Iniquitous tradition deprives Indian girls of their power
“INDIA is a very patriarchal society – changing attitudes and mindsets is extremely difficult and it is a slow process but we have to speed it up,” said Leila Seth, India’s first female chief justice.
Patriarchy not only dominates in India, it is a deeply rooted practice in every country. It is embedded in the psyche of all societies around the world.
Unfortunately, some progressive groups, political parties, individuals and even societies that propagate ideas of female emancipation, female liberation and gender equality and claim to oppose gender discrimination, are not immune to patriarchal ideas. .
Strong social pressure and fear of social alienation weaken their desire to challenge secular and meaningless traditions of male domination.
Hence, they don’t always practice what they preach because it is too painful and mentally exhausting to challenge the mainstream male culture.
In addition, these reformist groups, political parties and individuals often lack knowledge and understanding of women‘s experiences with physical, mental, sexual and financial exploitation. Their work, their activities and their demands remain mainly within the limits of equality in paid work.
Undoubtedly, reformists sincerely advocate women’s economic independence, a tool for empowering women that would enhance their status.
They believe that once economic independence is gained, social and political inequalities and patriarchal evils would automatically disappear.
They defend women’s inheritance rights but yield to social pressure and hesitate to give their daughters the right to liberate property.
Ironically, they are a passionate advocate for the protection of the rights and wishes of the owner. Undoubtedly, the owner must have the full right to choose how he wishes to dispose of his property, as long as his decision does not favor one sex over another.
Unfortunately, in most patriarchal societies, including advanced capitalist countries like India, girls are prevented from claiming their legal right to inherit ancestral property.
India’s constitution, the Hindu Succession Act 1956 (amended 2005) and the UK Equality Act 2010 all grant women an equal right to inherit parental property, but in practice standards and Patriarchal values have erected social and cultural firewalls ensuring that only sons receive the inheritance, not daughters.
Ancient Hindu laws, especially the Manu Smritis, Arthashastra, and other Dharmshastras, pushed women into a subordinate position where they are seen as inferior beings who are to be dependent and controlled by male relatives.
Therefore, women do not have the right to own property or become financially independent. They have to rely on men even for their basic needs and necessities.
However, the Hindu inheritance law paves the way for breaking the chains of sex addiction and breaks the patriarchal system by granting women the right to an equal share of parental and husband property and other property. (There are discrepancies and weaknesses in the law, for example, it does not apply to Muslims and Christians).
The law aims to end gender discrimination, improve the socio-economic status of women and empower them socially, economically and politically.
The right to access family property provides women with greater economic security and improves their bargaining power and the enjoyment of full citizenship rights.
The available evidence indicates that owning a property reduces the threat of violence, abuse, exploitation and other inequalities within the household.
Sadly, strong and deeply rooted patriarchal social norms and values in Indian society prevail and despite the country’s radical laws, women are still denied the legal right to inherit parental property.
For fear of fragmenting farmland or other assets or losing them altogether when a girl marries, Indian fathers use all possible methods to discourage girls from claiming their legal right.
There is enormous social and cultural pressure on them. They are blackmailed, ostracized, socially boycotted, hated and even killed if they exercise their legitimate right to ancestral property.
They have no one to turn to in times of need. They have a lot to lose. Fearful of damaging family relationships, violence and the threat of violence, girls usually choose to forgo their rights in favor of their brothers.
Many studies have found that instead of empowering women, the right to inheritance has resulted in an increase in female feticides and a higher infant mortality rate among women.
Daughters are viewed by many as a handicap, as inherited property falls into the hands of their in-laws, as does the dowry – a practice that has become a curse in Indian society. A traumatic fear for parents and for daughters.
The reasons for not claiming or denying the right to inheritance are rooted in misogynistic customs and traditions. These include early marriage, financial dependence, lack of awareness, especially in rural and tribal communities.
Low literacy levels among women discourage them from challenging cases in court.
Religious laws and patriarchal practices have conditioned the mindset of Indian society – men and women – believing that only sons have the right to parental property. According to 2010 census data, only 13% of agricultural land is registered in the name of women.
However, many women, especially educated urban women, have successfully challenged the patriarchal perception that only men have the capacities and skills to own and manage property. They reject the dowry for the right to inherit.
With better socio-economic conditions in an advanced capitalist country like Britain, Indian girls, compared to their Indian sisters, took advantage of the educational opportunities available which strengthened their socio-economic independence.
Unlike their sisters in India, British Indian women do not depend on the income from their male relationships. The welfare state is their safety net to turn to for financial support in times of need.
Unlike India, there is no reason to fear property segmentation, as the British mostly own a house and / or movable property.
Although Indian women in Britain are aware of their rights, are not dependent on men’s income and have a safety net from the state, they are unwilling to assert their right to property.
Thus the cycle of sexual inequalities and discrimination within the family is perpetuated and reinforced.
The notion of patriarchy is embedded in the psyche of both women and men from birth. A daughter is called back at every opportunity and conditioned to believe that she does not belong to the parental home, she will leave and build her own house elsewhere with her husband after marriage.
Patriarchal traditions and values are so strong that, despite their social and economic independence, Indian girls are unwilling to risk damaging family relationships with their parents and brothers.
Many have been the subject of honor killings and / or have been alienated by their families. Thus, the practice of the dowry and the negation of the right of inheritance continues.
I once asked a young woman why she accepts the dowry and does not exercise her right to inherit, to which she replied that the risk is too high if she claims her right to parental property.
She said that by means of the dowry she receives something from the property of her parents, otherwise it will also go to her brothers. In doing so, she saves her family relationship.
I asked four other well educated and economically independent girls what they thought about the gender distribution of family assets.
They replied that ideally the financially weaker member should be helped, but they were strongly opposed to parents disposing of their assets in favor of their sons. They said they would challenge this practice.
I asked a dozen older women how they felt when they took away their rights to their brothers. They said that they were not in favor of such a practice but that there was too much to lose and they felt their hearts were going with the piece of paper they had signed.
So what is the solution? Is it to demand stronger UK inheritance law to ensure zero tolerance for gender discrimination in the distribution of property?
Such practices should constitute a criminal offense in the eyes of the law.
Raise awareness and change attitudes in all communities, empower girls to assert their right to inheritance.
We must not treat gender discrimination as part of Indian culture and as an internal family matter.
We must ensure that old religious laws and patriarchal practices are not used to blackmail girls by their parents and brothers and that the dowry does not handcuff them by demanding their legitimate rights.
The right to inherit is a pecuniary advantage but also a fundamental human right which exists on an equal basis with men.
In Britain we find encouraging evidence that some courageous women have and challenge this discriminatory practice and some parents have and refuse to discriminate against their daughters.
We must ensure that our daughters are treated equally with our sons. Denying our daughters their right to inherit is illegal.
Let’s make sure that old Indian religious laws and patriarchy have no place in 21st century Britain.
Joginder Bains is a member of the GB Derby Branch Indian Workers Association.