In Kinnaur, she fights for women’s property rights (March 8 is International Women’s Day)

Shimla, March 7 (IANS) It’s uphill task for social activist Rattan Manjari. The 57-year-old is leading a movement against patriarchal laws that bar women from inheriting property in Kinnaur as well as Lahaul and Spiti districts in Himachal Pradesh.

In these tribal dominated areas, traditionally women don’t inherit the property of their parents or husbands.

‘We are trying to bring social change by enlightening women about their rights and entitlements. We believe that before anything substantial can be done like forcing the government to amend the customary laws, we have to actually change the mindset of the fairer sex,’ Manjari told IANS.

She is chairperson of the Mahila Kalyan Parishad, a women’s rights group based in Kinnaur district.

‘A large number of widows, deserted women and spinsters are living in penury due to the patriarchal laws. They do not have access to assets, including agricultural land. The situation is turning bad for them as they are simply abandoned by their families,’ she said.

Manjari, an apple grower from the picturesque Ribba village, some 250 km from state capital Shimla, said: ‘My mother willed her entire agricultural land in my name despite my brothers. But this was somehow an exception in my community. If this is possible in my case, it can be possible for the rest of the tribal women too.’

‘As per the customary laws, only males 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 the panchayati raj institutions (local bodies) since 1981, moves from village to village everyday along with her dedicated volunteers to raise the voice of her community for securing social dignity.

‘If parents transfer a piece of land in the name of their daughters, the women will get the benefit. But if the parents don’t do this, they have no right to claim the property even legally,’ the social activist said.

According to her, there is a lot of opposition from men. Obviously, they fear that change in customary laws would divide their property.

‘We are facing opposition even from the elderly women. They say there is nothing wrong in the prevailing laws,’ said Manjari, who is pinning her hopes on younger women who better understand their rights and socio-economic empowerment.

‘The days are not far when the tribal womenfolk will get their right to property,’ she said.

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