In my own home state of UP, wives and daughters had no right to inherit agricultural land. As revenue secretary UP, I went to my minister and requested him to agree to change the law and permit them too to share inheritance rights. His reply was, Saxena Sahab, you reduce the ceiling limit from 18 to 10 acres and distribute the entire surplus to the poor, and I will sign the file, but I will never agree to give rights to women, as it would lead to intra-household bitterness and destroy harmonious family life.
I decided not to pursue the proposal, as I did not want to lose his trust, which I needed for my battles that I was fighting as revenue secretary, some of which are described in Chapter 2. I received another opportunity to look at this discriminatory law as secretary land resources, GOI in the late 1990s. This time I decided to directly approach the then CM of UP, Kalyan Singh. He hailed from Aligarh, where I was DM, and fortunately had a good opinion about me. I told him, ‘Sir, I will sit in dharna here and will not leave your office unless you agree to change this law.’ He got samosas and jalebis for me and we talked. With great difficulty he agreed to include only wives, but not daughters.
The amended Section 171 of the UP Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act read as follows: ‘After a landowner’s death, his land will devolve to the widow and male issues in equal shares.’
I did not give up and thought of a new strategy, of amending the central law, the HSA, so that no state then can discriminate at least against Hindu women. Before putting my ideas on the file, I tried to seek in principle approval of the then Prime Minister, Sri I. K. Gujral. He was shocked when I told him of my intention of making women landowners. He blurted, ‘But Jats are not going to like it!’ Being an MP from Punjab, he did not want to annoy the patriarchal Jat community, and therefore shot down my proposal.
Amendments in 2005
Finally, as a member of the NAC (the controversial body set up in 2004 and discussed in detail in Chapter 10), I convinced Mrs Sonia Gandhi, who sent my note to the Law Ministry, which amended the 1956 HSA and did away with these discriminatory laws by bringing agricultural land at par with acquired property and made Hindu women’s inheritance rights in land legally equal to men’s across states, overriding any inconsistent state laws. This can benefit millions of women dependent on agriculture for survival.
However, neither the department of land resources in GOI nor the Ministry of Women and Child Development has issued a single circular asking states to implement the law. States too have, by and large, ignored its implementation. The result is that anti-women laws and practices merrily continue in the states. For instance, UP added unmarried daughters in the category of those who inherit agricultural land in 2008, but married daughters are still not included. Let us hope someone would go to the court and get this illegality removed.
When its non-implementation was brought by me to the notice of Syeda Hameed in 2011, who as member, Planning Commission, was chairing the Steering Committee on ‘Women’s Agency and Child Rights’ for the Twelfth Five-Year Plan (2012–2017), she promptly set up a sub-group under my chairmanship. I submitted the group’s report, which is now gathering dust in the archives of the NITI Aayog.
Even though the legal framework has been amended in favour of women, women often forgo their claims in anticipation of support from their natal family in case of marital problems or their marriages breaking up, even though such support may not actually materialize. Women also face impediments in operationalizing the statutory codes and getting their names included in the records. Also, ownership does not always translate into control, as is the experience of matrilineal societies of Meghalaya where control is exercised by the maternal uncle.
Decision-making in cropping patterns, sale, mortgage and the purchase of land or the instruments of production remains in the hands of the men of the household. Thus, the issue is not only legal, it is also cultural. As women’s control over loans, income and assets goes down, their access to social resources such as knowledge, power and prestige diminishes. Disparity in gender status gets intensified with the emergence and deepening of other forms of stratification.
Subordination and seclusion of women is more noticed in communities where social differentiation and hierarchy based on ownership patterns or on prestige is more pronounced. The Department of Land Resources in the Ministry of Rural Development should launch a campaign to correct revenue records and ensure that women’s landownership rights are properly recorded by the states with intimation to women. Monitorable targets should be set for the district collectors to ensure timely implementation of law. It may be prudent to make these rights inalienable and non-transferable for the first 20 years on the pattern of pattas under the FRA.
Further, the ministry of women and child development should prepare and circulate pamphlets to MPs that enable them raise concerns about women’s rights to land and property in the parliament. It has to be understood that asset redistribution is superior to income redistribution. It provides a basis for overcoming distortions in the functioning of markets and for restructuring gender relations in the field of property rights, access to technology, health care and governance. Asset ownership and control rights are preferable to numerous policy alternatives for women’s empowerment. These are likely to bring in changes in public opinion about gender roles and deep-seated inequalities in prevailing sociocultural norms and inequalities practised against them.
Government schemes unfortunately ignore intra-household inequities. Currently, the food security schemes do not address the needs of single women within the existing framework. Ration cards are usually in the name of the man and in cases where couples are separated, the wife does not have access to a card. The Food Security Act, 2013, mandates that the provision of ration cards should only be in the name of women, but its implementation needs improvement.
Lastly, equal pay for equal work is one of the cornerstones of the gender equality movement the world over. But Labour Bureau data show there has been little progress in terms of parity of salaries for men and women for equivalent work in India. Even more alarming is the fact that even though wage disparities have always existed in rural parts of the country, in some spheres of activity, the divide has widened. So while men were paid 70 per cent higher wages than women for ploughing work at the end of 2004–2005, the difference rose to 80.4 per cent in end-March 2012 and stood at 93.6 per cent at the start of 2013–2014.
This excerpt from What Ails the IAS and Why It Fails to Deliver An Insider’s View by Naresh Chandra Saxena, Former Secretary, Planning Commission in 2002, has been published with permission from SAGE Select. Paperback: Rs 595