Tribal women can inherit property, rules Himachal HC

Shimla, June 26 (IANS) Setting aside almost a century old customary law that allows only men to inherit ancestral property if it is not bequeathed, the Himachal Pradesh High Court in a historic judgment observed that tribal women, too, could inherit property.

“The daughters in the tribal areas of Himachal Pradesh shall inherit property in accordance with the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 and not as per customs. This is in order to prevent women from facing social injustice and all forms of exploitation,” Justice Rajiv Sharma said in a judgment provided to the media on Friday.

He said the laws must evolve with the times if societies are to progress.

“It is made clear by way of abundant precaution that the observations made here only pertain to right to inherit the property by daughters under the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, and not any other privileges enjoyed by the tribals in the tribal areas,” he said in a 60-page order.

The law, “Wajib Ul Urj”, which came into force in the state’s tribal district of Kinnaur in 1926, permits only men to inherit ancestral property, if it is not bequeathed.

It is also applicable in Lahaul and Spiti districts and some remote areas of Chamba district.

The patriarchal law even bars widows from inheriting their husbands’ property, which under the customary law is transferred to the sons.

Justice Sharma upheld an order passed by the district judge of Chamba in 2002 to grant legal property rights to women.

“The tribal belts have modernised with the passage of time. They profess Hindu rites and customs. They do not follow different gods. Their culture may be different but customs must conform to the constitutional philosophy,” the judge added.

“It is really a victory over social evil,” 61-year-old social activist Rattan Manjari, chairperson of the Mahila Kalyan Parishad, a women’s rights group, told IANS over phone.

Manjari said the condition of deserted women, widows and spinsters in the district was deplorable due the customary law.

“Now the inheritance right would enable these women in tribal areas to live with dignity,” she added.

Manjari’s mother bequeathed to her the family’s entire agricultural land though she had a brother.

“The women commanded much respect in tribal society, especially with the polyandry system in vogue until a few decades ago, and never felt the need of the right to inherit property.”

“With times changing, however, there were many cases when women, after the death of husband or parents, were abandoned by the family members, forcing them to do petty jobs (for survival),” she said.

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