TN did 30 years ago what SC ordered on Aug 11. But has it helped?
SC Tuesday held that daughters will have equal rights in ancestral property as sons even if their father died before the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act 2005 came into force. | File Photo. PTI

TN did 30 years ago what SC ordered on Aug 11. But has it helped?

Daughters in Tamil Nadu have been enjoying for 30 years a right that the Supreme Court has now said should be given to all women.

On August 11, the Supreme Court passed a judgment saying daughters have equal rights as sons in inheriting ancestral properties. A three-judge bench said daughters will be coparceners throughout life in a Hindu joint family even if the father had died before the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, came into force.

Tamil Nadu had passed a law way back in 1989 giving equal rights to women in family properties.

Leaders in the state had been demanding equal rights for women since the early part of the 20th century. In 1929, at a conference organised by the Self-Respect Movement in Chengalpattu, Periyar passed a resolution saying women should get property rights.

About 60 years later, in 1989, the then chief minister M Karunanidhi passed the Hindu Succession (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 1989, fulfilling the demand.

The state, in fact, stood as a role model when the Centre brought an amendment to the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, and implemented the Hindu Succession Act, 2005, which provided gender equality in property rights.

Activists, however, say not many women have benefitted from the law.

“Even though Tamil Nadu gave them the right many years ago, only 10 per cent of women in the state have truly benefitted from the law. Most women, including the educated, are not aware of this right and that is why the number of women getting inheritance is pitiably low. However, Tamil Nadu still stands tall when compared with other states,” said advocate D Thanga Durai.

B S Ajeetha, another advocate, points out that the law came with some riders. It gave property rights only to unmarried daughters and said women who got  married before 1989 cannot claim them, Ajeetha said.

“In Tamil society, a girl does not ask for property. Since daughters have an emotional bonding with parents, they usually don’t claim their rights. If they claim, the ties get damaged,” she said. “After the amendment, in many households, marriages took place only after the daughters were made to sign a bond saying they won’t claim property rights. Parents and siblings forced women to sign such a bond,” she said.

Even before Tamil Nadu, Andhra had brought in an amendment in 1986.

However, it was the central amendment in 2005 that really made a difference. The amendment made daughters also a ‘coparcener’, giving them the same rights as a son, said Ajeetha.

“If you ask whether the state amendments resulted in any change, then the answer is yes. It established the concept that women should be given equal rights. It is difficult to assess how much the state amendments have benefitted women because we lack data. It must also be said that In a patriarchal society, most laws related to women’s rights continue to remain just on paper,” Ajeetha said.

According to economist J Jeyaranjan, who has studied land reforms of the state for many years, it is unnecessary to quantify the changes that the amendment would have ushered in.

“It (the law) is not a welfare tool. It bestows a legal right. Whoever wants the right can use it. That is the underlying principle,” he said. “The state has different communities with each having their own kind of rights. In the Brahmin community, for example, the ‘streedhanam’ plays a vital role. In some communities like Kallars, Dalits have more liberal rights. They provide equal rights to women,” he said.

Thirty years ago, it was hard for women to get education. So, the government in Tamil Nadu first drew them to the school system. Then it encouraged them to complete schooling and provided job opportunities. If they get a job, they gain more independence. “Once that is achieved, you provide them a level playing field in various other fronts like property rights,” he said.

“This is not a beginning and this is not the end. Women empowerment is a constant endeavour. These amendments are a part of it,” said Jeyaranjan.

Krishnammal Jagannathan, founder, Land for Tillers’ Freedom (LAFTI, an organisation similar to the Bhoodan movement) in Nagapattinam district, said Tamil Nadu’s amendment empowered women.

“When we got lands from landlords, we registered them in women’s names because, while women are celebrated as the ‘heads of family’, they never got any rights to property. The lands are still in women’s name. They farmed and earned well. That confidence has enabled them to walk with their heads held high,” she said.

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