By Oxfam India:
I am the youngest of three daughters. I lost my parents when I was just 10 and was brought up by my father’s elder brother. My elder sisters were already married by the time I went to live with my uncle. At the age of 22, I was married off to Jagdish, a daily wage labourer. A few years later, since I had studied till class 8, I got a job as an accredited social health worker (ASHA).
Both our earnings were however not enough to cater to the needs of a growing family and I decided to ask for my share in my father’s property. I had always assumed that it would be divided among us sisters and was shocked when told by my uncle’s sons that the land had gone into taking care of me.
I was determined not to give up so easily. I was by then part of the Saajha Manch (Network in Uttarakhand) and had attended many awareness programmes conducted by the collective. So I decided to examine the land records at the Tehsil office. I was shocked to learn that my cousins had fraudulently declared, that since my father had no sons, they had the right to claim the land as their own.
If my father would have had sons, would his name not have continued in the land records? Just because he had daughters, his name was being struck off the land he had tilled his whole life. I could not reconcile myself to this unfairness. While mocking relatives told me that I had been wrongly influenced by my association with the Saajha Manch, my husband always stood by me.
So what if I was his daughter?I fought to be recognized as my father’s heir.
Though determined to get my land, I was hesitant to take legal recourse. They were my family after all and I had to live with them. I therefore used the threat of legal action to force my cousins to a compromise. Unwillingly they gave me possession over one third of my father’s land. I tried to ask my sisters to stake their claim as well, but they were unwilling. On the half acre of land that I got, I planted beans, chillies, peas and green vegetables which supplemented the family’s food basket and also yielded an income of Rs 8,000 last season.
I feel that women around me are scared to ask for their share of family property as they are fed many myths such as that their children will face divine fury if they do so. Though my job as an ASHA worker gets me a receptive audience when I speak of women’s property rights, it does not change mindsets.
My question to the women is that since you do all work on the land, why should it not be in your name?
I have however, drilled the equality of the sexes in the minds of my two boys aged 17 and 13. I get so happy when my sons tell me that their sister should get an equal share in whatever we have.
Even though larger change might be far off, in my own world, I do feel like I’ve set the ball rolling.