Over a decade after she spearheaded a campaign on the issue, 57-year-old social activist Rattan Manjari is back to leading a movement in Himachal Pradesh’s Kinnaur district to secure the rights of tribal women – single or married – to inherit ancestral property.
Manjari has taken on the patriarchal laws that bar tribal women from inheriting property in the state. This, she says, is a huge step in empowering women and making their lives more dignified.
The tribal laws of Kinnaur, and Lahaul and Spiti districts do not give women the right to inherit the property of their parents or husband.
‘My fight against the tribal laws will continue. Most women settled in the interiors need to be educated and motivated to achieve social dignity,’ Manjari, an independent member of the zila parishad from the Pooh block for two consecutive terms, told.
She is all set again to contest the panchayat elections to be held Dec 28.
Manjari said it is important to first change the mindset of women before forcing the government to change or amend the laws.
She should know it only too well. Manjari spearheaded an awareness drive on tribal women’s right to property and against polyandry across Kinnaur with a handful of dedicated peers more than a decade ago.
‘There is need to visit every village to make women more sensitive. A majority of them are illiterate and live in obscurity. They are not willing to stand up against the male-dominated society. The widows, completely deserted, are the worst sufferers and their number is on the rise,’ she said.
Manjari, an apple grower from the picturesque Ribba village, some 250 km from state capital Shimla, recalled: ‘My mother made her will putting her entire agricultural land in my name despite my brothers.
‘This was somehow an exception in my community. But if this is possible in my case, it can be possible for the rest of the tribal women too,’ she insisted.
‘As per customary laws, only men have the right to inherit ancestral property. Even the wife has no right on her husband’s assets, which are directly transferred to the sons. This is totally unjust,’ she added.
Manjari, who has been associated with panchayati raj institutions since 1981, said: ‘If parents willed ancestral property to their girl child, then she would be entitled for its claim. But if the parents don’t do it, then she can’t claim the property even legally.’
She is also chairperson of the Mahila Kalyan Parishad, a women’s rights group based in the district.
‘Polyandry (a tradition where brothers in a family share one wife) is another problem in the area. But somehow, we have managed to make youth break with tradition. Still a lot needs to be done,’ she added.
Manjari had played an important role in getting an all-woman panchayat for Kamru, in the Kalpa block, elected unanimously.
‘We motivated the voters to unanimously decide on seven women candidates for the equal number of posts and we succeeded,’ she said.
The three-phase elections in 3,195 panchayats in the state will be held Dec 28, Dec 30 and Jan 1, 2011.
The state government has already reserved 50 percent seats for women in all panchayati raj institutions, except the post of vice-president, which is open.