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Himachal polls: Tribal women drop ‘political recourse’ for property rights

Archana Phull | Shimla |

Elections have come and gone, but struggle for tribal women to fight the ‘customary inequality’ has not ended.

Every time, they submit a memorandum, asking the politicians in Kinnaur to lobby for their issue of scrapping or amending the customary law that bars tribal women from inheriting ancestral property, they get only ‘lip sympathy’.

“We have no hope from political parties. They only give assurances in elections. This time we haven’t approached any politician for our demand. We are prepared to fight it out legally, once forever” Rattan Manjari, president of Mahila Kalyan Parishad (women NGO) in Reckong Peo in Kinnaur told The Statesman.

She said the Parishad had been trying to mobilise the tribal society for over a decade to give women the right to inherit property, but there has been stiff resistance from men folk.

“We took up the matter in gram sabhas. We appealed to political leaders of different parties, met the woman governor in the past who was a tribal herself, and even sent our demand to MPs in Delhi over the years. But to no avail. They never raise our voice. We stopped running before the power circles,” Manjari said.

She said two years ago, High Court of Himachal Pradesh had passed a judgement in favour of tribal women, giving them the right to inherit ancestral property in line with Hindu Succession Act (as applicable to women in other areas), while deciding an individual case from Chamba.

The same was, however, stayed later as the person went in appeal in Supreme Court.

“We are now filing a common petition in the Apex court to fight it out collectively on behalf of tribal women,” Manjari said.

The customary law is recorded in Wazib ul urz, a revenue document of settlement pertaining to early 20th century.

It bars women from inheriting property of father or husband. If the male child in the family is a minor, even then the property goes to him, not to mother or the elder daughter. If there is no son, then the brothers in the family get that property.

A tribal woman is gifted some property ‘Ta Zindagi’ for life-time by father or brothers that she can use, but she has no legal right of ownership on it.

A woman has to leave the property if she gets married.

“This is discriminatory. In earlier times, the women enjoyed respect in tribal society. Now times have changed. The widows, unmarried women and even married women are increasingly abandoned eve in the tribal society.

Since most of them are little literate, jobless and don’t have any other asset in hand, they live on the mercy of others,” she said.

Manjari said the tribal men have been opposing it for a single reason that the tribal land would be thrown open to outsiders as lot of women are now marrying the outsiders.

“We can always have riders for that. The law can be amended it not scrapped,” she said.