Post by: Leea Collard
Hi! My name is Leea Collard and I am a first-year law student at Regent University School of Law. This semester, I have conducted research for Justice Ventures International. This research has revolved around housing policies in three of the biggest Indian states–Maharashtra, West Bengal, and Delhi.
“My condolences.” This is the phrase that is dreaded by all in life. Last month marked the first anniversary of the death of a sweet friend of mine. As such, I’ve reflected upon the impact that death can have not only on the individual mourner but on society as a whole, both good and bad. Life is a wonderful thing and to be able to share it with the ones you love most is truly a gift from the Lord. In our time of mourning, the Bible in John 14:1 encourages believers to not let our hearts be troubled.
However, for widows in India, their hearts are troubled not only from the loss of their husbands but also from a potential for them to lose their home and land with the passing of their spouse. Though Article 39(1) of the Indian Constitution equally grants men and women the right to adequate means of livelihood, including housing and land rights, in most Indian states the reality is different. According to an International Property Rights Index in 2016, India ranked 59/128 of surveyed countries, demonstrating a poor record as it pertains to property inheritance rights for widows. At present, only if an Indian man dies intestate and without children or other heirs, will his wife inherit his property. Furthermore, if an Indian woman’s indebted husband dies, her rights are less valued than the creditor’s, and the property will be stripped from her. Even more so, if the deceased’s heir is the widow’s in-law, she may expose herself to abuse and public ridicule if she files a suit against that in-law for possession of the property. If the widow is unable to retain the property, she could be forced to either return home to her natural family, if they are still living, or she could be rendered homeless.
Under the Hindu Succession Act, the Indian Government attempts to modify Indian culture by encouraging the inclusion of women in the inheritance of ancestral property. Predominantly, under this Act, if an Indian man dies intestate, then his widow should take possession of his properties. The Act goes on to say that any female heir, including a widow, is to be considered a full owner of the property and not as a partial owner. While the Hindu Succession Act works to move India in the right direction toward granting and preserving the property rights of Indian widows, in a culture that has long adhered to strict patriarchal guidelines, the Hindu Succession Act is more of a leap, rather than a step, toward progress. As believers and those involved in global policy work, it is our responsibility to advocate for the property rights of Indian widows who cannot speak for themselves. Please pray that as a result of the Hindu Succession Act, the Indian Government grants and protects protection the property rights of its innocent widows.
This post was written by a Center for Global Justice Student Staff member. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.