The state sex ratio: 879 women per 1,000 men (As per 2011 census)
Haryana’s abysmal sex ratio was the reason Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose the state to launch his government’s Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao scheme last month. In that ratio of 879 women per 1,000 men, there is one factor though that has gone almost unnoticed: the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005.
The new law made girls “coparcener” or joint heir by birth, giving them equal rights as sons in inheriting ancestral property. In deeply patriarchal Haryana, it has left landed families in conflict with their daughters, who are now seen as a threat to the family’s property.
In addition to honour killings driven by khap panchayat-governed gotra norms and dowry, this has made girls more unwelcome than ever in Haryana.
Two years ago, Rajbala’s (name changed) father transferred his entire holding of six acres in Fatehabad to his grandsons, depriving her and her five sisters of their share. “No one bothered to ask us. I love my father, but now there is a deep hurt attached to my relationship with him,” says Rajbala.
She never thought this would happen to her, Rajbala remarks wryly. A woman empowerment activist based in Hisar, she and fellow workers often come across women who have relinquished inherited properties, and chide them to fight for their rights. “I have seen scores of women executing relinquishment deeds in courts, their grateful brothers giving them clothes, cash in return. Even if the women need the property, they relinquish it because of fear of the repercussions otherwise.”
Ironically, Rajbala adds, since her father transferred his property to his grandsons, her brothers have virtually abandoned him.
“The Act has led to ferment in our society,” Rohtak-based lawyer N S Kundu says of the 2005 legislation, “pitting brothers against sisters, fathers against daughters, sons against mothers. In the initial years, few women staked claim to their share, choosing family love over property. But as increasing numbers assert their right, newer methods have evolved to deprive them of it.”
The problem has grown in the past few years with land in Haryana, particularly in districts in the National Capital Region (NCR), being acquired for big-ticket projects. Eleven of the state’s 21 districts fall in the NCR. As farmers began getting compensation upwards of Rs 1 crore per acre, hefty cheques started arriving in the name of the women of the family too. That made most men sit up and take note.
“The situation now is that whenever compensation comes in the name of married daughters, there is 100 per cent conflict in the family,” says Kundu.
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In Punjab too, the 2005 Act has been used to deprive women of their property. However, while social and cultural norms in Punjab are also dictated by land-owning patriarchal communities and land there has been similarly owned and managed by men, the situation is acute in Haryana due to rising land prices because of proximity to the NCR.
Families severing ties with women or banning their entry in their native villages abound. “It is the deepest source of shame for a family if their married daughters claim their share,” says Hardeep Singh, head of the influential Rohtak 84 khap panchayat.
A scrutiny of all deeds executed in the state in the last one year shows that release deeds, transfer deeds and wills (the three most common means to deprive women of ancestral property) make up roughly one-fourth of the 23 different documents registered by the Revenue Department, including sale of property, mortgages and power of attorney. In Rohtak and Jhajjar districts, among the worst when it comes to sex ratio, these three deeds almost equal the total number of sale deeds executed during this period.
Lawyers say that though transfer and relinquishment deeds are valid legal documents, given the 2005 amendment, these can be challenged by a determined woman coparcener. “As of now, ignorance of the law and social stigma prevent most women from doing so, but it is only a matter of time before litigation around these deeds grows,” says Kundu.
He also estimates that litigation connected to claims on ancestral property by women already constitutes 30 to 40 per cent of civil litigation in district courts.
Saroj (name changed), a teacher in Jhajjar, was widowed at 29 years and badly needs her share of the ancestral property to bring up her two children. “I broached the topic once and the anger that I saw in my brothers’ eyes dissuaded me. On their insistence, I executed a release deed of my share,” she says. “My father has since transferred the land to his grandsons to be sure that I do not get it.”
Last month, a panchayat at Bohar on the outskirts of Rohtak discussed how to persuade the Central government to annul the 2005 amendment. A signature campaign is on to put pressure.
Inder Singh Hooda, the coordinator of the Hooda khap panchayat, one of the strongest votaries of patriarchal norms in the state, says the new law is “breaking up age-old structures”. According to him, “The Act is doing more harm to girls than the practice of dowry. Conferring property rights on women has emerged as one of the main reasons for the skewed sex ratio in our region.”
Putting the onus on women, he argues that earlier, brothers would give sisters gifts and cash on festivals and be there in case they had trouble at their husbands’ home. “But now, as girls break norms and marry for love, that protection is forsaken. Similarly, when she stakes her claim to land, she forsakes that protection too. The law should recognise her share only in one place, and that is in her husband’s property,” he says, articulating a view shared by many.
Rohtak advocate R S Hooda says a girl is given her share without rancour only when the father has just daughters. “As per the social consciousness in our region, a girl should not covet her parental property after marriage.”
Sangita of Bohar village in Rohtak district is one of the many who are defying social opprobrium and approaching courts for their share. Some five years ago, she and her sister Seema — both of them married — learned that their brother had sold 4 acres of the family’s land for Rs 17 lakh per acre to the government. “When we asked for our share of the money, my father and brother threw us out of the house. Now, we have learnt that they are selling the remaining 6 acres to a private developer for something like Rs 3 crore an acre. So we moved court and have obtained a stay on the registration of the land,” says Sangita.
She adds, “My brother told me, ‘I have nothing to give you’. They even got the panchayat to pressure us to withdraw the case.”
