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Implications of Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005

Sardara Singh*

Sex ratio in Northern India is getting worse day by day. Child sex ratio in Punjab has fallen from793 females per thousand males in 2001 to 776 in 2003, and in Haryana from 820 to 807 during this period. Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Bihar are the other states where the child sex ratio is worse and declining further according to an Outlook survey. This is happening in spite of the deterrent law that bans scanning for sex determination and foeticide. Government of India and state governments are adopting carrot and stick policies to stamp out female foeticide and empowering the girl child. Schemes like free education for girls, shaguns at marriage, insurance at birth, etc., are the incentives provided to encourage the parents not to abort the girl child but to bring them up gracefully. This year budget has made special provisions for the welfare and empowerment of women in India. But, all these programmes and efforts look pale before the amendment that has been made in the Hindu Succession Act, which would weaken the girl child and would increase the incidence of female foeticides.

Many a time the actions do not measure up to the intentions behind them. This is exactly what has happened in respect of Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005. The intention of the amendment is to empower the women and provide security to the girl child, but this enactment would result in exactly the opposite position whereby the girls will be put on a weak wicket. The society is fighting hard against foeticide, discrimination against the girl child, atrocities on brides and suicides, divorces and cruelties perpetrated on brides. Murders by dowry seekers are reported daily. Ironically, with this amendment, dowry has been unconsciously made obligatory under the provisions of the law. What is going to happen is that propertied people, specially the land-owning classes, will become more prone to committing foeticide of the girl child in order to save their properties and land from sub-division and moving to the girl’s in-laws. There will be more pressure from the in-laws of the girls to sell their shares of parental properties and bring that money to themselves (i.e. girl's in-laws). This will lead to cruelty on unwilling brides and will increase the incidence of killing of the brides by greedy in-laws and suicides by frustrated brides, who may refuse to ask for division of parental properties out of strong bonds of love with their parents and brothers. If the bride agrees to get her share of ancestral property, this can be usurped by the in-laws and the bride is liable to be divorced afterwards out of greed for an other dowry. If the girl gets the ancestral property divided and takes away her share, brother-sister bonds will be shattered and, in times of difficulty or trouble created by the in-laws, the brothers and even parents may not come to the help and rescue of the girl.

Economically, it is a disastrous amendment. If the law operates in letter and spirit, every land holding will get subdivided and fragmented with passing of one generation and, more importantly, it will get located in two villages. With the passing of another generation, every land holding will get further fragmented in four villages, because in our society, the girls are not married in the same village. This will shatter the economy of the farm sector, and operational efficiency will be lost completely.

One wonders why our society places the in-laws of the girls in such a superior position. It is a hangover of the past when girls were kept illiterate and had to depend on their husbands and in-laws for their wherewithal and survival. Parents these days not only bring up the girl child until her maturity, but also educate her to the best of their ability and make her capable of handling the household affairs. These days, girls are educated to handle gainful employment with equal, if not better competence. Their parents spend as much as they can on their daughters’ marriages and even give them dowry, often going beyond their resources. Many parents fall in debt due to these marriages. With all this personal and financial input and dowry, the girl goes to the house of in-laws. The in-laws are the recipients throughout. They do not give any thing at any stage to the parents of the girl. Whatever they give to the girl, that too remains with their own family. Why and with what right then the in-laws of the girl consider themselves superior, or why does the society place them in superior position and why do they dominate? They do no favor or do any favor to the parents of the bride. One wonders, why the beggars should be calling the tunes all the time in our society. Our society has to change its value system in this respect.

The right amendment should have been that as soon as the girl is married, she should automatically become as much a partner in the property and wealth of her in-laws, as her husband. If they ever think of divorce, the bride should have the right to get the property of the in-laws divided and get her share. From this angle, we need to learn from the system of Mehar in Muslim marriages and of Reet in some tribal societies. We need to put some substance into our slogans like Dulhan hi Dahej hai. Otherwise, these are meaningless empty words and reflect hypocrisy, because we have made dowry a statutory obligation on the part of parents of girls through this amendment. Vowing by the girls and boys not to accept or give dowry sounds hollow in the presence of this amendment. Will the powers that be, think about it and save the Hindu Society and their girls from the depredations of this amendment, which weakens the women rather than empowering them in our society.

To be precise, this latest amendment, because of its consequential effects and implications, runs counter to the real intentions of the architects of this amendment – The impowerment of the girl child.

 

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