The status of Indian women has undergone considerable change. Though Indian women are far more independent and aware of their legal rights, such as right to work, equal treatment, property and maintenance, a majority of women remain unaware of these rights. There are other factors that affect their quality of life such as age of marriage, extent of literacy, role in the family and so on. In many families, women do not have a voice in anything while in several families; the women may have a dominating role. The result is that the empowerment of women in India is highly unbalanced and with huge gaps. Those who are economically independent and literate live the kind of life that other women tend to envy about. This disparity is also a cause for worry because balanced development is not taking place.
Discrimination at Workplace
However, Indian women still face blatant discrimination at their workplaces. A major problem faced by the working women is sexual harassment at the work place. Further, women employees working in night shift are more vulnerable to such incidents. Nurses, for example, face this problem nearly every day. There is nothing that is done in hospitals to tackle and address the danger they face. Such blatant disregard of current Indian laws is one reason why sexual harassment at the workplace continues to increase.
Also, Indian women are often deprived of promotions and growth opportunities at work places but this doesn’t apply to all working women. A majority of working women continue to be denied their right to equal pay, under the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 and are underpaid in comparison to their male colleagues. This is usually the case in factories and labor-oriented industries.
Safety of Working Women While Traveling
Typically, the orthodox mindset in the Indian society makes it difficult for a working woman to balance her domestic environment with the professional life. In some families, it may not be acceptable to work after six o’clock. Those families that do accept these working hours may experience considerable anxiety every day about a woman’s safety while traveling. So many issues affect a working woman because she is closely protected or watched by her family and the society.
According to survey conducted by ASSOCHAM, on 1000 women professionals, around 80 per cent of the households expect their daughters-in-law to prioritize household requirements over the official work. Further, many of them are physically and psychologically abused, by their in-laws and husband but they do not complain or let others know about it, particularly if they have children.
Working Women Can Claim Maintenance
A woman’s legal right to claim maintenance from her husband is recognized under section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Section 24, of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, entitles a woman to claim maintenance from her estranged husband. Also, the claim for maintenance is extendable to her minor children. Further, these laws provide that maintenance can be claimed even prior to divorce, during separation.
Initially, it was believed that a working woman in India is not entitled to claim maintenance, as she is capable of maintaining herself. However, the ambiguity was cleared by a significant decision in Bhagwan v. Kamla Devi, (1975) 2 SCC 386. The Supreme Court held that a working woman can claim maintenance from her estranged husband, if her monthly income is not enough for her maintenance. Further, the Court clarified that the term ‘Unable to maintain herself’ does not require a woman to be absolute destitute, to entitle her for maintenance.
The legal right of a woman pertaining to equal pay at the work place remains unaddressed most of the time because few women are confident enough to complain. About right to maintenance, it is restricted, if she remarries or converts to another religion. Further, there have been instances where the Court has ordered women with substantial earnings, to pay maintenance to their husbands.