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Sreelatha Menon: The daughter's share

Despite the amended Hindu Succession Act, poor implementation has denied women farmland rights

Sreelatha Menon 

Sreelatha Menon

Eight years ago, the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, was amended to enable daughters to inherit farmland from their fathers in the same manner in which their brothers always had.

Following the amendment of the Act, Hindu women are now entitled to agricultural land inheritance and survivorship. Now, they can partition their ancestral property any time they want. Also, widows who remarry are entitled to the land and property of their deceased husbands.

However, the amendment of the Act has failed to make an impact.

A recent study across three states by UN Women and non-profit organisation Landesa pointed to many factors that led to denial of farmland rights to women. It blamed patriarchal biases as well as the ignorance and apathy of tehsildars and patwaris, who were supposed to play a proactive role in implementing the Hindu Succession Amendment Act, 2005.

The study, was conducted across various tehsils in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh - states that reported the most operational holdings by women, according to Agricultural Census 2005-06. The study, which had a sample size of 1,440 women and 360 men, found in Hindu communities in these states, dowry and inheritance of daughters were linked - parents regarded dowry as the daughter's share in family property. So, even when a girl inherited land, it was much less than an equal share.

It found women were likely to get more land as widows than as daughters. In Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, land ownership by inheritance was 70 per cent, 59 per cent and 87 per cent, respectively, compared with 24 per cent, 38 per cent and 11 per cent by purchase. Land allocation by the government was negligible.

The number of women who wished to inherit land in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh was very low - just 23 per cent, 10 per cent and 5 per cent, respectively. The study found that women preferred to inherit their husbands' land, rather than from their parents so as not to affect the ties between their parents and brothers. It said while 39 per cent, 79 per cent and 33 per cent of the brothers were likely to object to land being given to their sisters in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, respectively, the number of parents likely to object to this was 28 per cent, 70 per cent and 25 per cent.

According to the study, women knew little of the inheritance law and claims processes. The burden of dealing with administrative and quasi-legal processes for inheritance rights, coupled with the social backlash, was too much to bear for most women.

Patwaris, the primary interface between the revenue department and the people, were found to have no information on the Hindu Succession Amendment Act, 2005. Though tehsildars were aware, they didn't think they had a proactive role to play in ensuring women's rights towards inherited land, the study said.

District legal services authorities, mandated to provide legal assistance to the poor, do not include women's rights under the Hindu Succession Amendment Act, 2005, in their programmes. Typically, gram panchayats don't have much knowledge of their responsibilities regarding implementation of the Act. Most sarpanchs reiterated predominant social norms; few showed concern on the prevailing state of affairs, the study said.

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First Published: Sat, November 23 2013. 21:48 IST