NEW DELHI – Indian women’s groups applauded Friday cabinet approval of amendments to a bill that would for the first time grant women a clearly-defined share of their husband’s property after divorce.
The new Marriage Bill will, if passed by parliament, ensure a woman’s right to a 50 percent share of the residential property owned by her husband, whether it was acquired before or after their marriage.
Activists said the amendments green-lighted by the cabinet on Thursday threw an important legal lifeline to women who too often find themselves homeless and with no income source after a divorce.
“The government’s decision is a giant leap in the right direction. It will secure every woman’s future,” said Ranjana Kumari who heads an advocacy group called Women Power Connect.
Existing law recognises a divorced women’s right to a property share, but the size of the share is not defined and, when disputed, is left to the discretion of the court along with the alimony payment.
“The changes in the divorce law are pragmatic,” said Pinky Anand, a lawyer and an expert on family law in the Supreme Court.
“It also gives recognition to a wife’s contribution in the household. She will never be on the street with no money after her divorce.”
Another amendment approved by the cabinet on Thursday stipulates that a statutory six-month “cooling off period” for couples seeking a divorce can only be waived with the agreement of both parties.
Currently, either party is able to seek a waiver without consent of the other.
There is no immediate timeframe for when the amended bill will go before parliament.
India, where marriage is still viewed as the bedrock of society, has traditionally had one of the world’s lowest divorce rates, with only about one in 100 marriages failing.
But the rate is rising, particularly in big cities, in line with the greater empowerment and increasing financial independence of women in urban India through better education and employment.