The Curious Case of Women’s Inheritance Rights in Kashmir

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PATRIARCHY, like any other forms of injustice feeds itself on the detritus of disinformation: by twisting the truths and realities. Unjust societies have a default embedded paraphernalia in place to reproduce themselves in new forms. Such societies incubate the culture of silence over telling issues to the point that they become non-existent or non-issues. One such issue which by the dent of our collective disservice has metamorphosed into a non-issue in Kashmir is the question of women’s property rights or the rights of inheritance. Women, over the ages have either been conditioned not to seek her share in property or the subject of women’s property rights has been stigmatised into non-existence.

Womenfolk, today are challenging stereotypes and reclaiming their agency in realms which hitherto were monopolised by men. However, even in the present times, women seem to be inheriting genetic docility when it comes to the question of property rights. Inheritance rights of women guaranteed by Islam long usurped by the patriarchal ghost don’t even exist in name; nor is any data available on the subject which makes the case even worse.

While our society keeps strict and detailed manuals of expectations that women must fulfil without fail; educating them about their property rights in particular and other array of rights is apparently deigned subversive. In fact, women are conditioned or (precisely) indoctrinated to forgo her property rights in the name of some constructed sense of feminine generosity and benevolence. While women breaking the silence over the injustice is bound to offend the patriarchal sensibilities, this topic remains nearly untouched in routine conversations, Friday khutbas, public debates, media and every other platform which could prove to be icebreakers in this regard.

Islamic legislation in this respect is not only comprehensive but based on justice. It provides for the rights of inheritance for both men and women in a way that maintains social equilibrium. The force with which these rights were at first pronounced in Surah Nisa of Quran was subversive to the existing system of inheritance which was managed by men and favourable to men alone.  As the verse goes, “men shall have a share in what parents and kinsfolk leave behind, and women shall have a share in what parents and kinsfolk leave behind, whether the property be small or large- a determinate share” (Qur’an, 4 : 7). Further in verse 32 of the same chapter, economic rights of both men and women have been ascertained as, “men shall have a benefit of what they earn and women shall have a benefit of what they earn”.

The aforementioned verses are followed by many other allied verses which lay down the legal framework for inheritance. Surprisingly, in more cases than one, female heirs receive a larger share of property than their counterparts. It is a subject which escapes our notice partly because of tainted social-construction of the subject and partly owing to our fragmented and irresponsible understanding of religion. Islamic legislations aim at ascertaining the overall wellbeing of its adherents which by default includes economic well-being but the entire structure of rights has been foreshadowed by androcentric propensities of the society.

Islam came as a liberatory force for women and toppled male-controlled economic system of that period in favour of women. The whole concept of women’s rights of inheritance was alien to the society of 7th century which adhered strictly to the system of male primogeniture.

Being a Muslim majority society, we seem to have deeply cultivated an unjust system against the equitable spirit of our religion. Unfortunately, lavishing our life-time earnings in ostentatious marriages still finds more meaning with us than upholding the rights of already marginalised section of our society. We have reversed the sacred law quite conveniently and established a system of injustice where women are devoid of cultural and economic capital guaranteed to them by their Maker.

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Ahymon Ayoub

Ahymon Ayoub has completed her Masters in Sociology from Kashmir University and is a freelance researcher interested in topics related to Islam and Women.

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