Women’s Empowerment: Property Rights Of Women In India
A sum from a Class V Maths text book went like this: “Mr. Ram’s property was worth Rs 12 lakhs. His elder son, younger son, wife and daughter got 1/3, 1/4, 1/6, 1/18 of his property respectively. The remaining fraction of Mr.Ram’s property went for charity. What are the amounts in rupees that each family member got? What fraction of the property was for charity?”
This will followed the unfair ‘Primogeniture’ principle by which the eldest male sibling gets the major share followed by the younger brothers. Sisters inherit less than their brothers.
Denying The Girl Child Property:
A grandfather was helping his grand daughter with her Maths homework, which included this sum. Instead of pointing out that the sum was highly gender biased he said, “Actually the wife and daughters shouldn’t be getting any share of the property. I have left my entire property to your uncle, as I have had to spend on your mother’s wedding and jewellery. Also I would like your uncle to completely control your grandma’s finances after I am no more. Which is why she won’t have any independent bank account.”
The hard fact was that the money spent on the daughter’s wedding was negligible compared to the property the son was going to inherit. The son would also be inheriting a bungalow from his wife’s parents. On the contrary the daughter was a widow who had hardly inherited anything after her husband’s death.
Her husband had spent most of his money to educate his nephews abroad, refusing to spend the necessary money to educate his daughters as he felt that girls would get married and be dependent on their husbands anyway, making education for girls less important according to him. Nor did her husband have a house of his own when he died.
Puzzled the grand daughter asked, “But why shouldn’t girls inherit property?” The grand father snapped, “It is against the rich cultural heritage of India for girls to demand for her father’s property. Do you want society to label your mother as a greedy woman who wants a share of her father’s house depriving her brother who is the rightful owner according to Indian customs?”
Property Distribution According To Indian Law:
According to the amended Hindu Succession Act women have equal rights in parental property.
Under this law Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain women including married daughters have as much right to property as sons have. The Hindu Succession Act is applicable in all states of India except for Jammu and Kashmir.
According to the Muslim inheritance laws only 1/3 of a man’s property can be distributed by a will, 2/3 will devolve on Koranic heirs who include children and parents in varying shares. Female heirs however inherit half of that of the male heirs.
According to the Indian Succession Act, which applies to the Indian Christians, one-thirds of the property shall go to the widow. The remaining two-thirds shall go to his lineal descendents. Lineal descendants mean descendants born in lawful wedlock only. Each child, whether male or female, will get an equal share of property.
These laws, however, are applicable if a person has died without making a will. The crude reality that governs inheritance patterns in India is that the daughters are generally either denied parental property or given a minor fraction of what is given to their brothers by a will.
The Crude Realities And Gender Discrimination In Property Distribution:
According to a paper published by advocate and social activist Jaya Nair, distribution of parental property is strongly influenced by customs and religion.
According to Jaya, most of North India including U.P, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh have patriarchal families favouring sons in the inheritance of property. However in South India (especially Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka) where the society is matriarchal daughters may be given more property than sons.
Legal experts who participated in a recent seminar on Women and Property Rights, organised in Mumbai by the Women for Good Governance and Sarokaar, unanimously agreed that women needed to be more assertive in claiming their rightful share of parental property.
Advocate Shri M P Vashi said, “According to statistical data women own just 1/100 of the world’s property. The entire social structure needs to be changed to bring about equal property distribution among men and women. It is sad that in the name of religion and upholding Indian culture women are denied their property rights.”
Social activist, filmmaker and freelance journalist Rinki Bhattacharya added, “Parents often say that, since they have paid for their daughter’s dowry, they aren’t entitled to family property like their brothers. The reality is the amount spent on dowry is negligible compared to the share of property. Yet another misconception is that as sons rather than daughters look after the old parents, daughter shouldn’t claim property. Let me point out that daughters always take care of the parents- an important fact, which we shouldn’t deny. More women need to charge patriarchy to assert their property rights.”
Advocate Flavia Agnes said, “Chauvinistic Indian customs make women the property of the husband with marriage. Also many women are trapped in unhappy marriages, as they don’t own property. Or if an abusive husband decides to throw his wife out of the house, she has nowhere to go, being oblivious of the fact that she has a right to live on in her matrimonial dwelling. More women should try to understand finance and property matters, instead of engaging solely in domestic chores as they need to learn how to fight for property rights.”
Advocate Mr.Y.P.Singh said, “Though there are laws which favour women, men tend to manipulate laws in court to their favour unlike women helping them win legal cases. Women on the contrary are usually governed by passion while fighting court cases. Also men have better access to lawyers and legal resources and therefore emerge as victors in court over property disputes.”
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