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Top UK NGO Oxfam bats for Hindu personal law and common civil code, criticizes Muslim, Christian, tribal laws

By Our Representative
Providing a strong view in favour of having a common civil code, top UK-based NGO, Oxfam's India branch has praised through a policy brief the Hindu personal law in its present form, saying it “allows women the right to own land and independently manage its affairs.”
Pointing out that, as of today, “the law includes ownership of agricultural land by women, thanks to the amendment in 2005”, it regrets, only some states “like Uttar Pradesh and a few others do not follow the amendment.”
At the same time, the policy brief, prepared by Dr Ashok Sircar and published as Oxfam Policy Brief No 19 (June 2016) has sharply criticised Muslim, Christian and Tribal personal laws.
It says, “The Muslim personal law does not allow for women’s share in agricultural land, except in a few states which have recently amended this”, adding, “Muslim women get one third of the share of the estate property, while men get two thirds of it.”
Coming to the Christian personal law, the policy brief says, “Under the Indian Succession Act (ISA) 1925 Christian widows get one third of the estate property and the male and female linear descendants get two thirds of it, equally divided among them.”
As for the tribals, Oxfam says, they have “their own customary practices, which typically deny women their land share, again, barring a few exceptional situations”, adding, “While the personal laws and tenurial land laws make unequal provisions for women’s land share, the societal practices irrespective of these laws, deny women their land share even when it is permitted under law.”
Titled “Women’s right to agricultural land: Removing legal barriers for achieving gender equality”, the policy brief seeks to outlines “gaps that exist in the realisation of women’s land rights on agricultural land”, even as calling for “immediate collective action aimed at removing the structural barriers in inheritance, leasing, and joint ownership of privately held land in favour of women.”
Insisting that “it has become critical that inheritance of agricultural land be brought under a uniform code”, the policy brief says, this would ensure women “equal rights at par with men as per Hindu Succession Amendment Act 2005.”
Oxfam says, “Hindu Succession Act (HSA), 2005 allows women to own estate and agricultural land. This has come about after a long discourse on women’s land rights in India.” But it regrets, “Ten years of its implementation saw three major barriers in the way of ensuring clear land ownership by women.”
“For example”, it says, “Uttar Pradesh still does not honour this provision on agricultural land, and claims that since agriculture is a state subject it would continue to follow UP Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act 1950. This Act honours the inheritance rights of widows, daughters and sisters only after the rights of all male descendants are exhausted.”
Pointing out that “Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh follow the same practice in their agricultural land related laws”, Oxfam says, in these states “rights of female survivors (widow, daughter, daughter-in-law of a pre-deceased son, etc.) are honoured after the rights of male descendants in their agricultural land related laws.”
Suggesting a “different scenario exists in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh”, Oxfam says, “Here, it is seen that the names of widows and daughters routinely appear in the record of rights, but the possession of the land continues to remain with male members of the family. The women neither have a clear land share nor a clear title on the inherited land.”
The result is that, the policy brief says, there is an “abysmally poor land ownership of women in India varying between 9 and 13 per cent according to various estimates”, it says, underlining, states should “strictly implement Hindu Succession Act (HSA) 2005, and clearly partition the land, giving exclusive and identifiable land titles to women.”

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