Traditionally, under common law, which was the basis of the English legal system, a doctrine of coverture was followed. When a woman married a man, her rights and obligations were acquired by her husband. So, while an unmarried woman was allowed to own property and enter into contracts in her name, a married woman couldn’t; she was dependent on her husband for any and everything. The intention behind the introduction of the Married Women’s Property Act (or MWP Act) was to change orthodox notions of women’s rights. The Act brought about monumental changes and was a much needed step in the right direction. Most of the provisions did away with age-old jurisprudence, ushering in an era of comparatively progressive laws that signified a shift in the societal thought process.
Here is what the act changed:
Ownership over earnings
Section 4 of the MWP Act discusses how married women’s earnings are to be their own property. Irrespective of what employment, occupation, or trade is carried on by a woman, if it is independent of her husband, the wages and earnings will be hers alone. Money or property acquired by a woman through her skills/talent (literary, artistic, or scientific) is also her separate property. All the savings and investment from any income a woman has, too, is her separate property.
Life insurance policies in the name of married women
Before the introduction of the MWP Act, if a man died without clearing all his dues, his creditors could lay claim on any assets he left behind: immovable and movable property, cash, and even amounts paid to his survivors through life insurance policies. The Married Women’s Property Act, through Section 6, changed this, qualifying assured sums from life insurance policies under the Act as property of a man’s wife and children, and not a part of his assets or estate.
Power to initiate legal proceedings
Section 7 of the MWP Act empowers women to initiate legal proceedings. This was inserted to provide women with a means to go to court to recover their separate property (acquired under either the Married Women’s Property Act or the Indian Succession Act). This section dictated that all remedies that an unmarried woman would have, civil and criminal, are available to a married woman for the protection of her property.
Liability for post nuptial debts
Section 8 of the MWP Act discusses post nuptial debts. In addition to setting out women’s rights, the Act also sets out their liabilities. This section in particular deals with contracts or agreements entered into by married women regarding their property. A person who enters into an agreement regarding a married women’s property has the right to sue her and recover whatever they would have as if the woman was unmarried.
Husband’s liability for antenuptial debts
Section 9 of the MWP Act talks about how the husband is not liable for debts contracted by his wife before their marriage. It also mentions that for the purposes of debt taken, the liability of a married woman (to be sued, etc.) shall remain the same as if she were unmarried.
Husband’s liability for breach of trust or devastation
Section 10 of the MWP Act discusses liability of a husband in when his wife is a trustee or executrix. If the husband is not involved in the affairs of the trust, he will not be liable for any breach of trust committed by her or damage caused to the estate by her.
One of the most important of these sections is Section 6, which allows the wife of a deceased person to benefit from insurance payouts. Before the introduction of this legislation, women were not treated as beneficiaries of insurance policies, even if they were nominees.
Another essential section is Section 5 of the MWP Act, which discusses how married women possess the right to take out insurance policies independently. The policy and the arising benefit will be the woman’s property alone, and for the purposes of the insurance contract, the policy would be valid as if the woman was unmarried (because married women couldn’t enter into contracts independently).
Since life insurance policies also offer a whole host of tax-saving options, both Section 5 and Section 6 stipulate that women are also eligible for tax benefits under Sections 80C and 10(10D). While Section 80c offers tax deductions on the premium paid for the policy, Section 10(10D) offers tax deductions on the death benefit i.e. payout from the insurance provider, upon the death of the policyholder.
While today’s situation is not ideal, it paints a far, far better picture. In 2017-2018, 9 million life insurance policies were bought by women. While this looks like a meagre amount compared to the 19.1 million policies bought by men, it is a significant improvement.
Only by understanding the relentless struggle and perseverance that brought us to where we are, can we fully comprehend the importance of insurance policies. So, encourage the women in your life to take out the Bajaj Allianz Life Smart Protect Goal on Finserv MARKETS now. The Bajaj Allianz Life Smart Protect Goal plan is a pure term insurance plan that provides a cover of up to ₹1 crore at affordable premium. There are different variants to choose from based on your needs, so head on over to Finserv MARKETS to purchase this policy!
So, to sum up, while much still remains to be desired, the MWP Act was able to codify the shift in societal perceptions of women’s rights, helping us inch slightly closer to a fair, just, and equal society.
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