By Vishal Gulati
Shimla, March 12 (IANS) The fair sex is not getting a fair deal in tribal areas of Himachal Pradesh – but Rattan Manjari will have none of this.
She is the chairperson of the Mahila Kalyan Parishad, a rights group based in Kinnaur district, that campaigns on educating women about their right to ancestral property.
The rights group, in association of “mahila mandals” or women’s groups, has also carried out campaigns demanding the amendment of the customary laws.
“With the passage of time, if people in tribal areas can leave behind other customs and became modernised, then why can’t they leave this male-centric tradition (on ancestral property) that is largely responsible for their wallowing in misery with nobody to look after them,” asked the 66-year-old Manjari, who is also an apple grower in Ribba village, some 250 km from state capital of Shimla.
“We want to give a dignified life to the women, particularly spinsters and widows, in our society. For this, we are again moving the high court to get relief from this patriarchal law,” she said of her nearly three-decade struggle to get women a share in ancestry property.
Women in Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti and Chamba districts are bound by a century-old patriarchal law that allows only men to inherit ancestral property, if not bequeathed.
The still-prevalent Wajib Ul Urj customary law, which came into existence in 1926, bars even widows from inheriting their husband’s property, which is transferred to the sons.
According to 2011 Census figures, the gender ratio in Kinnaur has gone down from 857 in 2001 to 818 in 2011. It is ranked the lowest in the state.
The literacy rate in the district is 80.77 per cent – 88.37 for males and 71.34 for females – for a population of 84,298.
With the help of hundreds of activists in over 170 women groups in the district, Manjari has been organising panchayat meetings and signature campaigns to get the law overturned.
In June 2015, a Himachal Pradesh High Court ruling gave land inheritance rights to the tribal women. This was challenged and the matter is pending in the Supreme Court.
“The daughters in the tribal areas shall inherit property in accordance with the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 and not as per customs. This is in order to prevent women from facing social injustice and all forms of exploitation,” Justice Rajiv Sharma of the high court had said.
He had upheld an order passed by the district judge of Chamba in 2002 to grant legal property rights to women.
Old-timers believe the origin of the custom-made tradition is the scarcity of fertile land. Giving inheritance rights to women would give an opportunity to outsiders to become owners of the land if they married outside the community, it was believed.
“After taking legal opinion, we filed a PIL (public interest litigation) last month in the high court pertaining to the right to inherit the property by daughters under the Hindu Succession Act, 1956,” she said.
Manjari added: “The number of widows and orphaned unmarried women is increasing. It’s high time this patriarchal practice is brought to an end.”