Women in Maharashtra's Satara district fight for equal share in marital property with help from local NGOs
Women still have to fight for their rights in land and property in many states in the country despite contributing 55-66 percent to farm production, according to the gender and land rights database of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations
Seema Prakash Balip, a homemaker and farmer in Gajawadi village in Satara district, has an over two-acre farm on which stands the modest house her husband has built for the family. Until this year, the house, the farm and property around it was in the name of Seema's husband, Prakash. That is largely the case with most houses in around a number of villages in Satara district.
However, the tide is turning slowly and women are now stepping up for joint property. However, this is a slow revolution in the making. Women in Gajawadi and other nearby villages have been trained by non-government agencies to fight for their rights in terms of land and property so that they have joint ownership of property with their husband.
Balip is a shy lady who has three grown-up children – a daughter, a son who works in a factory in Vapi, Gujarat and another daughter studying in Class IX. Though literate -- she has studied till Class IX--Balip is unaware of her age or the ages of her children. “I am married for long now. You can guess my age,” she said, hazarding it herself to be around 30. When one looked at her surprised at her assumption, she laughed to say, “You can add whatever digits beyond 30 years”!
Balip leads a life not much different from other women here. She is up at the crack of dawn, cooking meals for the school-going daughter and her husband and then goes off to the farm where crops such as jowar, soya bean and wheat are cultivated. The women in the village help each other on their farms. So the farm work becomes easy and this has resulted in a visible bonding between the women.
Married for many years, Balip was not aware of her rights as a wife and a home-maker until recently. "Women traditionally have been working long hours in their farms, do household work, rear children and yet have no say in the husband's property. Why even the help in the harvest season gets paid but not the womenfolk in the family," she said in a matter-of-fact tone.
It is a telling statement that women who work long hours in their farms for years are unaware of their rights and worse, fight shy of asking for it when informed about it. Consider the statistics. According to the agriculture census for 2015-16, the percentage share of female operational holders has increased from 12.79 percent in 2010-11 to 13.87 percent in 2015-16. In terms of operated area, the share of women increased from 10.36 percent to 11.57 percent. “This shows that more and more females are participating in the management and operation of agricultural lands,” an official statement from the Agriculture Ministry said.
Women constitute 32 percent of India’s agricultural labour force and contribute 55-66 percent to farm production, according to the gender and land rights database of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. Yet, women still have to fight for their rights in land and property in many states in the country.
"We are working towards changing that --with regard to home and property--and also other ills that beset society that make women vulnerable when their husbands are addicted to alcohol, drugs and often resort to violence," said a gram sevika.
Home for two
In 2003, when the late Vilasrao Deshmukh was the chief minister of Maharashtra, the rural development department had brought out a government regulation, Ghar Doghanche which translates to Home for Two. It meant that both husband and wife should jointly own the home.
Three years ago, one of the NGOs, Dalit Mahila Vikas Mandal (DMVM) in Satara district, first initiated the movement Ghar Doghanche – Home for Two, a Maharashtra state government resolution of the rural development department into a reality and followed it with another government scheme Lakshmi Mukti Yojana for land rights for women.
The Satara urban municipality passed a resolution asking the government to add women’s name to property. An incentive in the form of a one percent tax exemption is provided to those who do it.
DMVM, started in 1990 by advocate Varsha Deshpande, who is executive president, Maharashtra Rajya Mahila Lok Aayog, works primarily on issues concerning women. DMVM has sought the help of women—abandoned or thrown out of marital homes and return to their parents' homes— to make self-help groups (SHGs) at the village level. These SHGs have been proactive to usher in this change—of getting women to demand and get a share in their husband's property.
Deshpande's NGO, located at Shahu Nagar in Satara, began creating awareness through a series of public meetings on issues relating to violence and equal opportunity. At first, the women resisted. Like Kusum Gole (name changed) who felt she was being disloyal to her husband of over 40 years by even wanting to put her name along with her husband's on their family property. “Why should I ask my husband after all these years of marriage about the house not being in my name, too? It did not seem right,” she said. Slowly, she was convinced by these monthly meetings and interaction with other women. Gole is now a joint owner in the house and property that was earlier only in her husband’s name.
Some women were not aware of their rights. Some like Balip have been to school though they haven’t completed their matriculation. “We did not know women have rights. No one told us,” they said.
A series of advocacy meetings were organised with the district administration pitching in as there is a need to create awareness about gender equality and it cannot be done by NGOs alone.
As of now, five women have found their names on the homes that was solely in their husband’s name and another 41 women will soon find themselves, joint owners of the propert in Golivadi village. Their papers have been processed, said Deshpande. Soon 88 women will become joint property owners. “We were able to get 500 households to share land ownership with women so far," said Deshpande.
Once women are convinced and their names are added to the property, they are used as agents to convince other women in the village.
Men in the village have to be convinced too. They have not been aware of these rights that women have. Some are surprised when asked why they were reluctant to add their wives names to property. "My wife will anyway get the property after I die," said one villager. But most women don't. Often, either their in-laws or their sons throw them out of their homes when the women become widows.
Poverty is an acute issue in these villages and women being thrown out of their marital homes is a common feature. To help women and young girls (child marriage is common and is followed largely to avoid paying hefty dowry), some who are married and then abandoned by their husbands, NGOs run skill development courses like nursing, beauty parlour, tailoring, computer and other such professional courses to help them become independent.
The abandoned women are largely not welcome in their parental homes, too. These free courses run by NGOs give these women the self-confidence and the ability to work and earn for themselves and take care of their children. Some like Manju Sakpal (name changed) — who left her alcoholic husband who not only did not work but frittered away the little she earned by working in other people’s fields and was abusive too—decided to come to her maternal home with her one-year-old baby girl. The parents, mired in poverty as they are, were not too happy about her decision. But she is now a trained nurse working in a private hospital and is earning a decent salary which enables her to take care for herself and the baby. Sakpal is also to give some money to her parents.
"That is why we insist that a woman should find her name on the house and property along with her husband so that she is not thrown out of her marital home", says Deshpande. “Until a woman owns land, she will remain invisible. Getting the house in her name, too, provides her the security and equal status at home and in society. In the long run, if you want to stop domestic violence, this is the way out. Give the woman her rightful share,” said Deshpande, whose NGO works to provide more women in as many as 24 villages in Satara district their name on the house and property that their husbands own.
(The article is part of OneWorld-Dream Media Fellowships on Life Skills-2018)
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