Oxfam India welcomes the Supreme Court judgement of 11 August 2020 which has chipped away one more barrier women faced to equal rights in ancestral property. The judgement is significant as it gives daughters right to their ancestral property irrespective of whether the father was alive in 2005. The year 2005 is important because the amendment to the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 making daughters ‘coparceners’, i.e., equal rights holders as sons in an undivided joint family property, was passed in the year 2005. This itself was a landmark amendment for women’s equal right to property. However, a Supreme Court judgement of 2015 restricted this right, and where fathers had died before 2005, daughters could not equally inherit ancestral property. The judgement has done away with this restriction.
Oxfam India’s work in the community shows that both social and legal barriers contribute to women not being able to access property rights.
"Laws are but a product of patriarchal society and hence breaching this fortress is especially important. This judgement does exactly that. However social norms such as the ritual of ‘Haq Tyaag’ widely practiced in Rajasthan mark the reluctance in society to accept women’s equal right to property," Ranu Bhogal, Policy Research and Campaigns Director at Oxfam India said.
'Haq Tyaag' is the celebration of a married daughter giving up her property for her brother! Such rituals abound in North India, and in most parts of India women never exercise their right to property lest they lose their ‘maika’ or natal home.
One in three women in India face some form of violence, the largest proportion being of domestic violence. Often, natal homes are the only recourse women have in such circumstances. By traditional social norms, neither the marital nor natal home belongs to the woman—one reason why women have had to put up with abusive relationships.
"As we celebrate this judgement, we must recognise that as a society we still need to traverse some more distance. Social norms continue to override the possibilities provided by law. To make this law socially acceptable a lot more work will be needed. For example, property rights are crucial for single, unmarried women, which is often neglected. Often women are expected to marry as a form of social security. The practice of kanyadaan and dowry needs to be done away with. That will truly enable the implementation of this right. Till we achieve that, women will continue to be dissuaded from demanding their right and the male heirs will justify denying these rights. The courts have done their job. The rest of the work has to be done at the societal level," Ranu Bhogal said.
Legal changes, such as this judgement, have a big role to play also in changing these regressive social norms. We need to create an enabling environment for women and girls to exercise their rights!
Oxfam India works in five states — Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha — to help young people challenge social norms and reduce acceptance of gender inequality/gender-based discrimination.
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Note to the Editors: Oxfam India’s spokespersons are available for interviews. To arrange interviews or further queries please contact Savvy Soumya Misra: email@example.com
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