is proved beyond a reasonable doubt. In the common law system, the burden of proof is on the prosecution and the degree of proof required in a criminal trial is beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the principal reason that an accused person often goes scot-free in criminal cases including rape cases.
Consequences of Empowerment: Empowerment has led to the execution of dominating will by advanced sections of women in matrimonial relationships with husbands and other family members of the husband. Socially, educationally and economically backward sections of women are often verbally abused and exploited by advanced sections of empowered women either in office or when such backward women work as domestic help. In the modeling and glamour industry, less attractive women often have to bear adverse comments about skin complexion by drop-dead gorgeous women. Some of the empowered women throw racist jibes at women belonging to backward castes and having a scanty source of income.
Incidents of misusing various provisions of laws have been reported. In matrimonial relationships, if any dispute crops up over trifling issues with the husband less tolerant impulsive women file 498 A cases against husbands and relatives of husbands. This results in the automatic arrest of husbands and family members of husbands including mother-in-law, and sister-in-law. They languish in prison until the case is disposed of. Due to the arrest of the husband, he is suspended from his job, and even in some cases, the husband loses his job as a criminal case is instituted and he is arrested. As a result, the husband and his family members go through agony and emotional turbulence. During the trial of the case, the husband and his family members face an ordeal. The case goes on for several years and ultimately at the time of final disposal of the case, it is observed that the complaint was lodged on frivolous grounds. Section 498 A of the IPC has been considered a draconian provision on account of its large-scale misuse by some disgruntled sections of women.
National Crime Record Bureau (NCBR) published a report stating an alarming trend of suicide among married men for misusing section 498 A of the IPC by women with mischievous motives. In a reality 498 (A) case is lodged against the mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and along with husband. As a result, women are suffering at the hands of women. It has also been established in court cases that after marriage women on the pretext of not adjusting in matrimonial homes repeatedly persuaded their husbands to leave the house and settle down in their in-law’s house. When her husband objected to this proposal, she left the matrimonial home of her own volition, and later she filed a dowry harassment case, 498 A case, maintenance case under 125 of the CrPC, and also filed cases under section 377 of the IPC (unnatural carnal intercourse against the order of the nature). Sometimes false rape cases are also being filed against 85 years old fathers-in-law and 12 years old brothers-in-law. As a result, the image of the husband is tarnished in the eyes of society and he has no option other than fighting such false cases. Before the proceeding starts in the case the judges pass a maintenance order in favor of the woman and the husband has to bear all legal expenses of the wife.
Another area of misusing the legal provision is filing false domestic violence cases against the husband and his family members. According to the provision of law separate shelter is to be arranged for women by their husbands. Sometimes it has been observed that women staying in the same house fight domestic violence case against husbands and other family members. After counseling women according to the directives of the court it was found that they filed such cases against husbands on frivolous grounds and out of rage. Most of the domestic violence cases are filed against the mother-in-law, and sister-in-law while brothers-in-law are sometimes spared. This is another example of the subjugation of women by women. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (POSH Act) has turned out to be a very powerful weapon in the hands of greedy sections of women. Because of sexual harassment, the Supreme Court of India passed Vishaka guidelines to curb sexual harassment in the workplace. Growing numbers of misuse of the POSH Act are also being noticed. Some of the models in the glamour industry are misusing POSH Act against film producers and extorting money. Many women have misused the provision of this act against male colleagues and corporate bosses out of a grudge.
In society, a new trend is the misuse of the provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POSCO) by women in case of a land dispute with neighbors. Complaints of sexual abuse of a minor child by a father have often reached the court under POSCO Act. In a particular case, the Calcutta High court quashed charges framed under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act against a man from West Bengal who was sentenced to four years in jail for pulling the scarf of a class 12 student proposing marriage. The High court in the trial of the said case noticed apparent discrepancies in the statements made by the victim and her mother and uncle who complained. There were discrepancies in the date and time of the alleged crime as per the statement of the minor, the eyewitness was not examined and all other prosecution witnesses were found to be of little relevance. While pronouncing judgment it is stressed that in a criminal trial, the date of occurrence, time of occurrence, and place of occurrence are the most vital pieces of evidence. If there is any deviation from the above-mentioned three facts, the entire case remains doubtful.
Section 406 of the IPC dealing with criminal breach of trust has also become a powerful weapon in the hands of cantankerous women who with fraudulent intent claim recovery of stridhan (women’s estate or property) from their husbands in case of matrimonial dispute and harass husbands and family members. Sometimes fabricated lists of items are sent to the husband’s family as part of the process of recovery of stridhan and thus they directly or indirectly extort money from their husbands.
Concluding Observation: From the above discussion, it is quite evident that women have been subjected to several discrimination in almost all domains of life through the ages. Protracted struggle and feminist movement by the enlightened women have led to the empowerment and emancipation of women. Their hard-earned empowerment is welcome. But today modernized women somehow lack patience and tolerance when it comes to matrimonial relationships. Previously women were competent enough to manage both domestic affairs and their independent business and salaried profession. Some sections of modernized women are breaking up with their husbands on trivial matters. An awful dismal picture of today’s society in urban areas is that empowered women are misusing provisions of laws for ill motives. As a result, husbands are suffering tremendously.
Even judges of the court are quite aware of the misuse of the provisions of laws enacted for the empowerment of women. Most of the 498 A cases are filed on frivolous grounds to harass the husband and his family members. Due to large-scale misuse of this provision honorable Supreme Court of India issued a guideline to the police officers before making an arrest. Previously there was no provision for a preliminary inquiry in 498 A cases and once the case was filed by the wife against the husband and his family members, they were automatically arrested by the police officers without entering into preliminary inquiry before arrest. Now if any such case is lodged with the police an Investigating Officer (IO) shall come to the spot and enquire. In civil society, a movement is organized by men’s working groups for the scrapping of some of the provisions in laws that have led to large-scale misuse. Even National Commission on Women (NCW), NGOs, Human Rights Commission, and judges have admitted misuse of some of the provisions of laws by mischievous sections of women. As a result, in court cases, genuine cases filed by victimized women are viewed with grave suspicion and usually, such women do not get justice. If this trend continues empowerment shall receive backlash and soon be out of track and victimized sections of women shall suffer.