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Hindu Code of Law

October 24, 2017

The Hindu Law Code (Reforms) Act was passed in the year 1955 (in bits and parcels)  in Indian parliament giving women (daughters/mothers/sisters/wives) equal share in family estate. But I will add here a personal note with reference as to how before 1955, Hindu women have suffered due to absence of such a law.

To begin with, Hindu widows were not allowed to remarry in India.  No divorce or annulment of a Hindu marriage was permissible as per the ancient Shastras as per which the Hindu society functioned for thousands of years. Hindu men could remarry if they were widowers. Or Hindu men could even take more than one wife. A Hindu daughter/wife/mother/sister could beget only 1/8th of the family estate as per old school of thought and practice. Adoption was not allowed for the widows or single Hindu women. All that was set to change which brought about a revolution in the emancipation of Indian women in the last 50 years plus, with the introduction of a new set of statutes aimed at improving the women’s lot in the subcontinent. I cannot even imagine, how anyone (read the Islamic society) could have opposed these bold but delayed reforms. Probably that explains why the Islamic community in India remains backward until this date.

My husband’s maternal grandfather inherited sizeable real estate. Although all his three married sisters were widowed before 25 (as was common  in those days when mortality rate was high due to typhoid, TB, malaria, jaundice etc), he did not share his wealth with his sisters. Their families with whom we have contacts until today remain impoverished mostly. The widows, two of whom are around even now (one is 101), led harrowing lives for raising their kids in trying circumstances, totally at the mercy of their relatives. Here and there someone is doing well among their grandchildren and great grandchildren in present times. However, the grandfather donated prime properties to temples. In fact the Anna Nagar East bus terminal plot (in Chennai) belonged to him that he gifted the govt for development without seeking a penny by way of compensation. (The Mandaveli bus depot was a garden that belonged to my paternal grandfather. It was a coconut grove, my father used to tell me. As a kid, my father used to take his daily walk there). The neo rich of Chennai may hardly believe.

Similarly, my maternal grandfather and his brother too inherited vast restate. My grandfather’s brother did not work for a single day in his life and lived off the properties shamelessly. The 3 or 4 widowed sisters of theirs received no share in the estate, not a single paisa from the father/brothers. However, these families are doing well presently having worked their way up. Ironically, my grandfather too donated prime properties to a couple of temples in Chennai. He set up a trust fund and did a lot of charity including to the Ramakrishna Mission. There is this memory of my grandfather’s nephew coming home frequently asking for monetary help. My grandfather gave him nothing. Since his were only two daughters (my mother and my aunt), he left them a single house standing, and donated everything to Hindu temples.

The widows’ lives before 1955 must have been awful. Either they had to put up with inconveniences and insults in their in-laws homes as dependents, or had to return to their parents’ swallowing their pride. Women did not have much education in those days. They were not employable. Can’t imagine their plight back then. Hindu women were not even allowed to remarry. No divorce either. Once married, your fate would be sealed.

Now the ‘Motta pattis’ of Chennai have vanished. But upto my 10th year or so, every street or what you say every gali in India used to have them. (Vrindavan even today is a sore reminder.)  Motta Pattis were the widowed Brahmin women of Tamil Nadu with their heads shaven. They had to still cover their heads and don the saffron robes or the white robes. Many of them were widowed even before they attained their puberty – because child marriages were common in those days. In my own family, we have had such widows. But both my parents’ and my in-laws’ families were somewhat progressive when it came to women’s education. Women in our families have been literate for almost a century now, so the widows in our homes were not secluded from society or denied education. But until my mother’s generation, they were mostly taught at home rather than at school. My mom and my mother-in-law could have been the earliest girls from either sides to attend schools.

However, widows in those days were taken care of in joint families. They were provided for.  There was security in joint families. It was still hard life for the widows. Some of them resorted to menial jobs doing chores for relatives and friends to earn a decent living for the sake of their children.

Now the converse is true. Parents seem to be overdoing things for their daughters at the expense of their sons! Women in India may be projected different by the media, but not only Indian women these days are highly accomplished in academics as well as their chosen careers, but are also extremely smart and know their legal rights and entitlements. It is heartbreaking to see brothers and sisters fighting bitter legal battles over parents’ estates in modern times.

Although my husband’s maternal grandfather did not share his real estate inheritance with his sisters, he gave equal share in whatever remained with him to his daughter – who’s my mother-in-law, on par with his sons. In his own times, the change in the mind-set happened. The law might have been like an after-thought.

Happily enjoying the fruits of my parents’ labour today. 35 years since my mother passed away, on a working day, after returning from her school (she worked as a teacher for govt aided school for the speech and hearing impaired). Neither was my father around for my wedding day (he worked for central govt). But my parents ensured that both of us daughters need not have to work for life. Not much may be, still our parents ensured the economic security of our lives with their precious savings and investments. Brings tears to my eyes. After my mom, we received her monthly pension and death benefits. Our parents left us decent real estate. It doesn’t matter anymore you are a daughter or son, it is just that for a mother, both are one and the same. Our ancestral inheritance must be viewed as a nest egg. That’s how we see it.

How the social changes happened over generations is amazing. From 1955 to 1985, from destitute widows to inheriting daughters. What a transformation for the Indian Nari. As for me, I am the daughter of a working woman who sends me a gift cheque every month even today 35 years after she left me.

Son or daughter, we must not wait for our parents’ money. If you get it, it is bonus. We have to work our way up. We daughters never built our lives around our parents’ fortunes. We started our lives like on a blank paper: with not a single rupee in bank account, no parents, no big family circle, no support system nothing. But there was one thing in tact: Hope and Good thinking and Sound education.


My friend says, India is suffering today because of the curses of our widows over centuries and of the dalits.


From → Bharatiya Naari

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