The Uttarakhand government has set an important precedent by passing an ordinance that gives co-ownership rights to women in their husband’s ancestral property. The ordinance that was passed at a cabinet meeting chaired by Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat aims to “facilitate the women who are working in fields owned by their husbands or fathers, especially in the hilly areas of the state,” according to media reports.
By amending the Uttarakhand Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, daughters will get access to ownership on the land owned by their fathers. Similarly, a wife will also be the joint owner of the land of her husband, said an official to the media. “So far in Uttarakhand, the land ownership rights are transferred to men in the family which are then passed on to their sons,” he added.
With this landmark move, Uttarakhand has become the first state in the country to provide co-ownership rights to women in this regard.
Rawat added, “This is the biggest reform of our government. I am confident that this reform will not be limited to Uttarakhand and other states will also follow it. We talk of equal partnership and this ordinance provides equal partnership to women. This will have a major impact and will go a long way in overall development of the state.”
The gender dynamics
In a traditional set-up in Uttarakhand, both men and women are equally involved in farming on their lands. While the labour-intensive work is undertaken by the men, women perform other farming-related activities. Despite their full participation, women do not possess ownership of that land.
" A woman is denied loans for any farming-related work on the field because they don't have ownership of the land. Once this amendment is introduced in the aforementioned Act, they will enjoy ownership rights of the land along with their husbands and take a loan," explained the official to the media.
In case a woman is divorced, she won’t be the co-owner of the land that is in her first husband’s name. However, there is an exception to this rule. If the woman’s second husband is unable to provide for her financially, she would be allowed to be the co-owner. Also, if a divorced woman does not have a child or her husband has been missing for seven years, she can be the co-owner of the land owned by her father.
Moreover, the cabinet has also approved legalising residential and non-residential buildings that do not have their maps.
"The buildings would be legalised in a one-time settlement. For the residential buildings in hilly areas, the application fees would be Rs 2,500 and that in plain areas would be Rs 5,000. For non-residential buildings in hilly areas, the application fees would be Rs 5,000 and that in plain areas would be Rs 10,000," said the official.
Pradesh BJP Mahila Morcha president Ritu Khanduri described it as a "historic decision which will empower women".
Migration: Problem or solution?
Uttarakhand has always struggled with the problem of migration, so much so that over the last decade, a total of 4.56 lakh moved out of the state in search of work. In such a scenario, most villages have elderly couples and women. With no work opportunities, women are left to do household chores and work in the farm, without having any right to the land. But things might slowly and steadily change after this landmark reform.
As per the Election Commission, Uttarakhand has 37.40 lakh voters, out of 78.15 lakh women in the state.
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh)