Gender Discrimination in Land Ownership: Land Reforms in India Volume 11
Publication Year: 2009
Contemporary India demonstrates a curious labyrinth of land ownership patterns and rights for women co-existing in various states and the inter-regional and intra-regional differences between communities and caste groups. Initiated by the Centre for Rural Studies of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, this volume is a collection of essays on Land Reforms in India by social scientists across disciplines from fourteen different states. The editors offer an in-depth analysis of the laws governing access and control of land and its ownership by women in the various states of India. They examine the diverse ways in which discrimination is experienced by them in their respective states and propose ways to counter this rampant gender inequality.
With the help of data the book shows ...
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
- Chapter 1: Assam: Marginalization of Women: Inheritance in Assam
- Chapter 2: Bihar: Need for an Ideological Struggle: Society and Law in Bihar
- Chapter 3: Haryana: Gendered Spaces: Agrarian Economy of Haryana
- Chapter 4: Himachal Pradesh: Customary Practices, Law and Gender in Himachal Pradesh
- Chapter 5: Karnataka: Addressing Legal Rights in Karnataka
- Chapter 6: Kerala: Residual Farmers on Household Land? Women and Second Generation Concerns of Regulation in Kerala
- Chapter 7: Madhya Pradesh: Gendering Land Reforms in Madhya Pradesh
- Chapter 8: Manipur: Women and Inheritance Practices in Manipur
- Chapter 9: Meghalaya: Tribal Areas of Meghalaya: Land Ownership of Women
- Chapter 10: Orissa: Need for a Paradigm Shift: Justice and Equality for Women in Orissa
- Chapter 11: Puducherry (Pondicherry) (Union Territory): Women's Entitlement and Legal Position in Puducherry (Pondicherry)
- Chapter 12: Punjab: Gender and Reform in Punjab
- Chapter 13: Uttar Pradesh: Women's Access and Rights to Land in Uttar Pradesh
- Chapter 14: West Bengal: Analyzing Women's Rights: A Field Study from West Bengal
Land Reforms in India[Page ii]
This is the eleventh volume in a series of studies conducted under the aegis of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), Mussoorie. These studies are an outcome of a research programme entrusted to the LBSNAA by the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India. The primary aim of this series is to assess the current status of land reforms in India.
The collection of basic data was entrusted to successive batches of probationers of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). The field of study component was divided into four major sections covering respectively the implementation of land ceiling laws, the status of tenant-cultivators, the progress in allotment of government lands to the poor and landless and the position concerning tribal lands and forest rights. In the process the probationers collected village-level primary data by interviewing landowners, tenants, allottees of surplus lands and tribals, and supplemented this data by consulting land records and other official documents.
This material was processed by the LBSNAA's project core group on land reforms comprising scholars from diverse disciplines. The findings were analyzed, refined and integrated into comprehensive all-India and state-level reports which form the bulk of the volumes in the series. In addition, the LBSNAA conducted workshops bringing together administrators, academics, activists and legal experts to explore the various dimensions of land reforms in India.
The series will comprise about 14 volumes in all.
Board of Editors
Member, Planning Commission, Government of India
Editors' Introduction by
Joint Director, LBSNAA
Planning Commission, Delhi
Dr A.K. Singh
Director, Land Reforms Division
Land Resources Department
Ministry of Rural Development
Government of India
Central Information Commission, Delhi
Deputy Director cum Co-ordinator
Centre for Rural Studies, LBSNAA
Copyright © Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, 2009
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
First published in 2009 by
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Gender discrimination in land ownership/edited by Prem Chowdhry.
p. cm.—(Land reforms in India; v. 11)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Land tenure—India. 2. Women landowners—India. 3. Sex discrimination against women—India. 4. Land tenure—Law and legislation—India. I. Chowdhry, Prem.
ISBN: 978-81-7829-942-6 (HB)
The SAGE Team: Elina Majumdar, Pranab Jyoti Sarma, Sanjeev Kumar Sharma and Trinankur Banerjee.
Cover illustration by Prem Chowdhry.
List of Tables and Figures[Page vii]Tables
- 1.1 Gender and Land (Assam State Commission for Women) 4
- 1.2 Population Percentage of Women, Sex Ratio and Workforce in Hill Areas of Assam 7
- 1.3 Educational Status of Dimasas 8
- 1.4 Women's Role in the Market Economy of Dimasa Tribe 9
- 1.5 Land Ownership by Different Tribes 9
- 1.6 Belongings that can be Bequeathed to Daughters among the Dimasa Tribe 11
- 1.7 Inheritance of Plots 13
- 3.1 Percentage of Rural Workers in Haryana 54
- 4.1 Decadal Variations in Work Participation Rates in Himachal Pradesh (Rural) 72
- 4.2 Decadal Variations in the Proportions of Cultivatorsand Agricultural Labourers by Gender in Himachal Pradesh 73
- 4.3 Land Size and Operational Holdings in Himachal Pradesh 74
- 5.1 Why is Land Sold in this Village? Questionnaire Survey 90
- 5.2 Dowry Costs for Different Socio-economic Groups: Questionnaire Survey 91
- 5.3 Wedding Costs for Different Socio-economic Groups: Questionnaire Survey 91 [Page viii]
- 6.1 Men and Women as Cultivators and Agricultural Labourers in Rural Kerala as a Percentage of Total Workers (Census of India 1961–91) 121
- 6.2 Percentage Distribution by Sex of Operational Holdings and Area under Operational Holdings (in Hectares) According To Size-class Groups in Kerala (1995–96) 129
- 6.3 Selected Indicators According To Sex in Kerala (1961–2001) 133
- 6.4 Total Worker Population Ratios in Kerala According To Usual Principal and Subsidiary Status (1972–73 to 1993–94) 134
- 7.1 Growth of Population in Madhya Pradesh 141
- 7.2 Human Development Index and Gender Development Index 142
- 7.3 Khargone Districts: Landholdings 157
- 7.4 Tahsil-wise Information about Women Khatedars in Khargone District 158
- 12.1 Distribution of Workers in Rural Areas 239
- 13.1 Percentage of Agricultural Workers to Total Workers in Sampled Districts 245
- 13.2 Beneficiaries Allotted House Plots in Lucknow District in UP (till August 2000) 252
- 13.3 Beneficiaries Allotted Agricultural Land Patta (till August 2000) 252
- 13.4 Men and Women Beneficiaries Allotted Land Patta in Bahraich District in UP (till August 2000) 252
- 13.5 Sources of Acquiring Agricultural Land 255
- 13.6 Women and Land Ownership 255
- 13.7 Women Landowners and Land Use Patterns 256
- 13.8 Circumstances Under Which Women Own Land 256
- 13.9 Reason(s) for Not Giving Entitlement Rights to Women in Agricultural Land 257
- 13.10 Terms and Conditions of Leasehold Lands 259 [Page ix]
- 13.11 Prevailing Practices on Inheritance of Agricultural Land by a Widow 263
- 13.12 Agencies Involved in Decisions on Land Inheritance Rights 265
- 13.13 Rules Followed in Decision-making Process with Regard to Land Inheritance Rights 265
- 13.14 Land Inheritance Practices by Daughters 267
- 13.15 Would Respondents’ Daughters Inherit Land? 268
- 13.16 Divorced Women's Entitlement to Husband's Land 270
- 13.17 Persons Who Mediate in Divorce-related Property Disputes 271
- 13.18 A Woman's Support during Separation 271
- 14.1 Average Agricultural Wage for Women and Men 280
- 14.2 Respondent's Opinion on How Government-allocated Land Should Be Titled 284
- 14.3 Dowry Costs by Household's Landholding 286
- 14.4 Wedding Costs by Household's Landholding 286
- 14.5 What is the Most Common Reason for Selling Land in This Village? 287
- 14.6 Do Daughters Ever Inherit Land? 292
Gender discrimination continues to be a disturbing fact of life. Studies have shown that in the existing mainstream patriarchal set-up, women are systematically denied accessibility and ownership of productive resources. This inequality is embedded within the socio-legal structure. Social movements led by women's organizations at the national as well as international levels have kept this issue alive. As a result, the Planning Commission, Government of India, included a chapter on gender and land rights in the Sixth Five Year Plan.
A major objective of the Centre for Rural Studies is to conduct research on various dimensions of land reforms. The present study is on gender and land rights. It analyzes the inheritance laws of agricultural land in the context of women. It also reviews customary practices prevalent among tribal societies.
We are sure the study will be regarded as a milestone in gender and land issues and will be a valuable guide for a variety of stakeholders.
We are grateful to the Union Ministry of Rural Development, Department of Land Resources, for entrusting this study to the Centre. Special thanks are due to Prof. Prem Chowdhry, editor of this volume. We wish to acknowledge the painstaking efforts of the contributors who went through several rounds of revision of their essays. Thanks are also due to Shri Wajahat Habibullah, IAS (Retd.), Shri Binod Kumar, IAS (Retd.) and Shri D.S. Mathur, IAS (Retd.) who provided the required administrative support for this study. Sarvshri Manoj Ahuja, IAS, Chiranjiv Chowdhry, IFS, L.C. Singhi, IAS, the then Co-ordinators and Vice Chairmen of the Centre as also the current co-ordinator, Ashish Vachhani, IAS, deserve special thanks for their untiring efforts in bringing out this volume. [Page xi]We would also like to acknowledge the work done by Dr Saroj Arora, Senior Research Officer and staff of the Centre for Rural Studies.
4 June 2008Centre for Rural Studies LBS National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, IAS Director & ChairmanCentre for Rural Studies LBS National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, IAS Joint Director & Vice Chairman
A Note from the Co-ordinator[Page xii]
This study titled Gender Discrimination in Land Ownership is carried out by the Centre for Rural Studies, LBS National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie. The basic objective of the study was to examine the existing status of the state laws, legislation and statutes with regard to women's land rights; and to evaluate the extent, condition and forms of agricultural land ownership by women in the rural areas cutting across diverse socio-cultural groups. An attempt has also been made to analyze customary practices operational in relation to gender and land inheritance.
This book includes 14 chapters covering 13 states and a Union Territory. The states covered are (alphabetically) Assam, Bihar, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Orissa, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and the Union Territory of Puducherry. The chapters cover almost all the major zones of India in the north, south, east, west, centre and the northeast. Out of 28 states and seven Union Territories the chapters cover 13 states and one Union Territory as representative case studies. For the convenience of the readers these case studies have been arranged alphabetically.
A large number of eminent scholars from various states of India were contacted to write on this specific issue. After the completion of the study in 13 states and a Union Territory, contributors of the chapters from different disciplines were invited to discuss the findings of their studies. Since land is a state subject hence recommendations have been drawn up addressing both the central- and state-level policy makers. Chapters included in this volume point out that inheritance laws in almost all the states are gender-biased. Notwithstanding, the assumption that the tribal societies of the northeastern states which are regulated by uncodified customary laws are gender-just proved a myth. Although recently various state governments have taken the initiative to issue land patta to specific categories of women (widowed, unmarried and separated) under land [Page xiii]reforms programmes, however, as the findings of these studies reveal, much still needs to be done and the process needs to be accelerated. Out of these 14 chapters, 10 chapters (Assam, Bihar, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Orissa, Puducherry and Punjab) basically review inheritance laws of agricultural land in relation to gender of the respective state/Union Territory. The remaining four chapters (Karnataka, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal) are field-based empirical studies. Thus, despite the fact that, at the national level, our Constitution prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, religion, race and caste and at the international level India is a signatory of Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), gender discrimination persists and is perpetuated and embedded within the structure itself.
I am sure that this volume will help us understand the genesis of problems and invite attention of the policy makers to take measures to establish a gender-just society.
A large number of people and institutions have helped at different stages to the completion of this study and I wish to thank them for their contributions. First of all, I wish to record my thanks to the Department of Land Resources, Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, for providing financial assistance to conduct research on an issue of such relevance. I express my sincere thanks to all the contributors for their scholarly inputs on the issue where the availability of data and literature are scarce and scanty. It is their untiring efforts that have led to the formation of this volume. I wish to record my sincere appreciation for Manoj Ahuja, IAS, former Co-ordinator-cum-Vice Chairman of Centre for Rural Studies, who took keen interest in the completion of the study and initiated the process of publication. Although getting resource persons in the area of gender and land initially had remained a difficult task, the effort initiated by Manoj Ahuja has been carried forward by Chiranjiv Chowdhry, IFS, and L.C. Singhi, IAS, former Co-ordinator and Vice Chairman of the Centre. M.H. Khan, IAS, Alok Kumar, IAS, P. Bharat Singh and H. Imocha Singh (from Manipur), A.K. Hazarika (from Assam), Navneet Sehgal, IAS, Binod Kumar Mulik, IAS, S.K. Narula and Amrit Lal Sahu (from Uttar Pradesh) and the associated revenue staff deserve special thanks for their cooperation in facilitating the field visits, providing data and logistic support. The research staff of Imphal University tirelessly remained in the field and assisted not only as interpreters but also enabled us to understand the socio-cultural aspect of the issue. I am, indeed, grateful to all of them.[Page xiv]
Sincere thanks are extended to Adesh Kumar, Ramesh C. Kothari, Dalip Singh Bist, Deepak Kumar, S.S. Kharola, Purshotam Kumar, Amarjeet and Suresh Kumar for providing secretarial support in their various capacities with immense patience and cooperation., IAS Deputy Director & Co-ordinator Centre for Rural Studies LBS National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie
Introduction: Understanding Land Rights of Women[Page xv]
The removal of gender discrimination in laws governing access and control of land and its ownership is now well acknowledged to be crucial for the economic and social empowerment of women. However, contemporary India shows a curious labyrinth of land ownership patterns and land rights for women co-existing in various states. The present collection of chapters in this volume from 14 different states underlines this fact. This is not anything new as differences between regions, within regions, between communities and different caste groups, high or low, have indeed existed historically. The British intervention crystallized certain select customs and legal doctrines which went into formulating legal practice in the colonial period. In this formulation, customs, actual practice and Shastric prescriptions (Mitakshara and Dayabhaga legal doctrines dating back to the 12th century) and Muslim personal law (Shariat) converged in certain communities and regions and diverged in others, all acting within the ambit of a western notion of jurisprudence. Together these acted to ensure, by and large, the existing patrilineal and patriarchal hold over land, thereby severely discriminating against women. As land was a state subject under the British, such discriminatory patterns were consolidated and gained legal usage and recognition.
This pattern was followed in post-colonial India when under a federal scheme, legislative jurisdiction was put under three different lists: a union list, a state list and a concurrent list. Agriculture and land-related [Page xvi]legislation was put under the state list, while laws relating to property and succession were put on the concurrent list. With the states empowered to enact laws which they deemed necessary for their respective regions, such a categorization has had the effect of promoting rather than negating gender-discriminatory land practices. All states have taken important measures in relation to agricultural labour, tenants and other farmers, land ceilings, allocation of surplus lands, distribution of pattas (official documents stating land title and the terms on which land is held) and other land reforms but, as the chapters in this volume reveal, none have accommodated women as such. On the other hand, the concurrent list which includes laws passed by the Parliament cannot be touched upon by the state legislatures; any modifications suggested by the states need the assent of the President of India. Consequently, the one succession-related law, so far the most gender-equitable law, that the states have not been able to modify is the Hindu Succession Act (HSA) passed by the Parliament in 1956. Repeated attempts at amendment of this Act, made by certain state governments, were blocked by the Centre by withholding the President's assent.
The 1956 Act is related to the ‘Hindus’—a term which included in its scope Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. This still left vast numbers of religious communities such as the Muslims, Christians, Parsis, Jews and others, comprising about 24 per cent of the total population of India, out of its ambit. These remained governed by their personal laws and local customs which are still in large part uncodified. Today inheritance for Hindus is governed by the HSA of 1956 and inheritance for the Muslims is governed by the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937, which accommodated the daughter by giving her half the share of the son. However, there is a considerable gap between scriptural dictates and actual practice. Many Muslim communities follow customs similar to those prevalent among Hindus in their region of residence, which means an exclusion of a daughter from inheritance of landed property, except among the Mappilas of Kerala where customary practice means matrilineal inheritance. The Parsis, on the other hand, are governed by the Indian Succession Act of 1925. Amended specifically for Parsis in 1991, this Act gives them greater gender parity in inheritance; Christians (other than Christians in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and those falling under uncodified laws in the northeastern states) are likewise governed by the relevant provisions of the 1925 Act, which treats a son and daughter's share equally, but has no restriction on testation.[Page xvii]I
The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, a progressive Act, introduced for the first time the notion of a woman—as a daughter (obliterating any distinction between married and unmarried daughters), sister, widow and mother—as an equal and absolute owner of property, with full rights at her disposal. Earlier, women could inherit as widows (and very rarely as daughters), and that too only in the absence of four generations of agnatic males. Also, this inheritance was limited. She could enjoy property only during her lifetime and after her it reverted to her husband's heirs. She could not alienate property except in highly restricted circumstances of legal necessity, benefit of the estate, for religious or charitable purposes and finally with the consent of the reversioners.
There were, however, certain significant pockets of matrilineal and bilateral inheritance in southwest India, especially Kerala (customarily governed by Marumakkatayam and Aliyasantana systems) and also in pockets of Karnataka, and northeast India, especially Meghalaya, where women's property rights were not the exception but the rule. Such communities received special considerations under the HSA, as the tribal communities of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland were not covered by this Act. The chapters on the northeastern states in this volume indicate how this region continues to be ruled by local customs which remain uncodified in large part and are given to differing interpretations that discriminate blatantly against women.
Although the 1956 Act was a substantial move forward, it still fell woefully short of introducing equal inheritance rights for women and significant inequalities remained. Briefly speaking, one of the major limitations lay in the retention of the Mitakshara coparcenaries, which did not include females as coparceners in joint Hindu family property. They enjoyed only maintenance rights as wives, widows or unmarried daughters. The male, however, becomes a coparcener at birth. The one concession made under the Act was to give women an equal share in a man's ‘notional’ share of the individual joint family property. This share in reality may not materialize as it is contingent upon the partition of the joint family property, for which only a man can ask. The woman does not have the right to ask for the partition of the joint family property. Under the Act, only the father's share, that is a half share in the property will devolve equally on the son and daughter. In other words, the son inherits three-fourth share, one half by virtue of right by birth and one-fourth by succession under the Act; whereas the daughter gets only one-fourth.[Page xviii]
The other glaring shortcoming in the Act was in relation to tenurial laws. In a woman's right to inherit agricultural land, exception was granted to ‘tenancy’ land. The devolution of such land is subject to state level tenurial laws which differ from state to state and are governed by custom. Similarly, the 1937 Shariat Act which governs inheritance for the Muslims left out agricultural land, owned or tenanted, from its purview. Subsequently, some of the southern states extended the provisions of the 1937 Shariat Act to also cover agricultural land. For instance, legislation in 1949 covered Tamil Nadu, parts of Karnataka and parts of Andhra Pradesh. Kerala followed suit in 1963. In all other regions, the treatment of agricultural land for Muslims depends variously on customs, tenurial laws or other pre-existing laws. Also, the laws dealing with the fixation of ceilings and the forfeiture of surplus land above the ceiling limit, as also the fragmentation of agricultural holdings, all of which are state subjects, have been used to strengthen men's claims at the cost of women.
The 1956 Act also gave unrestricted testamentary rights to Hindu males in their separate and self-acquired property, as well as their share of the joint family property, which can and has been used to deprive females of their rights. The chapter on West Bengal recounts several such cases. The Shariat, on the other hand gives restricted testamentary rights and the amount of property that a Muslim can bequeath or will away is limited to one-third of his property. Therefore, wives and daughters cannot be completely disinherited as they can be under the Hindu law.II
The 1956 Act, even though limited, succeeded in raising great resentment and grave insecurities among the male populace, especially in those regions where the majority of land is owned directly by landowners. Consequently, in states like Punjab and Haryana, dominated by peasant proprietors, and not tenants, the devolution of agricultural land came to be governed by the provisions of the HSA. In these states, in a series of cases in the aftermath of the 1956 Act, sisters successfully claimed their inheritance having contested the claims of the collaterals. Significantly all these were cases in which the sisters did not challenge the brothers, there being none, but effected land claims in opposition to distant collaterals. I cite one of the earliest cases from Punjab decided in the wake of the 1956 Act in which the sister successfully claimed her inheritance as illustrative of this.1[Page xix]The case decided in 1960 concerned the inheritance right to certain plots of land in village Sultanwind tahsil in Amritsar district. Sahib Singh, the last male owner of the lands under dispute, had died in December 1918. The widow Nihal Kaur succeeded to the lands, but on her remarriage soon thereafter she was divested of them and they passed to Sahib Singh's mother Kishen Kaur who died on 12 November 1942. On her death a dispute arose between Sahib Singh's sister Jeo and Sahib Singh's agnatic relation Ujjagar Singh as to the ownership of the lands. Jeo filed a suit asking for ownership. The court upheld her claim.
Similar decisions taken in the wake of the 1956 Act made it clear that inheritance of land cannot be denied to daughters or sisters. Here, it may be emphasized that statistically such cases are insignificant. Most authors writing for this volume have observed this. Elsewhere also studies indicate that women shy away from taking recourse to law to claim their inheritance.2 Reasons for not taking resort to courts of law range from considerations of ‘the prestige of the family’ to getting ‘a bad name among relatives and others’. In Haryana also I observed that all such court cases relate to situations where women had no brothers. Such attempts therefore have been confined only to those cases where some tradition exists. Indeed, a member of the Haryana Vidhan Sabha testified to the ‘greed’ among people who after the 1956 Act wanted their sons to marry only those girls who had no brothers.3
The states of Punjab and Haryana made several attempts to abolish or amend the 1956 Act. The Haryana Assembly passed a resolution in 1967 and the Punjab Assembly in 1977, both requesting the central government to change the said Act. The Centre did not oblige. In 1979 the Haryana Assembly tried to force the issue by unanimously passing a Bill, amending the Act of 1956 and sending it for the President's approval. This was not granted. Ten years later, in August 1989, another amendment in the Succession Act was proposed.
The debate4 which followed the introduction of the Bill sought to defend this amendment on the basis of ‘the long established tradition of brother/sister love’ which was projected to be ‘in grave danger of being severely disrupted’. Significantly, this defence of tradition has a wider significance, as this brother and sister love can only be sustained if the sister relinquishes her inheritance rights. The speakers also laid emphasis on the ‘enormous increase in the fragmentation of landholdings’ and the creation of uneconomic holdings. Figures provided by the Haryana government showed that the 16 per cent figure of below-5-acres uneconomic holdings of 1956 had increased to 73 per cent in 1975. Female inheritance [Page xx]introduced in 1956 was held responsible for this. This biased and highly motivated hypothesis completely ignored other realities working behind this phenomenon. These extended from a natural process of inheritance in view of the increase in population in those 20 years leading to subdivision of land among heirs on account of the break-up of joint and extended families into separate households during the lifetime of the head, to the resumption of rented land for self-cultivation, and the impact of the Green Revolution, which in the opinion of economists activated a division of holdings (Bhalla 1977). Interestingly, these are the same arguments which were recycled by some of the members of different political parties in the parliamentary debate that followed the recent pro-women amendments to the 1956 Act, the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Bill, 2004, passed recently in August 2005.
The spate of protests which followed the moves made by the Haryana government towards amendment could not be ignored and the proposal had to be withdrawn. In Punjab also, in the wake of the agitation, the demand for the promulgation of the Sikh personal law that denied land rights to women and advocated remarriage of a widow with her brother-in-law had been put forward. All these moves stand defeated as of now, but not the spirit that had moved them. This continues unabated cutting across differences of gender, class, caste and even political parties. Quite clearly, the moral economy of the peasants, the cultural valuation of women and the ideological constraints are all inextricably working for the conservation of men's rights. Despite the law and some court cases, there is nothing to indicate that a sizeable number of females have been able to exercise their rights. It appears that the amendment in these two states has been proposed more out of the fear of landowning males who remain apprehensive of the potential female claims than the actual claims made.
The chapters in this collection indicate that there are certain general characteristics that are common to most states. For instance, there is clearly a steady rise of women's work participation in agricultural activities, but significantly not in its ownership. Even those women who have mutations of land in their names do not have the authority or any control over it. There is a blatant disjunction between ownership and control of land in all the states. Decision-making in the cropping patterns, sale, mortgage, purchase of land or the instruments of production necessary for the development of agriculture, remains in the hands of the men of the household. In most cases women's rights, if claimed, have been written off or bought out by the male members. In others, the land may have remained with women, but it remains so only in name; the actual possessors being the male members.[Page xxi]
Most chapters also underscore the dominant role played by cultural and customary practices in all the states in depriving women of their legal rights. In a patrilineal system, notwithstanding the law of the land, the customary law dictates that the land can only be inherited by the descendants who can trace their origin from a common ancestor in the male line. Daughters and sisters who are made to observe clan and territorial exogamy in marriage stand excluded under the customary law. Observance of clan exogamy makes a daughter/sister an outsider, belonging to another clan and territorial exogamy makes it difficult, if not impossible, for her to take over the effective possession of her land, in case she inherits it.
Indeed, the social norms regarding acceptable marriage partners and post-marital residence clearly make a difference to female inheritance of landed property. The chapters indicate that the different norms of marriage practices followed in south India have a different fallout effect on land inheritance of women. In the south, traditionally, marriages with close kin, especially cross-cousins, are accepted and among some communities preferred. In the northern states, marriages with close kin are forbidden or strongly disapproved. Both close kin and in-village marriages reduce the possibility of property distribution outside the family and geographically, if the daughter inherits land. This makes for a far less opposition to daughters inheriting land in southern states. It is because of this attitude and practice that the few pro-women amendments that were carried out in these states did not attract any notable public opposition as in the northern states.
It is significant that the south Indian states were the first to amend the HSA by bringing the rights of daughters on par with sons in joint Hindu family property. The chapter on Kerala shows the Joint Hindu Family System (Abolition) Act of 1976 which declared all family members with an interest in the Hindu undivided family estate as holding their share separately as full owners. The Act was certainly a blow to the matrilineal joint estate but it also eliminated any advantages that sons enjoyed over daughters in joint Hindu family property among patrilineal Hindus in Kerala. More recently, Andhra Pradesh in 1986 and Tamil Nadu in 1989 have amended the HSA to recognize unmarried daughters as coparceners by birth in their own right, giving them claims equal to sons in joint family property, including the right to a share by survivorship.
However, there has also been some disturbing blurring of the differences between northern and southern states. The Kerala study argues that among the matrilineal Hindu groups there has been a very general and gradual shift towards dowried virilocal monogamous marriages. The authors argue [Page xxii]that cross-cousin marriage is fading out and an increasing preference for marriage conducted outside is noticeable. In this context in a highland south Travancore village ‘migration due to marriage’ was considered the most important reason for sale of land by Nair women.III
The chapters underline that it is in the tenancy land that discrimination faced by women in relation to their rights of inheritance is more visible. For example, in the tenurial laws of northern India, namely, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh (as also in Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir), the specified rules of devolution of land show a strong preference for agnatic succession, with priority being given to agnatic males. In all these states the tenancy devolves in the first instance on the male line of descent. The widow inherits only in the absence of these male heirs. In addition, daughters and sisters are either excluded totally, or as in Uttar Pradesh (and Delhi), come very low in the order of heirs. In all these states, a woman, in any capacity, can hold only a limited interest in the land; after her death the holding goes not to her heirs but to the heirs of the last male landowner. She also loses her land if she remarries or fails to cultivate it for a specified period, usually a year or two.
The West Bengal, Karnataka and Kerala chapters indicate the application of personal laws for devolution of tenancy land, as these states have no order of devolution. (The same can be observed in states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra.) In states like Bihar and Orissa, where tenancy Acts specify that occupancy rights shall devolve in the same manner as other immovable property, subject to any custom to the contrary, the room is left wide open to admit gender customs that are non-egalitarian, if established. These Acts, as the Puducherry (earlier known as Pondicherry) chapter shows, emphasize the male pronoun for a tenant and never a female. In states like Uttar Pradesh the term ‘tenants’, as defined under the Uttar Pradesh Zamindari Abolition and Land Reform Act of 1950, is so broad that this category includes bhumidars, sirdars and asamis (with differing permanent, heritable and transferable tenures), and the land occupied by them covers almost all agricultural land. In other words, exemption of tenancy land from the preview of the HSA has meant that in Uttar Pradesh almost all agricultural land is legally inheritable principally [Page xxiii]by males. For Muslims in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, the devolution even of owned land favours male lineal descendants, since customs to this effect have always been strong here.
The chapters further highlight the glaring shortcomings in the laws dealing with the fixation of ceiling and the forfeiture of surplus land above the ceiling limit, as also the fragmentation of agricultural holdings, all of which were used to strengthen men's claims at the cost of women. A ceiling is fixed in relation to a family unit consisting of up to five members. Additional land is allowed to families of over five members, subject to a specified maximum. In most states an adult son gets additional allotment but not an adult daughter. The Bihar, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh chapters show that each adult son counts as a separate unit and is entitled to hold a specified extent of land in his own right. Also, the husband is counted as an independent unit but not his wife, even when she owns land in her own right. Consequently, if the land is above the ceiling limit it is the wife who loses the land not the husband.
The state-wise enactments in the chapters show that with the exception of a few states like West Bengal, Karnataka and Kerala, unmarried adult daughters receive no recognition at all and they do not count as part of the family unit or as separate units. In other states such as Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh married minor daughters also receive no recognition. Only in Kerala both an unmarried adult son and unmarried adult daughter, count as separate units. In Puducherry the unmarried daughters, whether major or minor, are considered to be members of the family which warrants larger holding. Most states however did not give any consideration, while fixing land ceilings for the maintenance needs of unmarried adult daughters and married minor daughters, while giving consideration to all sons, whatever their age or marital status.
Over the years, some of these ceiling Acts have been challenged in the court, though without any success. One of the grounds for challenging them has been the charge that they discriminate against women and are therefore unconstitutional. This has not been found tenable in law. The first amendment to the Constitution of India, enacted in 1951, had introduced a provision to protect the land reform legislation from being challenged by entrenched class interests. It had therefore provided that none of the provisions mentioned in the ninth schedule of the Constitution would be void, on the ground that they infringed on the fundamental rights granted by the Constitution of India. However, in protecting land reforms from being challenged, this amendment also entrenched gender inequality. Consequently, the ceiling laws included in the ninth schedule, although blatantly discriminatory against women, cannot be challenged.[Page xxiv]IV
One stream of thought that runs through in most chapters is the assumed and perceived substitution of inheritance rights of a woman by dowry that is given to her. Rural male opinion is almost unanimous in contending that the girls receive their share of patrimony at the time of marriage in the form of dowry. This is used as a justification for continuing to deprive a woman of her inheritance rights. Some anthropologists have gone so far as to equate this ‘inheritance’ of movable property at marriage in lieu of immovable property which the brothers receive in a kind of ante-mortem substitute (Goody and Tambiah 1973). This view has been effectively refuted by a number of scholars.5 The significant point about this contradiction lies in showing that the so-called property which a rural woman takes as dowry does not generate income in the same sense as land does. In northern states like Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh it is quite inconceivable for a daughter to be given land as dowry.
The only way in which land might be used indirectly as dowry is if the guardian is forced to sell his land in order to offer the necessary money for dowry and/or to pay the expenses of the marriage himself. The Bengal study in this volume catalogues selling of land or other assets to raise money for a daughter's dowry and wedding expenses. Even under the colonial administration, a widow, despite her limited right over the land of her dead husband, had been allowed to alienate, though not sell, her land or part of it to provide dowry for her daughter and for meeting the marriage expenses (Rattigan 1880: 411). Indeed, in popular perception, the dowry is all that a woman is entitled to; customarily, it is pointed out, the daughters have only been entitled to maintenance and to be ‘suitably betrothed and married’. The argument that the rising cost of the girls’ marriages and the dowry demands which, men assert, frequently land them into debt, is used to clinch the issue against female inheritance rights. The tendency has been for an increase of dowry among all castes and classes. It is a part of a general and widespread tendency to cultural convergence all over India.
The chapters in this volume observe the general visibility of dowry among groups that formerly did not practise the system of dowry and change in its character among groups that did. For instance the growing tentacles of dowry can be seen even in regions like Kerala, traditionally governed by matrilineal laws. Again, most chapters report heavy indebtedness as one common result of rising marriage expenses and the dowry system shared by small landowners, and landless and low caste/class categories. The lower castes/classes borrow money from landowners either at high rates of [Page xxv]interest, or are forced to enter into a feudal-like debt bondage system. This has become noticeable even in areas showing increased commercialization or capitalist development in agriculture. Other small landowners who emulate their richer brethren by incurring expenses on dowry and marriage beyond their means, end up either by selling their land or becoming heavily indebted to the extent of permanently impairing or at least putting their production process under pressure for all times to come.
The custom of lavish and ostentatious weddings has tended to spread because it has become a ‘sign of social rank’. However, due to the advance of a capitalist economy in crucial areas, and the generation of an enormous economic surplus due to the Green Revolution and gains of the late 1960s and 1970s along with the coming of globalization and extensive consumerism, all bounds of social expenditure have been broken. For certain classes, lavish wedding celebrations and the giving and receiving of huge dowries have become a matter of prestige and a status symbol. Thus, women have had to suffer the consequences of a custom which has been strengthened and consolidated mostly due to male considerations.
A large measure of legitimacy has been provided to this custom by women themselves, primarily because rural women have accepted dowry as a substitute for property for which their legal claim has been established. This acceptance is perhaps best explained by Leela Dube who points out that the daughter is looked upon as a temporary member of the family and the son as permanent one (Dube 1988). The women's main concern, therefore, is to establish themselves in the new family and acquire a status there; dowry is looked upon as a necessary contribution towards this process. Moreover, realizing the increasing ‘heavy expenditure’ which marriage entails, women tend to view dowry, and not property, as their due.
In Haryana, in the course of my fieldwork, when I directly questioned women about their inheritance rights, annoyance was visible; as well as counter questions like: ‘Haven't our brothers got us married?’ In their opinion they (that is, married women) have already taken a share of their parental property in the form of cash and kind at the time of marriage, ‘…so where is the question of more share?’, they enquired. Most chapters confirm this reluctance on the part of women and even their hostility to asserting their inheritance rights. The chapter on Bihar interestingly observes that even urban/educated women have a similar attitude. The college-going women firmly asserted that ‘…they would neither claim their respective shares in their parents’ property nor would they accept such shares even if their parents decide to offer them’. With such attitudes it is no wonder that despite a fairly high level of awareness of their inheritance rights, as argued in all the chapters, women are claiming dowry and not their inheritance.[Page xxvi]
Yet, in the minds of rural-urban women, the ambivalence between inheritance as a matter of right and dowry as matter of goodwill or faith of the father and/or brothers, along with the dictates of the market and male considerations of their ‘status’, does not exist. This attitude on the part of women greatly helps in perpetuating it. The situation has been reinforced now by the male members becoming more careful about fulfilling their ‘obligations’ regarding traditional gifts, be it for a particular festival or dowry.
Clearly, Madhu Kishwar's plea for a retention of the custom of dowry till the inheritance rights are activated, on the argument that dowry gives women, and is perceived by them to give, a share in their father's property, cannot be accepted.6 On the contrary, unless this substitution of inheritance rights by dowry, which is a patriarchal construct, is done away with, the law of inheritance cannot be expected to succeed. The continuation of dowry acts as a justification imposed by patriarchy and accepted by women. On the other hand, it is also true that dowry as a custom, apart from several other reasons, has come to depend a great deal on the inheritance law and the resultant potential claims of women. Almost unwittingly the law has reinforced this.V
It has taken India nearly 50 years to rid the HSA of some of its major gender inequalities. An Amendment Bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in December 2004. There were many shortcomings in the Bill. These inadequacies led to a concerted campaign by women's groups in the following year. This campaign was supported by individuals from across the country. Extensive public discussions, opinions from legal experts, academics and activists, who had made a thorough study of the issues involved, resulted in greatly widening the scope of the originally proposed legislation, making it more comprehensive. The revised version passed on 29 August 2005 in the Parliament covered inequalities on several fronts: agricultural land, Mitakshara joint family property, parental dwelling house and rights of certain widows. This amendment overrode any legislation made by the states.
The amended Act, briefly speaking, granted women equal rights as men in all property including agricultural land, owned or tenanted, ancestral or self-acquired. This amendment abolished the highly gender-unequal [Page xxvii]inheritance of land, which was earlier subject to state level tenurial laws. It further made daughters, married or unmarried, equal to sons in joint Hindu family property, governed by Mitakshara law, with right to claim partition and by presumption, to become karta (manager) while also sharing the liabilities. Making daughters, especially married daughters, coparceners in joint family property had already been effected in some of the southern states. This amendment reiterated the understanding that women are co-sharers in inheritance as a matter of their right; they are not left to the goodwill of men of the family. Having a birthright in joint family property also means that it cannot be willed away by male members.
The amendment also gave daughters, married and unmarried, the same rights as sons to reside in or seek partition of the family dwelling house. The 1956 Act had not allowed a married daughter (unless separated, deserted or widowed) even residence rights in the parental home. Unmarried daughters had residence rights but could not demand partition. The amendment has also removed the bar placed on certain widows such as those of pre-deceased sons from inheriting the deceased's property if they had remarried. Under the amendment they can now inherit. The amendment underlines that daughters and sons are equally important members of the parental family.
However, certain anomalies persist. The amendment, by including daughters as coparceners, has had the effect of diluting the share of other family heirs like the widow and the mother of the deceased man, since the coparcenary share of the deceased male from whom they inherit declines when daughters are also accommodated in the joint family property. An increase in the number of coparceners (as brought about by this amendment which includes the daughters) leads to a decline of a widow's share dependent upon that of her deceased husband. This could be rectified only if the Mitakshara coparcenary was abolished altogether, which was the demand of women's groups. In such a case all property would go equally to Class I heirs, of which the widow is one. The Act also leaves untouched provisions of state laws concerning the fixation of ceilings and fragmentation of agricultural holdings.
The other area left untouched by the amended law is the right granted under the provision of the will to disinherit a woman from self-acquired property, as a person has unrestricted testamentary rights over his or her property. In practice the use of this right can and has been to disinherit women of their property. The demand of women's groups to partially restrict testamentary freedom so that a part of the testation is made mandatory for women was not accepted. This has left a huge lacuna as a man can will away everything a woman may get.[Page xxviii]
It may be remembered that the HSA governs most of India and a majority of Indians, but not all of India or all the Indians. Several communities and areas lie outside its scope. As pointed out earlier, the northeastern states, comprising Assam, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Meghalaya remain governed by customary laws which, as the chapters in this volume argue, are notoriously gender-discriminatory. For these areas a special case had been made out in the constituent assembly advocating preservation of life and customs of these tribal areas which was incorporated in the sixth schedule of the Indian Constitution. The sixth schedule has provided autonomy to the areas and allowed the tribes to frame their own rules in accordance with their customary practices. The state and union legislations are not enforceable in these regions unless approved by the district councils. Most of the customs followed in these areas are highly anti-women, except for certain strands of the tribal tradition which are comparatively more favourable to women than caste societies. The chapters in this volume argue how such traditions are now fast deteriorating, under the impact of extensive commercialization, coming in of individual ownership, deforestation and wide-scale displacement. These changes are leading towards strengthening of patriarchy, and at times, to patriliny even in matrilineal societies as in Meghalaya.
Apart from tribal populations there are matrilineal Hindu and Muslim communities as well as other Christian communities like the Syrian Christians of Kerala who continue to be governed by exception clauses and inequitable customary and regional laws of inheritance, some of which have been the subject of recent legal challenges.7 Unless these states and communities are able to identify, examine and redefine the prevailing customs and other laws relating to land and inheritance, the principle of gender equity will remain elusive.VI
It is undeniable that wherever custom and religion remain the basis of defining personal law the gender inequalities are likely to persist. The issue of bringing in a law which would be applicable uniformly to all regions, religious groups and communities, which are now governed by a diversity of laws, has been a long-standing one. This demand was, in fact, first put forward in the form of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in the 1930s by the All India Women's Conference. In combination with their request of legal [Page xxix]recognition of women's right to inherit and control property, this demand proved highly inflammable to most male members of the Constituent Assembly. The women representatives failed to get the UCC included in the Constitution. It was only incorporated within the directive principles of state policy, which the state would endeavour to secure.
By and large, for a variety of reasons, the central focus occupied by women's right to land/property in the movement in pre-independent India and immediate post-independent India was lost subsequently. This is specially glaring as there has been a phenomenal increase in women's movements especially since the 1970s. Although deeply concerned with ameliorating women's economic conditions, women's organizations and movements have been pre-occupied with the problem of women's wages, small income generating and other micro-credit schemes. Only sporadic and limited attempts have been made to tackle the issue of land rights for women in Bihar, Maharashtra and West Bengal, as the chapters indicate.
In this connection, a revival of UCC in the 1980s in the wake of the Shah Bano controversy,8 which meant the applicability of more gender-equal reformed laws of inheritance as well as certain other aspects to all women regardless of caste, creed and region, assumed great significance. Once again this attempt proved highly contentious and led to debate and division among women's organizations, showing complete lack of consensus. Today, in the volatile socio-political climate, the UCC itself has been overlaid with additional meanings. The issue of reforming ‘personal laws’ has become entwined with questions of religious and community identity, and the politicization of identity issues. Promoted as a means of effecting national unity and integrating diverse communities, it has become associated with the agenda of the Hindu right-wing political groups. Consequently, many intellectuals and activists, who may have supported it, now fight shy of it. In the debate that followed regarding the efficacy of bringing about a gender-just or gender-equal code, as the UCC has come to be termed now, three major positions were thrown up, highlighting the diversity of concerns, approaches and ideologies and hence divisiveness that the women's movement in India, despite its extensive vibrancy, faces today. Briefly speaking, these three major positions held by individuals and groups interested in gender equality in personal laws are: one, that personal law reform should proceed from ‘within’ each religious group, with each group left to pursue legal reform separately; two, that gender-just laws which apply to all citizens by birth should co-exist with personal laws, so that on adulthood each person can choose whether to be governed by the one or the other; three, the application of a gender-equal [Page xxx]code to all citizens without distinction of community, religion or custom. Although so far no consensus has been reached, this debate has helped in creating a lot of awareness among women from different strata about gender issues and their rights, as well as the role played by custom and religion in negating these rights.
Hopefully, it is only a matter of time before this issue is resolved as witnessed in the successful though contentious amendment of the HSA, 1956, passed recently in 2005. Will this amendment, removing some of the most glaring inequalities so far faced by women in law, be implemented and provide much needed succour to women? It is undeniable that there is a difference between the legal recognition of a claim and its social recognition and between recognition and enforcement. There is also a distinction between ownership and effective control. To enhance women's ability to claim and retain control over their rightful inheritance shares, several aspects are likely to need attention: establishing the social legitimacy of the claim; reducing gender bias in village level registration practices and village council rulings; enhancing women's legal knowledge and literacy; providing women with legal aid; improving women's fallback position so that they are able to deal with the ensuing intra-family conflict, including providing external support structures that would reduce women's dependence on brothers and close kin. In all this the role of collective action is likely to be primary.
