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  • Writer's pictureRitik Agrawal

PROPERTY RIGHTS OF HINDU AND MUSLIM WOMEN IN INDIA

Updated: Jan 16

Author: Shreyansh Bhardwaj, Ritik Agrawal

IOL, Jiwaji University

INTRODUCTION

“Women constitute half the world’s population, perform nearly two thirds of its hours, and receive one tenth of the world’s income and less than one hundredth percent of the world’s property.”

Women hold a unique position in every civilization, whether developed, developing, or developing. This is especially true given the multiple roles they perform throughout their life as a daughter, wife, mother, sister, and so on. Despite the fact that she positively impacts the life of each individual human being, she is a member of a social class or group that is disadvantaged as a result of a range of societal obstacles and impediments. She has been a victim of tyranny at the hands of men who wield the majority of society's power. Indian women are in a worse condition than their counterparts in other parts of the world. On the one hand, she is revered and considered as the personification of tolerance and goodness by everyone. On the other side, her predicament has been exacerbated by the countless sorrows, sufferings, and crimes done and perpetuated by a male-dominated society. Not only has she been denied true social, economic, and political justice, but she has also been utilised as a "weaker sex" to be abused and exploited to the maximum extent possible, as well as subjected to ignorance on all levels by a male-dominated society. Women's susceptibility as a group has nothing to do with their economic independence or lack thereof. The woman has been a victim of injustice regardless of her social standing.

The best method to gauge a country's progress is to learn about its women's situation[i]. Since the dawn of human society, women have been a critical component, and they continue to play a significant role now[ii]. Their contribution to the growth of values across all spheres of life has culminated in what can only be defined as a global advancement[iii]. Numerous writers have also drawn a link between cultural levels and how women are treated, as there is a strong correlation between women's lower status and lower cultural levels in society[iv]. Thus, in order to comprehend the status of women in any community, one must first grasp the breadth of women's involvement in the socioeconomic, cultural, religious, and political realms of society.

Since the dawn of human civilization, a clearly defined division of labour between men and women has persisted. Women were assigned and restricted to light, domestic tasks, while men were assigned and restricted to physically challenging work; as a result, it was the men's physical strength that kept the women in check. With time, women became restricted to the four walls of the home, while men assumed responsibility for work performed outside the home. As a result, women have steadily been subordinated to men's physical and economic dominance, which contributed significantly to the establishment of our patriarchal society. Women have been subjugated to subservience to men as a result of the emergence of a patriarchal culture marked by substantial inequities in their treatment[v]. According to this concept, gender injustice is defined as justice being meted out to a male while depriving a female, or vice versa[vi]. In general, it also emphasises how these two genders are viewed discriminatorily. Men are always given precedence over women since it is a well-established social norm in our society that one survives via his son rather than his daughter. Additionally, the existence of an unequal power dynamic in gender interactions might be mentioned as a cause of gender injustice. Women's domestic labour is viewed as monetarily insignificant in patriarchal culture, and women desire male offspring, as well as a lack of legal understanding among women, all of which contribute to women's already precarious position. Without women's empowerment and parity with men in all spheres of life, whether politics, economics, culture, or social affairs, gender equity will be hard to attain. Because justice is gender neutral[vii], the idea of equality becomes the bedrock of gender justice.

In the same sense Lord Denning stated[viii], "a woman feels as acutely and thinks as clearly as a man in this sense." She is every bit as useful in her own area as man is in his own. She has the same right to freedom as a man has, and she should be allowed to develop freely. When a woman marries, she does not become a servant to her husband, but an equal partner in his economic endeavour. She is more significant in her family's life than her spouse is in the community's existence. Neither can function normally in the absence of the other. Neither is superior nor inferior to the other. They are on a level playing field."

Women’s right to property has been acknowledged as a significant development concern and cornerstone of social justice. Property rights for women do exert tremendous impact on decision making, income pooling, acquisition, and women’s overall role and place in the community. Economic empowerment, then, becomes a key fulcrum of feminine emancipation. Since time immemorial, framing of all property laws has been aimed and exclusively monopolised by men for their own advantage while the women were maintained in a state of subservience and rarely questioned any law, even if it was absolutely nugatory with respect to their own rights. This has resulted in an express codification of woman’s secondary status in our culture ensuring neither she could survive without male help nor lead an autonomous life under any circumstances[ix]. The United Nations Report(1980) on women notes that “Women constitute half of the world’s population, perform two-thirds of the world’s labour hours, earn one-tenth of the world’s income and own less than one hundredth of the world’s property”[x]. An initial reading do produce a really cheerful remark eulogising a woman’s contribution to the world economy, nevertheless, latter section clearly brings out the sorry condition of affairs in which, a woman truly live. She is silenced, exploited, underrepresented, under- compensated and deprived of all those privileges she genuinely deserves. Although exploitation and sub-ordination of women is committed through plurality of circumstances, restriction of her property rights is the most potent and prominent instrument leading to sub-ordination of women[xi]. Inheritance rights are particularly significant in giving or withholding control over family resources that affect the living chances of the future generation[xii]. The law of property is one such ambiguous area of legal laws where formal equality has yet to be granted[xiii]. Cutting over the personal laws, the laws of succession, in India do exhibit a strong patriarchal imprint; and even today continues to be discriminatory. Without fair rights of inheritance, the widely declared and advertised fantasy of gender justice will remain a farce forever.

