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Sunday Special » People

Posted at: Apr 15, 2018, 1:23 AM; last updated: Apr 15, 2018, 2:00 AM (IST)

Daughters without land

Manmeet Singh Gill in Amritsar
Despite law, a woman prefers to give up her right on land after father’s death. Reason: she wants to keep family peace. In worst cases, fathers avoid mentioning their daughters while writing will
Daughters without land
Photo: Vishal kumar
Manmeet Singh Gill in Amritsar

  • A 43-year-old married woman is not allowed to visit her paternal home because she dared to claim her share of inheritance from her deceased father’s agricultural property. “My mother, too, is not ready to talk to me even on phone as she feels that I am a slur on the family name,” she says. For her legal right, she is enduring a legal battle for the eight years. 
  • Another woman ‘B’ feels socially excluded. She is not invited to marriages and social gatherings. “When my mother’s last days, my brother’s wife did not care for her. Even my brother did not say anything to his wife. So after my mother’s death, I decided to claim my share to teach them a lesson,” she said. The lesson was not just for her brother and his wife as she too has understood a lot many things about society. “Most of the relatives from the paternal side too are siding with him (brother). They neither visit me or nor do they invite me,” she said. 
  • Another elderly woman was lucky when she managed to get six acres from her brothers after little resistance. She along with her husband and only son shifted to her paternal village to take care of the property. She managed to overcome all hurdles gradually. 
There are several such cases all across Punjab and the country — more than 50 years after the enactment of Hindu Succession Act (HSA), 1956. The HSA covers Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains besides Hindus.

Patriarchal society

Most women give up their legal right in favour of their brothers. The punishment for the nonconformists is social exclusion. In a traditional agrarian society in which married woman draws support from her brothers and expects that in case of any highhandedness by their husbands or in-laws, the brothers would stand with her.

“Till recently it was not uncommon for brothers to kill their sisters for demanding a share in the property,” says professor of sociology at Guru Nanak Dev University, Dr Paramjit Singh Judge.

The patriarchal society has learned ways to bypass the law, especially after the 2005 amendment in the HSA Act. The amended law further empowers the daughters and makes them coparcenar (joint heir by birth along with brothers) in the father’s property. Yet, more fathers are making testamentary wills in which daughters are entirely excluded in inheritance claims.

Talwinder Singh, a senior advocate at district courts, says, “The girl usually makes a claim after the father is dead. To pre-empt a situation, a father these days resorts to testamentary successions (making a will) in favour of their son/sons.”

The advocate said that when a father makes a will, the daughter can only challenge its authenticity. “Contesting a will or making a claim is a tedious process. I have seen women who have died while contesting the case and now their heirs are pursuing it,” he said. But, he says, there is a slight change: the number of women claiming a share in the paternal property has marginally increased after a spurt in real estate prices.

Convoluted process

For getting her share in the agricultural property, a claimant has to first file an appeal with the tehsildar. If unsatisfied with the decision, both parties are at liberty to file an appeal with SDM. If still unsatisfied, the appeal goes to deputy commissioner. Further it can be made to the divisional commissioner and then to financial commissioner of the state.

The end is not yet near. After exhausting all avenues with revenue department, the process of filing appeals with a district court, then appeal to High Court and the finally to supreme court begins.

Advocate Sanjeev Mahajan said: “It would take a minimum of 20 years and almost Rs 20-25 lakh if both the parties decide to fight the battle to the finish. In most cases, a compromise is made and the female claimant is made an offer which, in most cases, is less than her actual share. And she accepts it.”

A JNU alumnus and PhD scholar at Guru Nanak Dev University, Ravi Inder said: “Women know that getting a share in paternal property is not easy. Most believe that it is sinful.” During the last four years, she has met hundreds of women who believe they have no claim on property when they were provided with an ample dowry at the time of marriage.

Punjab not alone

Through centuries of condition and socialization of norms, the women have been made to believe that acquiring property from the brothers is against the norms. Even the folklore, eulogizes the women who do so. 

Sociologists believe that such phenomenon is not restricted to Punjab only. Shorty after coming into being, the legislative assembly of Haryana in 1967 had passed a resolution requesting the Centre to amend the Act to exclude women from property share. In 1977, the assembly of Punjab too did it.

The GNDU scholar Ravi Inder’s findings suggest that most women follow the tradition and deviate only in some peculiar circumstances. Professor of sociology Dr Sukhdev Singh at Punjab Agricultural University said, “There has been no study on this topic.” Dr Singh believes that society is in a transitional phase and conditions would improve for the better, but it could take a very long. “Two decades ago in traditional societies, girl children were not sent to school but now most parents send girls to school,” says Dr Singh.

Former head, Centre for Women’s Studies and Development and Professor of Sociology, Panjab University, Dr Rajesh Gill, said, “Most women themselves feel that getting a share from brothers is not right.” She said that law cannot be independent of the culture, but law surely is an agent of change. She said no women groups in Punjab are active on the issue. “This is because women do not feel it is an issue,” she said.

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