Cheated by kin

Women, as a group in Muslim majority Kashmir are the poorest section of society with little land holdings or property inspite of Islamic Law providing for the women’s share in property. Syed Asma reports

An image of women in 1870

Women in Muslim majority Kashmir are deprived of a share in the parental property, even when Islam provides for it, leaving the female population with little land holding or property.

“A majority of women in rural and a minor portion in urban areas are deprived of their rightful share of their ancestral property,” says a research, Gender Discrimination in Kashmir conducted by sociologist Prof Bashir Ahmed Dabla, who teaches at the Department of Sociology, University of Kashmir.

Safina, lives in Srinagar’s western outskirts with her husband and their two children. They are a middle class family. She is in her late 40’s and has not yet claimed the share of her parents’ property.

“She has not claimed the share from her parental property as she feels she does not need it. She does not understand that her property is something that only belongs to her and nobody else, not even my father can take that from her. She can keep it, as it is all her life,” says her son, Asif.

However, Asif did talk to his maternal grandfather about it who he says, “denied to give her daughter any share in the property saying daughters do not have any share in their father’s property because they leave their father’s home right after they are married, so, (daughters) own nothing”.

The Holy Quran categorically says it is an obligatory share. Surah Nisa verse 7: “For men is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, and for women is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, be it little or much – an obligatory share.”

Nafisa of Budgam is a half-widow with two daughters. Her husband, Javaid Ahmed, a bus driver never returned home after some unknown people kidnapped him. Javaid was a lone son of his parents and had three sisters. Nafisa, a home maker, has no source of income. She is living with her father-in-law, her mother in law died a few months ago.

Her father in law says that she has no share in his property, as her husband is dead. “I can share the property with my two granddaughters only if they live with me otherwise I will handover it to my grandsons, his daughters’ children. Nafisa is nobody to me,” says Nafisa’s father in law.

Nafisa is living in her “dead” husband’s house alongwith her daughters and their grandfather.

“He is planning to divide the property among his daughters and their children not with me and my daughters but till the time I am alive I won’t get out of this house,” says Nafisa.

If she had been living separately as detailed by numerous Islamic injections the situation  must not have arise in the first places.

Nafisa’s brothers too have not given her the share of their parental property and she is desisting from claiming it for fear of antagonising her brothers. “They (her brothers) married me off and on that they had spent a lot of money. They presently take care of one of my daughter’s expenses also,” she adds. She thinks seeking her share in the parental property from his brother’s may sour their relationship.

Hafiza Muzaffar, Secretary state’s Commission for women says a woman here most of the times does not want to spoil her relationship with husband or her in laws or even her brothers, so she does not ask for her shares of the ancestral property.

“She is apprehensive of getting divorced or becoming a victim of domestic violence or spoiling her relation with her brothers. She stays quite on her rights and agrees to get exploited at the hands of her own kith and kin,” says Hafiza. She adds that increase in divorces and incidents of domestic violence have made women insecure and forced her to abandon her rights just to live a “comfortable and peaceful life”.

Zaitoona from Prang had to make a huge sacrifice for a few kanals of land that, anyway, was her rightful share from her father’s property. Zaitoona’s brother agreed to handover her share in the property on the condition that she marries her daughter, Shakeela, to his son. Poor Zaitoona besides her son who working as labourers, agreed.

“Though he was my nephew, I didn’t know his character. He was not a good man, I realised later. He used to beat my daughter after marriage,” says Zaitoona.

The piece of land which was anyways due to Zaitoona ruined Shakeela’s life. She is now divorced. “He tortured me, even gave me electric shocks many times,” says Shakeela.

There are 35 verses in Quran which refer to inheritance and 3 main verses which give specific details about inheritance shares. The Quran in Surah Baqarah, verse 11 and 12 says: “Allah (swt) (thus) directs you as regards your children’s (inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females, if only daughters, two or more, their share is two-thirds of the inheritance; If only one, her share is a half ”.

In the same Surah it says: “For parents, a sixth share of the inheritance to each, if the deceased left children; If no children, and the parents are the (only) heirs, the mother has a third; if the deceased left brothers (or sisters) the mother has a sixth. (The distribution in all cases is) after the payment of legacies and debts. Ye know not whether your parents or your children are nearest to you in benefit. These are settled portions ordained by Allah; and Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise”.

Most of the people in Kashmir do not give their daughters their deserved share in the property, even when it is explicitly said in the holy Quran. They prefer what is known as the “Walter Lawrence law” over the Islamic Law or Shariah. Under the so called “Walter Lawrence law”, girls were not given any share from the agricultural property as it was feared that after the marriage their husbands will become the owners of that land.

A 1900 photograph showing Sir Walter Lawrence in Kashmir. Agha Sayed Hussain as the young Tehsildar is standing behind him (third from right)

As there were many disputes over a women’s share in the property, Lawrence  “contemplated” the law to settle these disputes.

Much later in 1936, a Muslim Shairat bill was passed which later became the law. Though in urban areas, to some extent, Muslims distribute their properties in accordance with the Muslim Shariat law, in rural areas it is hardly followed.

“When we did our research on gender discrimination we asked many people do they follow the Shariat law while dividing their property most of them answered no. They consciously deprive their daughters of their properties,” says Prof Dabla.

“In rural areas only the population in towns, which is not more than 5 per cent, are conscious about their religious bindings and are aware about women property shares,” he adds.

The ignorance in the society is such that the amount which is given to a wife in ‘Mehr’ (dower)- a mandatory sum of money given to the bride by the groom, is snatched from her in some parts of the State.

“In Kargil, the newlywed brides are made to take oath on Quran that they will return the money to their husband and they are made to say that they are doing it on their own will,” says Hafiza Muzaffar.

“This is about her ‘mehr’, now we can imagine what share they may be getting in the general property,” concludes Hafiza.

(Some names have been changed)

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