Christian Women in India Lack Inheritance Rights. Could Hi…… | News & Reporting

In February, the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand passed a Uniform Civil Code (UCC), which aims to implement a common set of rules governing crucial aspects of life, including marriage, divorce, inheritance, and adoption.

This code would supplant existing personal laws that religious groups in India currently ascribe to. Personal laws cover family-related matters such as marriage, divorce, child custody, adoption, property rights, and inheritance.

If the ruling Hindu-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has its way, a UCC will eventually be implemented across all of India. (At present, Goa is the only other state with a UCC, derived from the Portuguese-era Civil Code of 1867.)

The BJP’s push to implement a national UCC may bring relief for Christians in India, especially in terms of women’s inheritance rights. Under existing personal laws, Christian mothers cannot inherit their deceased children’s property. The UCC proposes to eliminate discriminatory provisions that favor male inheritance, potentially leading to more equitable inheritance rights for Christian women.

But few of India’s religious minorities trust the BJP, whose policies have often been more harmful than helpful to Christian communities. In Assam, Christian leaders protested the passing of a bill banning “magical healing” as it unfairly impacted their custom of praying for the sick. Ministries including World Vision and the Evangelical Fellowship of India recently lost government authorization to collect foreign donations. Nine states now have anti-conversion laws in place, and believers have borne the brunt of religious unrest in these areas as a result.

As this year’s general elections seem likely to strengthen the BJP’s hold over India and give prime minister Narendra Modi his third term, religious leaders all over the country may soon have to grapple with the reality now playing out in Uttarakhand.

“This is going to be a milestone in the history of India as far as the life of a citizen or resident is concerned,” said Vachan Singh Bhandari, director of the nonprofit Agape Mission in Uttarakhand.

Women’s inheritance rights

Each religious group in India has its own set of personal laws. Most of them are holdovers from colonial rule and were established by the British after consultation with religious leaders. Religious leaders do not have the power to effect changes to personal laws.

“Permitting religious communities to observe their own laws of marriage, inheritance, adoption, or divorce was the British Raj’s way of maintaining social stability, thwarting rebellion, and even earning the favor of a religious community,” said a Times of India commentary.

As a result, women from different religious groups in India do not have the same inheritance rights. Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, and Sikh women were originally excluded from inheriting ancestral property, and although a 2005 amendment sought to rectify this, they are still often disadvantaged. Muslim sons are granted a double portion of their family’s inheritance compared to daughters.

Christians are subject to the Indian Succession Act of 1925, which purportedly treats the inheritance rights of sons and daughters equally. But if the father’s will states that he wants to give his property only to his sons, it cannot be contested in court.

Syrian Christian women in the southern state of Kerala, for instance, are denied the opportunity to inherit ancestral property. One woman who sought a share of her family’s property was derided as a “troublemaker” by other family members. The idea that giving inheritance rights to women harms her family of origin, since she now belongs to another family and her husband will likely inherit his own property, persists in such communities.

In cities like Travancore and Cochin within Kerala, believers have generally followed Hindu laws even though Christian succession laws exist, maintains researcher Archana Mishra.

“Women were assigned an inferior status which being discriminatory wounded women’s equality,” Mishra wrote in a 2015 journal article. “Males had absolute power to dispose of [their] property and there was no restriction on [their] testamentary capacity.”

In addition to these difficulties involving ancestral real estate, Christian women are also at a disadvantage with regard to inheriting their children’s assets. Current personal laws deny women the right to inherit their deceased children’s property if there is no will, meaning that all assets go to the father or, if he is not alive, the child’s siblings.

For this reason, the proposed UCC “is a good move and will result in the empowerment of Christian women,” contended Vinita Shaw, founder of Disha Foundation, a non-governmental organization that supports women and children through advocacy and community development initiatives.

The introduction of a national UCC aims to address the discriminatory impacts of such personal laws. Bhandari, the Uttarakhand-based nonprofit director, is cautiously optimistic. “In general, it can be said that this perhaps is going to be in the interests of all the communities for their betterment as far as their marital, familial and property-related matters are concerned,” he stated.

The threat of Hinduized norms

Improving inheritance rights for women is not the only domestic issue that the UCC tackles. Other changes include requiring cohabiting couples to register their status with the government, granting legal rights to children born out of wedlock, and a complete ban on polygamy.

The BJP champions the UCC as a modern approach to civil rights that will help India become “one nation with one law.” But instead of pursuing parliamentary legislation to implement it nationwide, the ruling party has adopted a more circumspect approach, letting state leaders promote the plan so as to avoid political unrest while continuing to appease its core Hindu nationalist base.

Opposition political parties such as the Indian National Congress have chosen to adopt a “nuanced” view on the UCC, recognizing its “layered and complex” nature according to a report from The Hindu. Regional parties, which operate within a limited geographical area and typically identify with a particular cultural or religious group, have also advocated for wider consultation and consensus building before the introduction of such a far-reaching reform. In their view, a hasty implementation could disrupt established social structures, fuel unrest, and be perceived as an attack on minority communities’ constitutional rights to freedom of religion and cultural preservation.

Despite the UCC’s claim to improve gender equality, Christians and other minority religious groups may bear hidden costs if the UCC is implemented nationwide. The consequences may well resemble those that have accompanied anti-conversion laws, said a Christian leader in Assam who wished to remain anonymous because of security issues.

“The anti-conversion law was meant to be applied equally to all religious communities, and anyone violating the law was supposed to face legal scrutiny. But that did not happen,” he said.

“Specifically, Muslim and Christian communities were targeted under the guise of this law, [and] Hindu mobs have forcibly reconverted people who believe in Christ to Hinduism, yet no action has been taken against these mobs, and no cases of ‘forced conversions’ have been registered.”

Rohit Singh, a Christian lawyer in Uttarakhand, draws similar conclusions. Because of the anti-conversion law, churches in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, and other states have not been allowed to meet and worship together, Singh asserted.

In his view, the UCC will be equally biased against believers in practice. The government did not consult or take suggestions from Christians before rolling out the UCC, which was “forced upon us,” Singh argued.

On a wider scale, one of the biggest fears driving widespread resistance to a nationwide UCC is the potential imposition of Hinduized social norms, which would impact how religious minorities practice their faith.

Muslim leaders have voiced concerns that the UCC will infringe their individual rights as well as negatively impact religious freedom and societal cohesion in India. Some have criticized the disproportionate power that the BJP may wield as a result of the UCC’s adoption.

Catholic leaders have questioned how consistently the UCC will be applied across different castes and religious groups. The government “is trying to make lives more difficult for the minorities and discriminated sections of society like the indigenous people, Dalits and women,” argued A. C. Michael, president of the Federation of Catholic Associations of the Archdiocese of Delhi. Moreover, the UCC could impact the Catholic Church’s non-recognition of divorce.

For now, momentum toward adopting the UCC nationwide seems to be growing, with leaders in other states, including Gujarat and Assam, vowing to follow in Uttarakhand’s footsteps.

Even so, evangelicals in India have remained cautious about assessing the UCC’s merits and pitfalls publicly. “We’ve consistently underscored the need for a preliminary draft before launching into debates on a national Uniform Civil Code,” said Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India.

Delhi-based Christian tribal rights activist Govindra Hunjan, however, is not staying quiet.

“The UCC will wipe away the identity of the indigenous tribes by vilifying their traditional practices that have been there for centuries, like [the appointment of] village chiefs, settlement of petty matters in community settings, [and] property bequeathals, to name a few,” he said.

“I see no need for such a law, except with the intent to weaken the tribals.”

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button