There is no doubt that there will be opposition to the implementation of this law, especially from society and the bureaucracy. Changing social attitudes and cultural patterns take time, and is going to require an enormous and concerted effort. I recall a case from Haryana where a married woman, an only daughter of a widow, came with her husband and settled in village Bandh of Karnal where she had inherited land from her mother. Her husband's landholding in village Kasandi, being much smaller, was given out on batai (share cropping). This arrangement, with great difficulty, lasted only for two years. The male collaterals did not allow them to settle down. They were openly taunted; quarrels were picked with them on the slightest pretext. Socially they were unwelcome everywhere; animals were let loose in the fields; their crops were destroyed; water channels were cut and water diverted elsewhere; special irrigation arrangements made from the neighbouring tubewells for two hours would dry up after only half an hour. Out of sheer helplessness the woman had to sell off the land at a much lower market price to the tormentors, that is, her late father's male collaterals and move back with her husband to his village. With most of the legal impediments removed from women's inheritance rights, [Page xxxi]the situation is one of potential violence and bloodshed. Even the murder of women in such cases, where the inheritance rights may be claimed, is openly acknowledged. In such cases of violence, the police officers confess to the impossibility to marshal witnesses, and collect evidence to take action against the offenders, because such crimes are committed with the connivance of the biradari.
Clearly, community- and family-related social constraints are compounded by the unhelpful approach of many government functionaries who share the prevailing social biases with its strong male resistance to female inheritance of land. They do not take kindly to such claims and often obstruct the implementation of laws favouring women. In the absence of an effective and encouraging state support system, women are also reluctant to claim their inheritance. They either reiterate the male reasoning in asserting male entitlement or offer cultural, moral and emotional justification for not claiming their share. Where women do not voluntarily forego their inheritance claims, male relatives have been known to file court cases, forge wills or resort to threats and, as mentioned, even physical violence. In such a situation the role of administration as implementers of law emerges as extremely crucial. Immediate steps need to be taken to check widespread bureaucratic negligence and apathy.
The ineffective implementation of the instructions of the Government of India favouring women, as well as generally not adopting pro-women programmes, has been commented upon by all the chapters included in this volume. Importantly, this shortcoming is also acknowledged by top administrators. In a workshop conducted by the Centre for Rural Studies at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie in February 2004, attended by bureaucrats, academics, advocates, researchers and social activists, one of the major reasons pinpointed for the continuing discriminatory practices against women was the unwillingness and non-compliance on the part of the state administrators to enforce any pro-women programmes. Since the changes brought about by the recent amendment are far-reaching in their thrust in imparting equality to (Hindu) women, it is important that in case of non-implementation or ineffective implementation of such laws, bureaucrats must be held accountable. In fact, there may well be need for an enactment of law so that implementers can be made accountable.
For this, the sensitization of government officials who are directly involved in implementation of land laws, is necessary; specific instructions should be sent to all concerned officials, including the village level (such as patwari/lekhpal and amin, and so on). Their activities need to be monitored [Page xxxii]regularly both at the state and Government of India levels. The local level institutions are the lowest tier of democratic institutions at the village level and also play a greater role in land-related issues pertaining to women. The administrators, high and low, must ensure that the registration of title deeds and other documents is effectively implemented and in this process women's rights are safeguarded. To have a clear picture of gendered practices in land ownership and access the impact of land reform policy on women's status, the maintenance of sex-segregated data should be made mandatory (computerized if possible9) for all types of land records of the revenue department. It should include indicators such as land ownership, landholdings, land use pattern, area operated and extent of tenancy. This consolidated record would facilitate a realistic assessment of the implementation of the new land-related changes in law in favour of women claimants by the administrators.
Implementers, particularly administrators, also need to ensure that economic rights of women do not get defeated by means of other social holds over them. A concerted campaign towards effecting such a change as well as legal awareness is essential. There is urgent need to create and spread legal awareness of gender-related land laws and government policies on land ownership among both women and men. For this, it is imperative that at the state and district level a Social Welfare Board, and at the village level, Panchayati Raj institutions are mobilized. With one-third seats reserved for women in the panchayats, the assured presence of women in decision-making roles and positions of authority, a wider ideological impact is bound to be made over issues of women's rights. Although women's presence in such bodies need not guarantee a more gender-progressive approach, the record of elected all-women panels in village panchayats in parts of India, like in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, has been heartening. The need, however, is for effective training and education of these members to deal with land-related issues. It is generally recognized that women are not involved in decision-making processes related to land management, including probate processes. Even when they are involved they lack the necessary skills or opportunities to assert their land rights existing under different laws. To overcome this, it is therefore important to appoint women functionaries at the grassroots level in the revenue and agricultural departments and impart them effective training.
There is also a need to link up gram panchayats to legal cells so as to ensure that women who bring their land-related problems to these panchayats or to other legal forums have ready access to legal advice and services. The government should also make facilitative arrangements to the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to help out in this task of providing [Page xxxiii]a strong support structure at the village level. Small groups such as self-help groups (SHGs), women activists and local level NGOs should be encouraged to educate women about their legal rights and encourage them to exercise these rights. Local gender-progressive organizations would strengthen women's fallback position in case of intra-family conflict over women's land and inheritance claims. These networks could reduce women's dependence on male relatives, especially brothers in whose favour women, as most chapters show, often forfeit their claims.
Although social attitudes, norms and perceptions are not easy to alter, such interventions could further the process initiated legally. Overall support would enhance women's ability to challenge inequalities in the family and community. The collective attempt of the government, NGOs and individuals ensuring that the reality on the ground does not compromise the promised equality and protection against discrimination on the basis of sex, enshrined as a fundamental right in the Constitution of India, will go a long way in changing social perceptions and norms which discriminate against women in areas of inheritance.Acknowledgements
I wish to acknowledge the pioneering work of Bina Agarwal (Agarwal 1994) and all her subsequent works, too numerous to be cited here, as well as extended discussions with her in arriving at an all-India understanding of this problem. I also wish to record my profound thanks to Dr Saroj Arora of the Centre for Rural Studies, LBS National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, for the invaluable help extended by her in all aspects of my editorial work involving this volume.Notes
1. See The Supreme Court Journal (1960). This case also refers to a host of other similar cases.
2. See study prepared for the ministry of education and social welfare, 1988, cited in Saradamoni (1994).
3. Haryana Vidhan Sabha Debates, 25 September 1979. See speech of Jagjit Singh Pohlu, a landowner of considerable stature from village Chattar.
4. For the entire debate, see Haryana Vidhan Sabha Debates, 25 September 1979.[Page xxxiv]
5. For an effective contradiction of the anthropologists’ claims, see Sharma (1980: 48–49) and Hershman (1981: 79–80).
6. For the details of the highly controversial debate and viewpoints of different authors, see Chowdhry (1994: 337–38).
7. For instance, cases filed by Madhu Kishwar in 1982 (for HO tribal women in Bihar) and Mary Roy in 1983 (against the Travancore–Cochin Succession Act of 1916) challenged this ‘unconstitutional discrimination’ against women. See Kishwar (1987a, 1987b, 1987c). For Mary Roy's case see Mary Roy versus the State of Kerala and Others, All India Reporter, Supreme Court, 1986, Volume 73, 1011.
