Daughters coaxed away from land rights

Late
Told to sign papers relinquishing right on land prior to marriage; unethical but within the legal framework, say lawyers.

A recent trend in parts of Pune district is threatening to undo the Maharashtra government's pioneering effort taken two decades ago to ensure daughters get land-inheritance rights. Lawyers and government servants have reported families of large landholders getting girls to sign a legal declaration prior to marriage renouncing their claim on inherited land, to prevent her or her children from claiming a share.

In 1994, the then chief minister of Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar had enacted changes in the succession laws to give equal rights to daughters on property. The amendments also enabled children of a married daughter to claim their mother's inheritance share. It was part of the Women's Policy of the government, and it was replicated by the Centre only in 2001.

The trends noticed by lawyers, women's rights activists and government officers have thwarted the spirit of the reform. They reveal that many families with large landholdings are taking legal methods to rob women of their lawful inheritance. In order to pre-empt any effort by daughters from demanding a share in the land, families are getting them to sign legal declarations relinquishing rights to her father's land before marriage. Such documents even include a declaration that her children would not make any claim after their mother's death.

With land prices in and around Pune skyrocketing, the trend, in particular, is prevalent in talukas of Haveli, Mulshi, Maval and Khed, where land has become very precious of late.

Interestingly, children of women who have signed such documents are making efforts to regain their rights. Senior revenue officers of these tehsils confirm getting almost five to six requests, on a daily basis, from applicants seeking inclusion of their names in the 7/12 land records of their maternal grandfathers.

A villager from Maval taluka spoke to Newsline on anonymity. "In our village, an ugly spat arose when the married daughter of a family demanded her share of her father's land. The legal battle is still on. To prevent this from happening in our house, prior to my sister's wedding, my father got her to sign a declaration giving up her claim on the land. Thus, the 20 acres we inherit would only be divided between me and my brother, and later among our children," he said.

Advocate Aseem Sarode stated that he gets 2-3 such cases every month. "The legal documents are drawn prior to marriage and the excuse given is that the family would be spending the share of the daughter on her wedding expenses. This way, the family ensures the land passes on to sons only," he said. Sarode states that this saves them from legal wrangles if the married daughter's family stakes claim.

Another lawyer, Ravi Bhavar, stated that although this is all within the legal framework, it is unethical as it robs women of their rightful share. "Many a time, the daughter signs the declaration without understanding the full purport of the document. Also, few can actually challenge the declaration in court later. Although there are more than 5 such enquiries per week, few manage to actually file a case or follow it up," he said.

Bhavar says the time and cost involved are major issues preventing daughters from pursuing the rights they have signed away. "Many a time, relatives use emotional blackmail to prevent a woman from asking for her right. They remind her of the lavish way she was married off or the gifts she was given and is asked to refrain from demanding her right," he said. Bhavar said awareness was needed among women to ensure such practices are stopped.

Calling the trend an atavistic step, women's rights activist Kiran Moghe said equal rights on land is mandatory for gender equality. "The excuse that daughter's share is used up on her wedding does not make sense. According to me, this is cheating," she said. Moghe stated that as this is predominantly a rural phenomenon, women do not protest as they are scared to rub their paternal family the wrong way. "In case things do not work out at her in-laws' home, they feel they should have somewhere to go back," she said.

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