Right To Property: An Imperative For Freedom

Right To Property: An Imperative For Freedom

The first instances of division between women and men was based the labour division between the two sexes, women were seen as mere machines fit for reproduction and nurture, while men were seen as the more powerful sex, being able to go out an hunt, and provide for the family’s needs. Now with the passage of time and development of civilisation, it can be safely deduced that the division between the two sexes was widened because of the significant division owing to being coparceners in private property (Friedrich Engels, The Origin Of Private Property, Family And State). Thus, the gap between the sexes further widened with property rights being sharpened to suit the needs of man; the woman being pushed further into the background becoming solely dependent on man for all her needs.

The right to property is imperative for freedom and development of human being.

In the Hindu culture, ancestral property was traditionally held by joint Hindu families consisting of male coparceners. Ancestral property was passed on only to and through the male members of the family having a right by birth on the joint or coparcenary property. Women were not seen as coparceners, and thus, she was not entitled to property share by birth. However, a son’s share would increase in the property on the instance of the father’s death, thus, increasing the discrimination against women.

In 2005, an amendment to the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, was made and daughters were declared as ‘coparceners’ in an undivided joint family property. This was a landmark amendment for women’s equal right to property. However, a 2015 Supreme Court judgement restricted this right; it stated that where fathers had died before 2005, daughters could not equally inherit ancestral property. On 11 August 2020, the SC overruled the 2015 judgement and did away with the clause of the father being alive as on September 2005; it gave women the right to property by birth and not subject to any restrictions.

Oxfam India applauds the radical and empowered verdict and agrees that the verdict will help alter the regressive approach of the majority towards women being coparceners under the Hindu Act. This is a stellar move towards altering the negative social norms which have been pinning down women and girls under layers of patriarchal social norms.

Laxmina and her fight for equal rights

Laxmina was born to Dalit parents in Balua village in Uttar Pradesh’s Azamgarh district. She was brought up with a lot of care; even though they did not have enough money her parents enrolled her in school. They wanted their daughter to be educated. However, due to limited resources Laxmina dropped out after she completed primary school and started to learn the craft of weaving Banarsi sarees. This was an art passed down to her by her parents who had been doing this work for ages.

She was married off at 15; Dinesh belonged to neighbouring Jokhara village. While Laxmina stayed with her husband, her parents moved in with her paternal uncle in Balua village. While Laxmina’s parents moved in with the idea of living as a joint family, the paternal uncle and his sons eyed his property. Within a few months, her dad passed away. In order to take care of her mother, Laxmina started visiting her along with her three children. The uncle and his family weren’t happy; they saw this as a ploy by Laxmina to transfer the land in her name.

They tried everything to intimidate her and take over the land—from giving murder threats to accusing her of practicing witchcraft. They left no stone unturned to harass Laxmina, her mother and her kids.

Pushed to the corner, Laxmina reached out to her women’s group in Jokhara village. These groups were made in collaboration with Oxfam India and Sri Ramanand Saraswati Pustakalaya (SRSP) to support and develop the holistic services provided to female survivors, of violence and assault, through women support centre. These support centres, are based in the SRSP campus in Jokhara and the police station premises, where female survivors of violence are provided police protection, medical care services, legal support and awareness, counselling, and shelter.

SRSP, through the group, counselled Laxmina about her rights to her parents property under law. They guided her to get the property in her name with her mother’s support and also avail police protection from her paternal uncle and sons. Laxmina not just emerged as a role model for women and girls in both her natal and marital village, she has become an independent woman; she has started growing vegetables in the small patch of her land, owns poultry and cows, and is able to educate her children with the money that she earns.

Her identity as a land owner restored her confidence. Laxmina backed by her mother, husband and in-laws continues to travel between the two villages and manage the farm and her marital home. Her husband works as a guard in the city, a son is employed in a private firm in a neighbouring city and daughter has completed her post graduation in Science.

“Right to property is something which gives you power and belief in yourself! One should not be overridden by the fear of what families will think, or what neighbours will say, one should always do and own whatever is her right. Rightful ownership of land should not be discriminatory based on sex,” the 40-year-old signs off.

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