25 Feb 2008

Gender Equality and 204th Report of Law Commission of India

Gender Equality and Indian laws are a diagonally opposite paradigm. Right from the archaic code of criminal laws (namely the Indian Penal Code of 1860) to the newly enacted Domestic Violence Act, all of these have been sharply criticized as suffering from enormously high gender bias, all inclined towards bestowing rights on the fairer sex at the expanse of the male fraternity. I do not wish to speak much on how much the laws in India are inclined (if not biased) towards the egalitarian (if not superior) positioning of females, for it has already been spoken a lot and commented upon from all quarters of Indian society both from amidst the intellectual fraternity as well as the common folk.

Instead my task today is to bring forth the highly daunting task that the Law Commission of India has proposed for it and come out with a report thereon, dealing with the issues of Gender Bias for the first time from a legal-policy-perspective basis and come out with a strong case in favour of gender equal laws. Yes, I refer to the 204th Report of the Law Commission entitled "Proposal to amend the Hindu Succession Act, 1955", issued in this month itself. In the opening paragraph, the Commission itself acknowledges "inspite of the constitutional mandate for gender equality, gender bias and discrimination continue to be prevalent in the Indian society in one form or another. Though there are distinct signs of gradual reduction of inequalities on the basis of sex, yet these could not be eliminated altogether. There is no denying the fact that the fight against gender inequalities has to be pursued with sustained rigours on a long term basis until the ultimate goal of gender justice is attained." Really high speaking words but yet the action on them is to be awaited.

On these lines, the Law Commission has on its own taken a stock of the discrepancies in the earlier recommendation for reform (referring to the 174th Report on the basis of which the Hindu Succession Act was amended in 2005). Acknowledging the mistakes, the Commission has come out with further proposals for amendment of the Act such that the males can also get a fair share in the distribution of the property in cases of intestate succession. While the recommendations are technical and may not be understood by the reader lacking a background in the succession rules, nonetheless on a broader perspective, it would be clear that the Commission seeks to set rules of fair play and gender equality with a pragmatic dimension in the existing rules.

I am not going to comment upon the individual recommendations made for that would require myself to brush-up with the minutes. Nonetheless for a curious reader I do have something to offer. This is something I worked on during law school; an analysis of the the rules of intestate succession in Hindus, the paper on which I have posted on SSRN. [click here for the SSRN article on intestate succession rules] There I have sought to enumerate the basic provisions and how they work, something which will enable the reader to understand and place the 204th Report of the Law Commission in proper perspective. [click here for the full text of the 204th Report]

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