Why Bother with Property Rights of Pariah Dhan?
Sometime in the month of September 2016, a personnel from Centre for Social Research (CSR) were in Mahendragarh (Haryana), to promote the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign. While having an informal conversation with the school teachers, one of them said with an air of authority, “Abolish women’s rights over natal family property. This will boost sex ratio in the country. When a girl is born, her family spends lakhs of rupees on her wedding and continues to financially indulge her marital family, much after the wedding has happened. Keeping in mind all the wedding and marriage extravaganza, a person would rather invest that money in a piece of land for which the price will never depreciate. Either we spend money on a girl’s wedding and keep catering to the financial demands of her marital family; or we don’t do any of that and give her a piece of the family land. Expecting the family to do both, is unfair. Thinking of all the expenses one must do for a girl, one would rather have a land which will yield benefits upon investment.” Understandably, the CSR personnel were flabbergasted. In situations such as these, one’s brevity fails to articulate the regressive and orthodox vein throbbing in the foundation of gender perceptions. How does one speak women empowerment to those who fail to see the inter-linkages of socio-economic dynamics being influenced by what one understands of gender roles and subjective comprehension of its raison d’être.
The National Commission of Women, in one of its reports, cited the Mitakshara Vivrti (1055 CE – 1126 CE) as the genesis of Property Rights in India from where the marginalization of women, started. In her paper, “Violation of Women Rights in India” (2014), Rasida Begum has stated, “Though women have been given rights to inheritance, the sons share an independent share in the ancestral property. The daughter’s share is based on what the father deigns fit to assign it to her and he can anytime disinherit the daughter. The son however, will continue to have his share. The daughters facing harassment in marital homes have no rights in ancestral home.” The repercussions of which are felt more acutely after the parents of the woman cease to exist.
In the year 2006, the New Delhi based Human Rights Law Network wrote a paper on “Women, Property Rights and HIV in India”. “Women’s property rights are affected by a complex web of statutory laws, personal laws and social norms and customs. Personal laws govern family law matters and determine a woman’s share in her parents’ or matrimonial property. The applicability of any set of personal laws depends on a person’s religious affiliation. For instance, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains are governed by the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, whereas Muslim women are governed by the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937 and the Muslim Women’s (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. Additionally, tribal women’s property rights are governed by the customs and norms of their tribe. It is clear that there is no uniform body of law governing Indian women’s property rights. An Indian woman’s property rights depend on her religion, her marital status, which part of the country she comes from, her tribal association and so on.” This is just the judicial aspect of the Indian women’s property rights. We have not even started talking about the patriarchal mindset like the ones mentioned at the beginning of this blog.
In her paper, “A Study on Women’s Access to Housing”, Dr. Bijayalakshmi Nanda has stated that all the Indian Government Housing Schemes are targeted at economically backward population and does not have a gender angle to the provisions. Even if the Government were to provide rebate for women (which has been the case in stamp duty exemption); the patriarchal mindset of the society would arm-twist the provision and make women the nominal authority as men would dictate the terms. The women are emotionally manipulated in a way that the give verbal consent to forfeit their property rights and add more wealth into the hands of those family members who have no qualms in seizing something that rightfully does not belong to them. The role of Civil Society Organizations like the Centre for Social Research understands the need for holistic rectification in the matter and has placed interventions to empower women at an individual level while advocating at the legislative level for policy reforms. However as the larger scheme of things roll out on a slow pace of elephantine proportions; there are still individual lives adversely impacted by the patriarchal suffocation in stark contrast to lack of social security for women in India.
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