Justice Markandey Katju-
India is passing through a transitional period in its history, the transition from feudal, agricultural to a modern, industrial society. In this transitional era, many young Indian women are facing some serious problems, which are mentioned here.
- It is natural for most young women to desire suitable husband and children. I do not say that women are just baby producing machines. In fact, women have excelled in almost every field–whether science, politics, art and literature, law, etc — whenever they got the opportunity. But having children is also what almost every woman wants, as that is part of a function of nature
To have children in our society a woman must normally get married, because having children outside marriage, though physically possible, is still strongly frowned upon in our conservative society. But in view of the massive unemployment in India (which in fact has increased, as the recent National Sample Survey Report admitted), which is due to our stagnant economy, young women are often not finding suitable husbands. And a woman will not normally marry an unemployed man.
Apart from unemployment, another problem in getting married is caste and religion. In our conservative society, parents and other family members usually strongly object to a girl who has fallen in love marrying someone outside their caste or religion, and sometimes even resort to ‘honor killing.’
I know of a large number of young women of the age of 30 or so who are desperate to get married (which they have themselves told me) as they fear they are getting on in years and may end up as old maids. This is often causing depression and other mental ailments in them, if not worse.
- In feudal India, child marriage was the normal custom. Boys and girls in their teens were usually married, to a partner selected by their parents. The husband and wife, both teenagers, grew up together and became friends, not just husband and wife. At that age one’s personality is flexible, so there was no problem of adjustment, and consequently no divorces.
Today, the situation in India has totally changed. Often a young man is 29-30 years old and the young woman is 27-28 when they get married. At that age their personalities, views, etc. have become rigid. There is no dating system as yet in India, as prevails in the Western countries, and the way one gets married is often this: the girl’s parents invite the boy and his parents to their house, where the boy and girl meet and talk. Later, they may meet a few times more, and then their parents ask them whether they are agreeable to get married. The marriage takes place if they agree.
However, problems often arise thereafter. Suddenly they realize they are living with a stranger, and since by that age their personalities are rigid, they may not be able to adjust. Often the husband, though formally educated, has still the feudal mindset, and regards his wife as his inferior who must obey his every command, something often not acceptable to the wife, who may be herself highly qualified.
I am not saying that every such marriage ends in divorce, but the fact is that our law courts are today flooded with divorce, maintenance and child custody cases, something extremely rare earlier (in fact before the enactment of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 divorce was not legally permitted among Hindus). Persons involved in such cases often become mental wrecks by the time the case is over (which may take a decade or more in our courts).
- Even after marriage often dowry demands are made, and the young wife is often harassed in several ways (sometimes even murdered, for which section 304B Indian Penal Code was enacted) if the demand is not acceded to by her parents. Section 498A Indian Penal Code and the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 were enacted to give protection to such women, but it is doubtful they have had much effect to ameliorate the evil (and experience has shown these are often misused, as the Supreme Court has observed).
- In feudal times women were only housewives. But today many women are working, and often face sexual harassment at the workplace from their male superiors or colleagues. To deal with this situation the Indian Supreme Court gave its well-known Vishakha judgment (Vishakha vs State of Rajasthan ) but it is doubtful it has had much effect, as some well-known recent episodes demonstrate.
I submit these problems are inherent in a transitional era since the old, feudal society has not been totally eradicated in India. It is only a revolution and creation of a modern society which will solve these problems, but that is a long way off. Regrettable though that may be, many of our young women must continue to suffer till then.
[Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own]