Scholar Uma Chakravorty, while writing about lineage termed it as perpetuating patriarchy and also correctly stated that it deprives women of the inheritance right. Gender inequality is a fact in our society. Women who have always demanded equal rights are still fighting to be treated at par with their male counterparts and in this fight, the role of government is immense. But what if the laws made by the government is in itself promoting gender inequality?
Today, through this article, I will be writing about the property inheritance law of Sikkim which is highly discriminatory towards women. I want to voice the problems that the daughters of Sikkim go through because of these laws and how they are deprived of their fundamental right to marry by virtue of their gender.
Writing this article is difficult for various reasons, the first being the confusing number of laws related to property inheritance that are on paper but have not been implemented and yet are being followed by the administration while deciding on property inheritance cases. The second problem is the mentality of our people. While doing my research for the paper, I came across the opinions of various people stating that these laws are appropriate and necessary to protect the land of Sikkim. I have come across people stating that if daughters of Sikkim are loyal towards their state, then they should marry a local resident and not a non-Sikkimese. It is easy for people, especially men to make these arguments because they are the ones ruling the patriarchal society since aeons. The laws that deny property rights to Sikkimese women who marry non-Sikkimese are not applicable to Sikkimese men who marry non-Sikkimese women. Men don’t have to give up their fundamental rights but it is the female gender that is stripped of their right to choose a husband of their choice.
Even in the past, Sikkimese women were denied the right to inherit property. The important issue regarding property inheritance rights in Sikkim was confronted with the judgment made in the High Court of Sikkim in Padma Kumari Ganesan vs State of Sikkim in 1991. Padma Ganesan tried to transfer her property to the name of her son but the registration process was declined on the grounds that her husband was a non-Sikkimese. Therefore, she could not acquire or inherit any property in Sikkim, because they ‘did not belong to Sikkim’. The final judgment was made on the basis that Padma Ganesan’s son had been disqualified to receive and accept the immovable properties since he was a non-Sikkimese.
Since then, the journey of Sikkimese women’s fight has continued. A relief was found in the Sikkim Succession Act 2008 which gave Sikkimese women the right to inherit property but this was again discriminatory since it did not give rights to property inheritance to Sikkimese women married to non-Sikkimese. Sikkim Government through the Sikkim Succession Act 2008 did try to bring some change but it failed to incorporate gender justice completely.
‘Daughters of Sikkim’, a group, rose up in 2010 and demanded their rights. They appealed to the state government for equal Property Inheritance Law for women, but till date, no such initiative has come from the government. In 2018, a notification was passed which said that Sikkimese women married to non-Sikkimese can acquire property but that property cannot be transferred, neither in the name of her husband nor her kids. It said that the heirs of Sikkimese women married to non-Sikkimese cannot inherit the property. These children do have Sikkimese blood running in their veins, so how can they be denied of their rights? Isn’t the government reinforcing patriarchy? This clearly shows how our society and also the government supports the archaic view that a child that a woman bears with so much pain, does not belong to her. Isn’t that the reason why the children of Sikkimese women are denied the right to inherit the property of their mother? If our government wants to promote equality then they must make the laws equal for all genders.
The prevailing law is harassment to Sikkimese women. My cousins and friends in Sikkim are forced to marry within the state because of such discriminatory laws while the boys have the freedom to do whatever they want to. Girls are being denied their fundamental right to marry, which is given by the Indian constitution under Article 21. Indian constitution through Article 14 and 15 guarantees equal rights and gender equality. Aren’t these women being denied of their constitutional rights?
We live in the 21st century, where we meet people from different walks of life. We send our daughters to different states/countries for higher studies and even in Sikkim itself we have students coming to study from different parts of India. In such a global era we can’t expect our daughters to not choose their life partners. Why is it that only daughters are denied such rights? Why aren’t men placed under such restrictions? This is the sad irony of our world wherein one hand we talk about gender equality, while in the other we succumb to discriminatory practices.
Recently, a piece of news was making rounds which said that not a single girl child was born in 132 villages of Uttarakhand in last three months. What do you think is the reason for the prevailing low sex ratio, for the high preference for male child and practice of female foeticide?
The economic survey of 2018 stated a concept of son-meta preference which states that Indian parents prefer to have children until a son is born, i.e., they keep having children until a son is born. Yes, the lives of women in general have improved and once born, women are treated well but society still wants fewer girl children to be born. This tendency is not going to change until we as a society start to treat girls at par with boys.
Many Sikkimese come up with the argument that these laws are made to protect their lands. If it is so, then make laws equal for all. Make the same laws applicable even to Sikkimese men marrying non Sikkimese women. One possible solution that could be suggested could be to restrict the sale of such inherited land to only Sikkimese, considering that such law is same for both men and women. Writing about these issues or speaking about them doesn’t make one against the government; this is the reason why most Sikkimese don’t raise their voice against this gender injustice. It is just a tired effort to make the government aware to make our state, our country more gender inclusive. Sikkim government needs to look into the matter and try to promote gender justice and not encourage gender biases. Effective laws need to be introduced.
A lot of people support patriarchy saying that it is a part of our society. It is our culture that shows men being superior to women, but isn’t culture made by people? If we look at the 19th century India, we know how sati, child marriage, dowry, the plight of widows were all part of Indian customs. Social reformers fought against these customs and faced social boycott because society regarded them imperative. But today we don’t see these being practiced. So we see that customs, tradition and culture changes with time. As quoted by Chimamanda in her book “Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.”, and “culture is constantly changing”. Hence, we should change for development and no development can take place if men and women are not given equal rights and status in our society. The role of government in this fight for gender justice is immense and hence the government should try to promote gender equality through effective laws without being blinded by patriarchal norms.
By Srijana Chhetri. The author can be contacted via email email@example.com
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