ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Whose Feminism Is It Anyway

Women's Right to Property BINA AGARWAL's article 'Gender and Legal Rights in Agricultural Land in India' (March 25) misses out on the inherent injustice in the effort to secure property rights for women. Unlike men, who incidentally have other compensations, women's entitlement to economic betterment (including property) is derived from two sources, namely, by birth and by marriage, and the entire effort seems to be to retain and consolidate both. This marginalises an unmarried woman on al least four fronts that directly lead to economic deprivation vis-a-vis a married woman. (1) An adult woman aspiring to marry may very well decline to marry a man whose means of livelihood she considers unstable or unsatisfactory. On the other hand, a woman who does not wish to marry (and there are ample visible reasons for such an inclination) must necessarily compete with men in a job market that is heavily biased in favour of men; (2) Streedhan is broadly defined as money, property, gifts, ornaments, etc, received by the woman from parents, relatives, etc. Marriage is the cut-off point al which a very substantial portion of 'streedhan' is handed over to the woman. But a woman who does not marry may get partially or completely left out of this because of the absence of a cut-off point. Even her parents may give her too little too late, if at all; (3) Partition of parental property, particularly when linked with an inherited means of livelihood (such as land or family business) is heavily biased in favour of sons for socio-economic reasons. It is the son who steps into the father's shoes, not the daughter. It is the son who brings home a bride and raises a family. The son's visible entitlement thus is much greater than that of his unmarried sister. Again with marriage as the cut-off point, the son may rightfully seek partition, and in the process leave the entire responsibility of his aging parents to his unmarried sister, irrespective of her economic resources. She, on the other hand, is unlikely to demand partition as this would sever her from the only family she has; (4) The question of entitlement through marriage does not arise. This is the only deprivation (in addition to the biological one) that is fully known to the woman, and in this respect alone does she make an informed choice. Other economic deprivations mentioned above generally come as bitter surprises gradually over a period of time, and a woman is in no position to make an informed choice about them.

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