Towards the latter part of this year, I met with some inspiring women during my visit to a rather quiet and serene village in the district of Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan. These women have been working as the ASHA workers – Accredited Social Health Activists in their village for as long as almost a decade now. Some of them who are now grandmothers shared their narratives of how their efforts and endeavours to bring a positive societal change has helped them develop a strong bond with the many families in their village.
While speaking to the ASHA workers about the legal rights of women especially the essential features of the Pre-Conception Pre Natal-Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994, we gravitated towards the rights of women in the inheritance of family property. Sulochana, an ASHA, brought to my notice that women in Rajasthan voluntarily do not claim ownership over their parents' property and sacrifice such inheritance rights, a custom which is called as ‘Haq Tyag’. When I heard this, my immediate response was ‘WHY?!' but this gave me an opportunity to delve deeper into the cultural traditions and norms of the state of Rajasthan. Upon asking them the many reasons behind such a custom, I learned that women have been led to believe over the past so many decades that it is morally wrong on their part to claim ownership over their parents' property, as it is deemed to be given away to the sons of the family. Furthermore, I was told that if a woman ends up claiming her inheritance over her family property, her brother/brothers abandon their relationship with them for their lifetime.
This revelation about the custom of ‘Haq Tyag’ made me realize that the first place that discrimination against women and girls is within our own homes. By denying women their rights of inheritance not by law but merely because of customary practice, we are depriving them of something so important which belongs to them equally as that to their brothers.
I would like to place emphasis on the term ‘Inheritance’ and its importance. The right to inheritance is one of the instruments that will result in the empowerment of women and girls. It helps in securing the future of girls as well as women. However, today there is a lack of awareness and knowledge among women about their own rights and the strong patriarchal traditions that have prevented many women from fighting for their inheritance rights.
While speaking with the ASHAs, I realised that they are willing to bring a change in their village with respect to even spreading awareness about the rights of women and girls in the family property, provided they receive the courage and support of the women in their community as well as more importantly men and husbands who would stand up for their rights.
When we look at the law, equal property rights of sons and daughters were recognized after the amendment brought in 2005 which stated that a daughter will have equal ownership in her father’s property even after she gets married. Prior to this amendment, daughters could only claim ownership over their father’s property until they got married, however, that has been changed with this amendment. More recently in 2018, the Supreme Court has made it clear that the law applies to any daughter, irrespective of whether they were born before or after the coming of the law and thus will be entitled to share in father’s property. Read the judgment here.
The Vanishing Girls Campaign actively encourages people to add their voices against the discrimination and violence experienced by women and girls on a daily basis through its pledge: Love, Inheritance, Freedom, and Equality. The first step to bringing change on any issue is to start a conversation about how women need to learn about their rights and especially about the right to inheritance. So why wait for others to take that first step, let us be the pioneers to bring about a change in mindsets with even this small gesture of initiating the dialogue of women’s inheritance.