In Mokhara village, a group of men in a hookah circle agrees as one that the common practice in their area is to will property to sons or grandsons immediately after a girl in the family is married. That many heirs do not look after their elderly parents after the land is willed or transferred to them is something they are willing to live with.
The case of Daya Singh, 75, of Nandal village near Meham stands out. In 2007, he transferred his 3.5 acres to his son Devinder Singh. Devinder, who lives in Rohtak town, has stopped checking on his parents since. It is Seema, 29, Daya’s daughter, who looks after them.
Seema has now gone to court for her share, and a repentant Daya is supporting her. “My father did not ask me or my mother before transferring the land to Devinder. I have another step-brother and my father just divided the property between the two, leaving me out.”
With more and more money associated with land, women are challenging relinquishment deeds executed by them in previous years. Many families admit they live in “fear” of this. The Jangdas of Maina near Jhajjar, for example.
Nirmala’s mother had died while giving birth to her and she was raised by the wife of her father’s brother. When her father died a few years ago without leaving a will, it made the 50-year-old the sole heir of his property. However, Nirmala, who lives with her husband in Mokhra, 40 km away, did not claim her share of the land, allowing her cousin Jitender and uncle Raj Singh to cultivate it. She felt obliged as they had helped raise her.
However, a couple of years ago, she learnt that her uncle had sold 1 acre near the highway for Rs 82 lakh. “I did rounds of revenue officials, and only then did I get my money. I have a share in the remaining land too and want that they should give it without bitterness. But they have maligned my name in the village and I can’t go there anymore,” she sobs.
Back in Maina, seeing Nirmala’s success, her married aunt Jagwati, who had also relinquished her share in favour of her brothers back in 2005, is keen to get it back. Says an angry Raj Singh, “Three years ago, she approached the court to get her share of the land, after we refused to buy her land that she wanted. We have only 2-odd acres left to support ourselves. I have two other sisters. If Jagwati is successful in taking her share, won’t the others demand theirs too?”
The role of the government, especially the previous one led by Bhupinder Singh Hooda for 10 years, has been dubious. A few months before last year’s Assembly elections, his government permitted waiver of stamp duty on ‘Blood Relation Transfer Deeds’. Before this, such transfers attracted a stamp duty of 6 per cent of the land cost in rural areas and 8 per cent in urban areas. So, transferring an acre of agricultural land for Rs 20 lakh would cost Rs 1.2 lakh.
With more and more patriarchs wanting to transfer immovable property to their sons or grandsons, there was a demand to waive the stamp duty.
Says Shakuntala Jhakhar, the head of the Haryana Janwadi Mahila Samiti, “It was a populist measure designed to please the landed communities and quite in line with Mr Hooda’s support for patriarchal institutions such as khaps.”
The other method, of getting women to execute ‘relinquishment deeds’, attracts a mere Rs 20 revenue stamp.
Interestingly, the government has done its bit to encourage people to register property in the name of their women by giving a 2 per cent discount on stamp duty on such registrations. However, that has made no difference.
With Narendra Modi indicating during the Assembly election campaign that the BJP will not take a confrontationist stand against Haryana’s khap panchayats, there is little hope that the new state government will push for an agenda on women rights either.
Sangh Parivar organisations such as the RSS and VHP don’t have any dispute with patriarchal norms either, seen to preserve traditional societal bonds.
Rajbala appreciates the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme, but notes that no politician has ever launched a campaign to persuade people to allow women to inherit property. “This will do more to improve her status in society.”
Property dealers, meanwhile, have spotted an opportunity in the land disputes. Says Brijender Bhati of Gurgaon, “We are generally approached by the sons or husband of a woman wanting to sell her share of the property. Such properties are sold at a 50 per cent discount because it is difficult to get possession from the brothers. We usually strike a deal with the brothers by giving them some money. Such deals now comprise some 5 to 10 per cent of my work, up from nil when I began dealing in property some five years ago. I personally feel it is not fair to women, but who are we to fight…?”
Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005
Amended Hindu Succession Act of 1956 to make girls “coparcener” or joint heir by birth, giving them equal rights as sons in inheriting ancestral property.
The Ways Around It in Haryana
Relinquishment deed: A legal document used to transfer one’s property rights to co-owner. It has to be signed by both parties and registered by a revenue official. The document is most commonly used when a person dies without leaving a will and all the siblings inherit the property. In Haryana, unlike a gift deed which attracts stamp duty, relinquishment deeds can be executed on a Rs 20 stamp paper. They are most commonly used by women to relinquish their share of inherited property in favour of their brothers.
‘Blood Relation Transfer Deed’: Since June 16, 2014, this deed can be used to transfer immovable property to blood relations without paying stamp duty. The exemption is applicable for parents, children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters and spouses. A similar concession was given by Punjab in May 2014. Here brother-sister relationship was added to the category of people eligible for remission of stamp duty.
Wills: Soon after a daughter is married, and has gone into “another family”, wills are drafted transferring property to sons or grandsons.
In the last one year, release deeds, transfer deeds and wills (the three most common means to deprive women of ancestral property) made up one-fourth of 23 different documents registered by Revenue Department, including sale of property, mortgages, power of attorney.
In Rohtak and Jhajjar districts, among worst when it comes to sex ratio, the deeds almost equal the total number of sale deeds executed during this period.
Litigation connected to claims on ancestral property by women constitutes 30-40 pc of civil litigation in district courts, as per an estimate.