CONCEPT OF PROPERTY

The concept of property is as old as human civilization itself, dating back to the dawn of time. In view of the fact that the meaning and nature of the term property change with advances in science and technology as well as with the opinions of men regarding their social and economic philosophies, it is difficult to provide a precise definition of the term property at this time. Generally speaking, property can be defined as a collection of rights that a person owns and enjoys as a result of his or her claim to the exclusion of others, while yet subject to the laws of social behaviour.

In Oxford English Dictionary[xiv], "property means the condition of being owned by or belonging to some person or persons; hence, the fact of owing a thing, the holding of something as one's own; the right to the possession, use or disposal of anything (usually of a tangible material thing)".

Webster's Comprehensive Dictionary[xv] defines it as, "any object of value that a person may lawfully acquire and hold; anything that may be owned, stocks, land, etc; any possession."

According to Black's Law Dictionary[xvi], "it is the right to possess use and enjoy a determinate thing; the right of ownership; any external thing over which the rights of possession, use and enjoyment are exercised."

PROPERTY RIGHTS OF HINDU WOMEN

Since ancient times, women's lower position33 in the family, in society, and in concerns of property rights has been a source of great concern in India, particularly in rural areas. Initially, men and women had equal rights, with neither one being superior to the other or inferior to the other. However, after the early centuries, women were assigned a lower position. She was referred to as abala, which means "weak and helpless," since she was unable to protect her family's property from the encroachment of powerful neighbours. Her subservient status was entrenched in the social and economic structure of the society of the time period in which she lived and worked. A woman's legal rights34 were discriminatory and inequitable, and her disadvantages resulted from the fact that she was born as a female. In traditional India, women were solely considered members of the family or a group in the roles of daughter, wife, and mother, rather than as individuals with their own personalities, identities, or legal rights. A movement for women's emancipation from the shackles that had shackled her for centuries took place in the Western world throughout the 19th century.

Woman has gained her independence one step at a time, while she continues to be subject to a variety of limitations. Even today, in some civilised countries, she is subject to a variety of discriminatory laws, but on the whole, equality of sexes has been established at the very least in the letter of the law, despite the fact that she is still heavily reliant on man for her economic well-being, and this economic reliance has stood in the way of equal rights for men and women. Nonetheless, it appears likely that her future is not dark and that she will be able to free herself from these shackles very soon.

The position of women in our society varies according to culture, geography, and age. Various opinions have been expressed about the status of women and their place in society, and completely opposed viewpoints have been expressed about their place at various points during the history of civilization. From the Vedic time to the current age, the situation of a woman in reference to her property rights is documented through history.

PROPERTY RIGHTS OF MUSLIM WOMEN

Muslims are a distinct group within themselves, owing to their belief in a divine source of law and their religious orientation. For followers of Islam, even the smallest element of their daily lives becomes a source of concern for their religious beliefs. According to Islamic law, the code of conduct for Muslims at home and beyond the house is comprehensively spelled down in the sacred text, and this serves as a solid foundation for the operation of their society[xvii]. In contrast to other religions, Islam holds that a religious life can be lived in this world, contrary to popular belief. As a result, the Islamic religion governs both the sacred and secular actions of the Muslim community. Islam's laws are proclaimed to be divinely ordained, and as a result, Muslims generally view their faith as unalterable and are vehemently opposed to any form of innovation within it. Their argument is that the Prophet[xviii] had brought the religion to its pinnacle. The man-woman relationship and power structure in the Muslim household are therefore still based on traditional sanctions as prescribed in the sacred text, even in modern times.[xix] There is a strong relationship between the authority structure in the family and religion, which influences the decision-making and overall behaviour pattern of the family's participants. In its approach toward women's inheritance rights, Islamic law exhibits both redemptive and regressive characteristics[xx]. The presence and oneness of God, as well as the belief in the reality of Prophet Mohammed's mission, are the two fundamental beliefs of Muslims. A superstructure built on the roots of pre-Islamic customary law of succession based on patriarchal organisation of the family, the Muslim law of inheritance is a complex system of rules and regulations. One of the fundamental elements of pre-Islamic rule of succession, which was popular among the tribes of Arabia at the time, was the barring of females and their relatives from inheriting property and rights. However, rather than creating a brand-new framework of succession laws, the Islamic law simply adjusted and changed the pre-existing customary succession laws in order to bring them into conformity with Islamic philosophy. Female heirs receive half the inheritance of male heirs, in accordance with the Islamic principle that a woman is worth half the value of a man. According to Islamic law, a Muslim wife will receive an eighth of her husband's estate if there are children, or one fourth if there are none. It is possible that the share will be reduced to one sixteenth[xxi] if there are multiple wives. There has not been much codification of the law in this area, and it is still governed by the norms of Shariat (Islamic law). Modern culture, where women's status is acknowledged as equal at least in theory, makes it appear that the rules of Muslim Law are inequitable or terribly inadequate. The woman receives a smaller portion of the inheritance because the Koran guarantees inheritance to women not only as daughters but also as mothers, wives, and mothers' daughters. A daughter receives from her father half of the inheritance that her brother receives. Furthermore, under Islam, the husband is required to provide for his wife, even if she is well-off enough to support herself. She is legally entitled to make a claim for maintenance. The same goes for the fact that she is under no obligation to use any of her wealth to support the household. As a matter of fact, this practise looks to be blatantly unethical.

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