A father must maintain (take up all expenses and needs for) an unmarried Hindu daughter till she is married says Supreme Court in a new ruling. To claim maintenance the daughter must prove that she is unable to maintain herself.

Supreme Court bench consisting of Justice  of India in the case of Ashok Bhushan, R Subhas Reddy and M R Shah held that a Hindu unmarried daughter must be maintained by her father till she is unmarried. The claim for maintenance will be considered by the Court only if it is filed under Section 20(3) of Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 (HAMA). This was the decision of the Apex court in the case of Abhilasha vs Prakash & Others decided on the Tuesday of 15th September 2020.

Also Read: Rehana Fathima And Her Struggle Against Gender Stereotypes

Why Do Women Need to be Maintained?

In a world that is deeply patriarchal, women often find themselves deprived of opportunities and out of employment. In systems where men hold positions of power and have historically controlled financial resources maintaining women is correcting an ongoing historical injustice. For Hindu women the provisions of HAMA, 1956 apply and it explicitly states that fathers are legally obligated to maintain daughters till they are married, if they are unable to maintain themselves.

Another provision that provides for maintenance of women is Section 125 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC). This is a secular law i.e women of all religions can claim maintenance under this statute. The Supreme Court ruled in this instant case that only women who are suffering from physical and/or mental abnormality and/or injury can claim for maintenance from their fathers under this law. Hence, to claim for benefits of maintenance from father under Section 125 of CrPC these grounds must be met:

  • The daughter must be unmarried
  • She must have no means to maintain herself
  • She must be suffering from physical and/or mental abnormality and/or injury

In the instant case the Supreme Court directed that fathers must maintain their daughters till they are married as per Section 20(3) of HAMA, 1956. But there is  a drawback to the judgement. Since HAMA, 1956 only applies to Hindu women, this progressive judgement by the Court would only apply to Hindu women. While women from other religions would have continue to seek maintenance from their fathers under Section 125 of CrPC which has a narrower scope of application.

There are provisions within personal laws but it means that women will have access to the right to maintenance depending on whether their religious laws believe they should be granted so. It means they are dependent upon the patriarchal systems of ancient religion to determine whether their father are legally obligated to maintain them or not.

Also Read: Judiciary Re-Interprets Legislation To Protect The Rights Of Muslim Women

What Are the Other Avenues?

The situation is not completely bleak. Along with maintenance laws in personal laws there is Section 488 of CrPC which is also alluded to in the judgement. Section 488 of CrPC states that a person having sufficient means must maintain their children, which includes daughters. The judgement also acknowledges this by stating, “The laws are nothing but collective consciousness of community. It is in the interest of the community and social order that woman and child who are neglected be maintained and should be provided a forum to obtain urgent relief to enable them to sustain”, states the judgement of Abhilasha vs Prakash . While the domain of personal laws in relation to women’s rights require reform to be more gender equal. This is a welcome move where daughters are not treated as destitute.

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