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Uttarakhand’s historic decision for women’s empowerment

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Uttarakhand has become the first state in India to have given women right over ancestral property. This is a landmark initiative taken by the state government and must be complimented for it. According to the government’s own assessment, over thirty-five lakh women are going to be benefitted from this.

At the time, when women’s rights groups are asking for being provided with the status of ‘Kisan’ in the rest of India and the fact that women do not own property, particularly agricultural land, she can’t get any loan even if she does more than 80% work on farming. Even the Kisan Andolan has not been very supportive of this as they fear that the agricultural land would be divided which reduces its bargain power.

That is why farming communities and families tend to be in the joint family’ system which is often regressive for women. Most of the time, farmer leadership had been opposed to radical land reforms for the fear of land getting fragmented but the biggest fear is of women’s autonomy. Most of the time, this question is asked if a woman get divorced then what will happen to land. All these kinds of issues come up for discussion.

According to the Hindustan Times report, “Under the ordinance, the daughters will have ownership rights on the land owned by her father. Similarly, a wife will also be the joint owner of the land of her husband’. The state government is going to change the Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act of Uttarakhand.

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The ordinance that the Uttarakhand government has brought to give property rights to women have the following:

a. The names of all the married women will be added as co-owner in the ancestral property of her husband. It is important that women never had rights of hereditary property as in the joint family system the lineage was always protected through male progeny. That way, this is a great beginning.

b.  According to the ordinance, in case a woman files for divorce from her husband then she won’t be a co-owner of the property or land but if the husband gives her divorce and unable to pay her maintenance allowance then she would still remain the co-owner of the property.

c.  If the woman is childless and her husband is ‘missing’ for over seven years then she can be made a co-owner in the property of her father.

Though the government also amended the law for the purpose of lease and sale of land in the Tarai or plain regions of Uttarakhand the decision to give ownership rights to the woman will have a far-reaching impact.

Uttarakhand is a state where women have traditionally played a powerful role in protecting resources. At many places, more than 90% of work-related to agriculture or the maintenance of livestock is managed by women. The hill regions of the state have broadly a better male-female ratio and women have led historic social movements such as Chipko to protect their forests and biodiversity. It is also a reality that due to heavy migration, many of the villages in the hills are left with no people. There is a lack of basic amenities. Most of the villages are actually managed by women but unfortunately despite 90% of work on land they don’t have any access to banks or the market. They don’t get any loan as they are not the owner. This bill, therefore, is a historic one and will definitely help more than 3.8 million women in the state.

Land and property ownership to women is a great move towards the democratisation of our social system. Fortunately, Uttarakhand does have that culture where women are the centre of our universe and hence these laws will help strengthen women’s agency and autonomy over their resources. We are sure, they will not only be able to protect their land and resources but it is great news for the agriculture sector also. Uttarakhand’s hill regions don’t have big landholdings and that is one reason why the system is more democratic and women play bigger roles in our lives.

We wish to congratulate the state government in this regard. Whatever be the political differences if any law that is helpful to the 50% of our population and gives them their legitimate rights need to be supported and complimented.

Vidya Bhushan Rawat

February 22nd, 2021

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