Gender, production and access to land
The case for female peasants in India
The land goes to the men simply because they are men. Whether the son wants to cultivate the land or leave it fallow, he will still have the right over that land.
It would be futile … for a daughter to expect a share, for no matter how much one does, for as long as there is a son, parents will never give their land to a daughter.
(Responses from women in the field, Orissa)
Land rights for women in India, particularly within the rural context, are crucial for women's empowerment for several reasons. First, the overwhelming dependence on agriculture for survival makes land the most crucial resource for all who depend upon it. Land ownership is vital to overcome dependence upon others for survival and subsistence needs. Second, the absence of a social security net (Guhan 1992) makes land ownership for women even more important for their economic empowerment. Third, land has significant socio-political implications, where its possession leads to power and prestige (Basu 1990). Thus, access to and control over land is vital for women's survival and empowerment in rural India.
This chapter analyses two separate legal regimes that establish women's rights over property in India – the Hindu Succession Act 1956 and the Orissa Land Reforms Act 1960. Focusing on Hindu peasant women, the discussion highlights the way these regimes together perpetuate women's exclusion from property rights. A deeper, critical evaluation of the law establishing Hindu women's equal property rights through succession and inheritance reveals that, although based upon liberal values of equality and fairness, it reinforces the religious/cultural ideology underpinning their traditional exclusion from land ownership. Land reform legislations, which explicitly seek to redistribute agricultural land and confer ownership based on the value of work, and the category of workers as male, furthers this exclusion. The chapter discusses the impact of these twin regimes on prospects for land ownership by Hindu peasant woman working on small/family-owned farms, and concludes that the regimes promote their exclusion as Hindu women both on the basis of succession and inheritance, and as workers.