In the news: “Married or not, be a woman of ‘substance’”

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An article about Indian women’s right to inheritance: Shobhan Saxena, “Married or not, be a woman of ‘substance’”, The Times of India, dated June 6, 2010.

Excerpts:

“Why does much of India still regard property as very much a male domain? Why are women expected to be content with the ancient practice of streedhan, ie the dowry and gifts given to her at the time of marriage? Both questions — and answers — are closely linked, particularly when it comes to a woman’s right to family property after she is married.

“Till 2005, when the Hindu Succession Act was amended to give daughters an equal share of ancestral property, Indian women were viewed as an economic liability. In practice, the amended law does not guarantee anything to a woman. Her claim to property may depend on her status — married, unmarried, deserted, wife, widow, mother. With the divorce rate rising and many urban women deciding not to marry at all, surely it makes little sense to deny a share of the family property to half the country’s population?

“It has often been suggested that women should be made joint-owners of property alongside their husbands. But as noted feminist Madhu Kishwar wrote when Maharashtra unveiled new policy for women a few years ago, “The idea of joint matrimonial property would make sense only if women brought their share of inheritance from their parental home at the time of marriage, merging their own property into that of their husbands’. The couple could then become co-owners of their genuinely ‘joint’ property”. India’s Muslim and Christian women are equally badly off when it comes to property rights.

“The truth is that Indian society is so conservative that it is not easy to implement property laws for women. This is admitted by Justice Sujata V Manohar of the Supreme Court no less when she said: “It is not easy to eradicate deep-seated cultural values or to alter traditions that perpetuate discrimination.” It is this attitude that has kept the evil of dowry alive. As Kishwar argues “that dowry exists only among those communities where families are not willing to treat daughters as co-inheritors with sons”.

“The 2005 Amendment was undoubtedly significant. The point is that when the 21st century Indian woman marries, she must be conscious of her rights to all that is hers. She must reject the notion that after the wedding, she belongs to the husband’s family. If the marriage breaks down, she can now return to her parents’ home by right, not on the sufferance of relatives.”

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