8. For various aspects of this case, see Engineer (1987).
9. Computerization of land records in different states of India is currently being undertaken. For details see Habibullah and Ahuja (2005).References1994. A Field of Ones Own: Gender and Land Rights in South Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511522000.1977. ‘Changes in Acreage and Tenure Structure Landholdings in Haryana, 1962–72’, Economic and Political Weekly, 19 March 1977, XII (12): A2–A15..1994. The Veiled Women: Shifting Gender Equations in Rural Haryana 1880–1990. Delhi: Oxford University Press..1988. ‘On the Construction of Gender: Hindu Girls in Patrilineal India’, Economic and Political Weekly, 30 April 1988, XXIII (18): WS11–ws19..Engineer, A.A. (ed.). 1987. Shah Bano Controversy. New Delhi: Orient Longman.1973. Brideswealth and Dowry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.and .Habibullah, Wajahat and ManojAhuja (eds). 2005. Land Reforms in India: Computerisation of Land Records, Vol. X. New Delhi: Sage Publications.1981. Punjabi Kinship and Marriage. New Delhi: Hindustan Publishing Corporation..1987a. ‘Toiling Without Rights: Ho Women of Singhbhoom’, Economic and Political Weekly, 22 (3): 95–101..1987b. ‘Toiling Without Rights: Ho Women of Singhbhoom’, Economic and Political Weekly, 22 (4): 149–55..1987c. ‘Toiling Without Rights: Ho Women of Singhbhoom’, Economic and Political Weekly, 22 (5): 194–200.. [Page xxxv]1880. A Digest of the Civil Law for the Punjab Chiefly Based on the Customary Law as Present Ascertained. Revised by Harbans Lal Sarin and Kundan Lal Pandit, second edition (Reprint, 1960). Allahabad: University Book Agency.1994. ‘Progressive Land Legislation and Subordination of Women’, in LotikaSarkar and B.Sivaramayya (eds), Women and Law: Contemporary Problems, pp. 155–84. New Delhi: Vikas Publishers.1980. Women, Work and Property in North-West India. London: Tavistock Publications..The Supreme Court Journal. 1960. ‘Civil Appellate Jurisdiction, Ujjagar Singh versus Jeo’, The Supreme Court Journal, XXIII: 16–26.
About the Editor and Contributors[Page 300]Editor
Prem Chowdhry is currently a Senior Academic Fellow at the Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi. She was a former Professorial fellow at the Centre of Contemporary Studies, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Teen Murti, New Delhi. She is the author of Contentious Marriages, Eloping Couples, Gender, Caste and Patriarchy in Northern India, 2007; Colonial India and the Making of Empire Cinema: Image, Ideology and Identity, 2000; The Veiled Women: Shifting Gender Equations in Rural Haryana (1880–1990), 1994; and Punjab Politics: The Role of Sir Chhotu Ram, 1984. She has also contributed several articles on politics, society, land and inheritance, culture and gender both in colonial and contemporary India, to edited works and reputed national and international journals. She is currently engaged in exploring different aspects of popular culture and cultural practices specially in relation to understanding masculinities in northern India. Her forthcoming works include a collection of her articles, and an edited volume on the writings of Hardwarilal. Prem Chowdhry is also a well known, nationally recognized artist who has exhibited her paintings in Delhi, Bombay and Karachi.Contributors
Kripa Ananthpur is Assistant Professor in Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Her broad area of specialization is governance and civil society. She has worked extensively in this area studying the dynamics of various local institutions.[Page 301]
Saroj Arora is a Senior Research Officer with the Centre for Rural Studies (CRS), Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie.
Jennifer Brown is a Staff Attorney at the Rural Development Institute, in Seattle. Her areas of specialization are land law and policy.
Sujata Das Chowdhury is a freelance research consultant. Her area of interest is rural economics, with special reference to West Bengal.
Renee Giovarelli is a Senior Fellow for the Global Centre for Women's Land Rights, The Rural Development Institute, Seattle.
Asha Hans is a former Professor in the Department of Political Science, Utkal University, Orissa. At present, she is the President of Sansristi (a Centre of Gender Development), Bhubaneswar, Orissa. She specializes in the field of international politics with special reference to gender, security and community development studies.
Hetukar Jha is a former Professor in the Department of Sociology, Patna University, Patna. He has been working on the villages, educational institutions and cultural regions of Bihar.
M.N. Karna is former Professor of Sociology, Northeastern Hills University, Shillong, Meghalaya, and has written extensively on tribal, gender and forest related issues. Currently he is associated with Tezpur University in Assam.
Ksh. Bimola Devi is former Dean, School of Social Sciences and currently Professor of Political Science, Manipur University, Kanchipur, Imphal.
Praveena Kodoth is an Associate Fellow with Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. Her major thrust areas of study are gender, law and reform.
Padmaja Mishra is Professor in Economics, Department of Applied Economics, Utkal University, Orissa and specializes in Environmental Economics.
M. Parwez is Reader at the Centre of Advanced Study, Department of History, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh. Earlier, he served at Assam University, Silchar and has researched extensively on diverse areas of Assamese society.[Page 302]
Amrita Mishra Patel is Lecturer in the School of Women's Studies, Utkal University, Orissa. She is also a freelance consultant on women's issues and a gender trainer for police personnels in Orissa.
N. Rajasekhar is from the IAS and is currently associated with the State Election Commission, Puducherry.
M Rajivlochan is a Professor in the Department of History, Panjab University, Chandigarh.
Meeta Rajivlochan is an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) Officer of Maharashtra cadre and is presently posted in Punjab as Controller in Semi Conductor Laboratory, Department of Space, Government of India.
Raj Mohini Sethi is a former Professor and Chairperson, Department of Sociology, Panjab University, Chandigarh. Currently, she is heading a non-governmental organization and is actively involved in extensive research.
L.C. Singhi is an IAS officer from the Assam–Meghalaya Cadre. Presently, he is a Joint Secretary, Central Information Commission, Delhi. Earlier he had been Co-ordinator and Professor at Centre for Rural Studies, LBS National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie.
Land Reforms in India[Page 315]
Vol. 1 Bihar—Institutional Constraints. 1993. B.N. Yugandhar and K. Gopal Iyer (eds). Vol. 2 Rajasthan—Feudalism and Change. 1995. B.N. Yugandhar and P.S. Datta (eds). Vol. 3 Andhra Pradesh—People's Pressure and Administrative Innovations. 1996. B.N. Yugandhar (ed.). Vol. 4 Karnataka—Promises Kept and Missed. 1997. Abdul Aziz and Sudhir Krishna (eds). Vol. 5 An Unfinished Agenda. 2000. B.K. Sinha and Pushpendra (eds). Vol. 6 Intervention for Agrarian Capitalist Transformation in Punjab and Haryana. 2001. Sucha Singh Gill (ed.). Vol. 7 Issues of Equity in Rural Madhya Pradesh. 2002. Praveen K. Jha (ed.). Vol. 8 Performance and Challenges in Gujarat and Maharashtra. 2002. Ghanshyam Shah and D.C. Sah (eds). Vol. 9 Tamil Nadu: An Unfinished Task. 2003. M. Thangaraj (ed.). Vol. 10 Computerisation of Land Records. 2005. Wajahat Habibullah and Manoj Ahuja (eds).