Thinking Ordinary: Of Female Inheritance

Kashmir, if we believe the anthropologists who suggest that patriarchy, the male dominated social order, was well established at the end of Neolithic Era, an easy inference can be drawn that our Burzahom civilisation growing crops and actively pursuing agriculture, had adopted this order like their counterparts in other parts of the world. To me the mother of all discriminations that patriarchy has enforced against women is/ has been the denial of inheritance to them.

With the invasions/ arrivals of successive hoards of Aryans, Kashmiri society witnessed the establishment of a ruthless monolithic social order wherein prejudice was institutionalised against the majority of the population in particular the women. Sati the practice of widows immolating on the funeral pyre of their husbands did exist during this period that historically lasted a few millennia. In this backdrop women inheriting ancestral property or even owning any property was a tall order. We may claim that Kashmir had a few queens like Dida and Kota Rani and, therefore, “owned” the throne during this period, the fact is that they “ruled”  merely as Regents/ guardians of minor male heirs to the throne.

Not much changed after the political structure that patronised and enforced this peculiar social order was uprooted during the fourteenth century as far as women are concerned except that the practice of Sati disappeared. All ownership in land vested with the state even though rights of cultivation thereof interse were inherited but their is nothing to suggest these rights could be inherited by women. It is only after the establishment of British Residency in the state in 1885 and when after the recommendations of Andrew Wingate and Walter Lawrence tenancy rights over land were formally recognised, we see instances of sole female child or only women children of a father inheriting these rights but as taxation was too heavy she/ they had always to barter these rights with male relatives and stay powerless as ever.

When Ghulab Singh family rule ends and Sheikh Abdullah is installed as the Prime Minister in 1947, things for women went from bad to worse as far as inheritance of land was concerned. Unwritten instructions were conveyed to revenue officials that in the case of women marrying outside their villages, inheritance of agricultural land be discouraged so that it prevents such land from being kept idle and only Khana Nisheen (girls who would get married but stay with their parents) be allowed to inherit. Although legislation in the shape of Jammu and Kashmir Hindu Succession Act 1956 and the Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Personal Law Application Act 2007 do exist but do so on paper only.

In the absence of data, official or otherwise, I would make a personal assessment, that almost 90 percent of females don’t inherit at all any portion of the ancestral property throughout the length and the breadth of the state irrespective of ethnicity or religion and women are either coerced or conditioned to  surrender their shares to their male siblings as a social norm. It is more or less the same in the whole subcontinent and I was least surprised when Pakistani President Dr Arif-ur-Rehman Alvi, a few days back, put the number at 90/95 percent.  Revenue and other officials not only play along shamelessly but mint money in the process. We are following the Salic law in letter and spirit in a space time continuum.

Steps that can be taken to address this issue

  • An immediate one time census of total female ownership of land for assessing the magnitude of the issue to be uploaded on a specially designed website. This should include urban residential and commercial spaces in all the towns and cities.
  • Continuous and daily updation of the website to monitor the improvement if any.
  • Mutation of ownership of land on succession to be entrusted to a special commission headed by a woman at District level who shall attest such mutations in presence of all the legal heirs in a short and specific time frame.
  • Creating awareness among women about their inheritance rights and the disadvantages of surrendering the same to male siblings.
  • Introducing a compulsory subject of study at all levels about women’s rights especially the one on inheritance and how to safeguard the same.
  • Issuance of land passbooks to women showing their share in land/ property and not allowing transfers without presentation of such passbooks in person.
  • Launching a criminal investigation in all cases where on succession land/ property has been mutated in favour of male legal heirs only at least for the last two decades.
  • A special provision be introduced in the penal code making mutation of inheritance in favour of only male legal heirs a punishable and a non bailable offence.
  • Special provision be made to transfer a specific portion of waste/state/panchayat/ and other surplus land that may vest in the State to the exclusive common/ joint ownership of women in all the villages and towns.
  • 50 percent reservation be made for women for appointment to the posts of Patwari.

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Ali Malik

Author is an astute Kashmir observer with an interest in and stamina to correct the wrongs of the history.

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