Forced by tradition to give up inheritance, Indian women embrace property ownership | Land Portal

By: Rina Chandran

Date: November 2nd 2016

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation


CHAKSU, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Days before she was married 18 years ago, K. Bina Devi and her sister were called to the living room of the family home where they lived with their parents and four brothers.


There, in a short ceremony witnessed by village elders, she and her sister signed a piece of paper giving up their share of the family property to their brothers. Sweets were distributed and everyone congratulated her and her sister.


The custom of "haq tyag", or sacrifice of right, entails a person - usually a woman - relinquishing their claim on ancestral property. It is widely practiced in the Indian state of Rajasthan despite a 2005 national law that gave women equal inheritance rights.


While haq tyag is voluntary, women come under enormous pressure to comply, activists said.


"If we don't do it, our family will boycott us," said Devi, 36, her head covered with the end of her green saree.


"Our relationship with the family will break, and people will speak ill of us," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Chaksu village, about 30 km (19 miles) from Jaipur city.


Haq tyag is justified on grounds that the father pays for his daughter's wedding, and therefore only the sons are entitled to a share of the family property.


Also, once she is married, a woman is seen as belonging to her husband's family with no claim on ancestral property.


In a bid to address the imbalance, Rajasthan and other states now offer lower rate mortgages and cheaper registration when a property is registered in the name of a woman.


"Haq tyag is a tradition, and it is voluntary," said Rajendra Singh Shekhawat, a joint secretary in the state government.


"In some cases, it may not be voluntary. But how can we check if the woman is signing willingly or not? That is why we have laws that encourage property ownership by women," he said.


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One of India's poorest states, Rajasthan is known as much for its beautiful palaces and majestic forts as for its centuries-old traditions of honor and chivalry.


This is the state where the custom of sati, where widows threw themselves into their husband's funeral pyre, prevailed long after it was declared illegal in the 19th century. The law was strengthened in 1987 following the death of a young widow in Rajasthan watched by thousands.


Across India, only 13 percent of farmland is owned by women, according to census data. [nL5N1881WM]


Amendments in 2005 to the Hindu Succession Act, which governs matters of inheritance among Hindus who make up about 80 percent of India's population, made women's inheritance rights equal to those of men.


Yet some state laws run contrary to the legislation, and in states such as Rajasthan, women are made to forgo their claims.


Haq tyag itself is rooted in misogynistic customs and traditions, particularly in India's villages. These include limited education for girls, early marriage, financial dependence, and denial of the right to property.


"It is a deep-rooted patriarchy that tells women they are okay only as long as they have the protection of a man," said Varsha Joshi, an associate professor at the Institute of Development Studies in Jaipur, who has studied property ownership among women in rural Rajasthan.


"Women have no security, no guarantee of a roof over their heads. And it is assumed they will never go against their families or go to court over being denied their right to property," she said.


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Photo source: Michal Svec via Flickr/Creative Commons (CC By-NC-ND 2.0). Photo: © Michal Svec

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