Human Rights of Women: National and International Perspectives

By Rebecca J. Cook | Go to book overview

Chapter 16
Obstacles to Women's Rights in India

Kirti Singh


Introduction

While the Constitution of India adopted in November 1949 contains articles mandating equality and nondiscrimination on the grounds of sex, several laws that clearly violate these principles continue to exist, especially in the area of personal laws or family laws. Most of these laws, which contain provisions that are highly discriminatory against women, have either remained static or have changed in retrogressive ways.1

The Indian state has, however, made no effort to change these laws or introduce new legislation in conformity with Constitutional principles. In fact, the Indian government seems to have chosen to ignore these principles completely and acts as if they did not exist.

The only personal laws in India that have been reformed to some extent have been the Hindu personal laws. Personal laws have been retained for reasons of political expediency and electoral gain and to deny equality to women.2 The only justification put forth by the state, however, has been that it does not want to interfere in the personal matters of a minority community. In fact, while signing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (the Women's Convention) on 30 July 1980, the Indian government made a unilateral declaration that "with regard to Articles 5(a) and 16(1)... the Government of India declares that it shall abide by...these provisions in conformity with its policy of non-interference in the personal affairs of any community without its initiative and consent."3 But the government ratified the Women's Convention on 9 July 1993 without reservations and is therefore obligated to implement the entire Convention.

While some reforms have been introduced in the criminal laws,

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