By Guest Writer Prasun Nabiyal
The Hindu Succession Act (Amendment) of 2005 placed Hindu daughters on an equal footing with sons by giving them coparcenary rights over their father’s ancestral property. Coparcenary rights are a bundle of property rights shared among joint-heirs. According to N.R. Raghavchariar’s “Hindu Law Principles and Precedents”, this includes rights such as right to joint-possession and right to demand partition. Prior to the 2005 amendment, these rights were the exclusive domain of Hindu sons. The amendment thus marked a watershed moment, moving away from the gender-discriminating Hindu Succession Act of 1956. Last year, the Supreme Court of India, in the same tradition, held that Hindu daughters can inherit both self-acquired-property and coparcenary property.
However, despite these progressive developments in the legal realm, the societal perception towards the issue of Hindu women possessing property rights persists. The mainstream view continues to believe that only sons, not daughters, have coparcenary rights. Thus, the exercise of these rights by daughters is labelled as “an act of taking what does not belong to her.” The dominance of these rigid societal beliefs can be observed through a 2020 study where 95% of the sampled households were Hindu. It classified female landowners with respect to their origins of inheritance and observed that 37.5% of samples found the landowner to have acquired the property in her capacity as a widow. Comparatively, only 1.64% cases found the female landowners to gain ownership through coparcenary rights as daughters or sisters.
The unmoving Hindu society has fettered the progressive provisions of the 2005 amendment from causing any real change. For instance, Hindu families frequently convince the daughters to relinquish her formal inheritance in favour of her brothers in order to maintain her relationship with them. The Hindu society has thus continued to practice misogynist land practices in opposition to the enforced laws by hiding them under the veil of custom and tradition. The most prominent manifestation of this can be found in the form of a popular Rajasthani custom of “haq tyag” (sacrifice of right). In “haq tyag,” a woman relinquishes her right to inherit ancestral property. In spite of the 2005 amendment, “haq tyag” is still extensively practiced in Rajasthan. In this manner, a daughter’s technical waiver of her inheritance rights has been associated with familial love and loyalty, thus stigmatizing a woman’s exercise of coparcenary rights. This stigmatization has also been heavily internalised within the women themselves, thus, resulting in their docile compliance with the demands of relinquishment.
In order to allow the text of the 2005 amendment to translate into the real-world practices, policies and decisions must be introduced with the aim of ensuring the exercise of coparcenary rights by Hindu women. In the past, states such as Haryana and Rajasthan have attempted to bring this change by providing “financial incentives” which would allow Hindu men to realize the value of allowing women to freely exercise their property/inheritance rights. However, the effectiveness of these policies are highly questionable. For instance, the properties owned by women because of these financial incentives are, in reality, controlled by the men of the family. In this manner, such feminist policies are ironically utilized by Hindu men for further exploitation of Hindu women.
Local-level political representation, on the other hand, seems to be an effective remedy to the problem of involuntary or coerced relinquishments without the same dangers of exploitation by Hindu men. Through political representation of women, a positive cycle is generated where the presence of female local gatekeepers (also known as pradhans) leads to more women engaging with the state. This happens because the state becomes much more approachable and responsive for women. Further, the likelihood that female pradhans will “bring about a large-scale change in action” toward women is very high. The female pradhans take the lead in persuading those families who are denying women access to land by using the gram sabha’s public platform to prioritize and settle land disputes. Even the mere presence of pradhans in land title-distribution leads to equitable distribution for daughters.
Written law is no guarantee to end discrimination. Objectives of the 2005 amendment require constant efforts and developments. The mere enactment of the said provision cannot generate the desired result of realisation of Hindu women’s property and inheritance rights without policy measures aiming in that direction.