Married or not, be a woman of ‘substance’

The typical family drama in the TV soap or the Bollywood flick revolves around weddings and property disputes. If it’s the first, the woman may call the shots; if it’s a court scene about a property matter, it is men who almost always take the lead. Why does much of India still regard property as very much a male domain? Why are women expected to be content with the ancient practice of streedhan, ie the dowry and gifts given to her at the time of marriage? Both questions — and answers — are closely linked, particularly when it comes to a woman’s right to family property after she is married.

Till 2005, when the Hindu Succession Act was amended to give daughters an equal share of ancestral property, Indian women were viewed as an economic liability. In practice, the amended law does not guarantee anything to a woman. Her claim to property may depend on her status — married, unmarried, deserted, wife, widow, mother. With the divorce rate rising and many urban women deciding not to marry at all, surely it makes little sense to deny a share of the family property to half the country’s population?

It has often been suggested that women should be made joint-owners of property alongside their husbands. But as noted feminist Madhu Kishwar wrote when Maharashtra unveiled new policy for women a few years ago, “The idea of joint matrimonial property would make sense only if women brought their share of inheritance from their parental home at the time of marriage, merging their own property into that of their husbands’. The couple could then become co-owners of their genuinely ‘joint’ property”. India’s Muslim and Christian women are equally badly off when it comes to property rights.

The truth is that Indian society is so conservative that it is not easy to implement property laws for women. This is admitted by Justice Sujata V Manohar of the Supreme Court no less when she said: “It is not easy to eradicate deep-seated cultural values or to alter traditions that perpetuate discrimination.” It is this attitude that has kept the evil of dowry alive. As Kishwar argues “that dowry exists only among those communities where families are not willing to treat daughters as co-inheritors with sons”.

The 2005 Amendment was undoubtedly significant. The point is that when the 21st century Indian woman marries, she must be conscious of her rights to all that is hers. She must reject the notion that after the wedding, she belongs to the husband’s family. If the marriage breaks down, she can now return to her parents’ home by right, not on the sufferance of relatives.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. m s dinakar
    Sep 07, 2010 @ 17:49:36

    Women are independent. By personal choice they can be inter-dependent. But when freedom is the issue: then they are to be independent again. In fact, children – particularly boys – in school should be taught values that are inter-equitably inter-accommodating of girls/women rather than the conventional patriarchic values – whether intentionally or by historical accident of cultural staticity. Catch them young is correct. Unfortunately, in India, when a girl marries a boy, she not just marries the boy but the boy’s family too! Why should the girl forget or leave behind her family just because she is married and lives with her husband? There is no valid reason for that patriarchic convention which is losing its grip in the recent times with women standing up. You are right in your observations and they reflect our changing times! Bye!


  2. m s dinakar
    Sep 10, 2010 @ 14:29:53

    Hope you are fine!
    I reckon feminists need to think beyond the binary logic of social dichotomies… dowry per se is not at the core of the daughters-in-law crises…its only one more means…what is obviously the reason is power-greed binary that afflicts our species…we need to sensitize our children on ethical conscience at an early age…the idea of wealth is sickeningly self-destructive…anti-dowry act is a deterrent…deterring is only a probability…implies uncertainty…a totally wrong presupposition if accounted for the post-Act scenario…yes…we need law…but law alone cannot solve any problem…its purely a “negative” approach…

    You had mentioned about my comment being ‘a little not positive’…if I am right in understanding that line…but its ironic how the so-called New Age gurus have hijacked the concept of postivity and negativity…still I am yet to get a clear definition of “positive thinking” from anyone…people are just recycling the definitions without in-depth reasoning…

    Put it this way: automanufacturers are positive…pharma companies are positive…doctors are positive…politicians are positive…now what happens? … we will only have more cars…more medicine…more patients…more hospitals…all – as economists are positive too – added to the GNP!!! … How could anyone call increasing sickness as development? … the issue is not about positive thinking…what is so positive about positive? …

    The paradigmatic shift was better underlined by biologist Paul Erhlich and Knowledge Systems expert Robert Ornstein when they titled one of their books as : Conscient Co-Evolution”… that is on dot…we need to become/be
    CONSCIENTIOUS…we need to be ethically conscient…which could mean only one thing: acting with conscience! … However GNP might reflect development…one could obviously see huge gaps in conscience! I hope I have made point clear enough…Bye!


  3. m s dinakar
    Sep 10, 2010 @ 14:59:18


    My replies have had a temporal aberration…due to computer glitches…probably things would stabilize in a week or so…after which I would be able to time my replies…thank you! Bye!


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