Only a new law will guar­an­tee In­dian women have land rights

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

In­dia must pass a law grant­ing women equal rights to land as men if the coun­try is to en­sure more food is grown for its more than 1 bil­lion peo­ple and greater re­spect for the en­vi­ron­ment, a lead­ing sci­en­tist said. MS Swami­nathan is known as the fa­ther of In­dia’s ‘Green Rev­o­lu­tion’ for de­vel­op­ing high-yield­ing va­ri­eties of wheat in the 1960s that helped make the coun­try self-suf­fi­cient in food.

As a mem­ber of the up­per house of par­lia­ment he drafted a bill in 2011 to pro­tect the rights of women farm­ers. Al­though the bill lapsed when his term ended in 2013, Swami­nathan, 91, has not given up hope that a sim­i­lar law will be passed.

“We need to in­crease aware­ness of the need for equal rights for women farm­ers, but we also need a law that guar­an­tees it,” he told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion in an in­ter­view. In­dia’s con­sti­tu­tion gives women equal rights but rarely do they ex­er­cise those rights when it comes to land own­er­ship - “a com­plex so­cial is­sue that is tied to how we treat the girl child ver­sus the boy child,” Swami­nathan said.

“The fa­ther may say: ‘I am giv­ing my daugh­ter dowry for her mar­riage, so I don’t have to give her land.’ They are afraid they will lose con­trol of the land if they give it to the daugh­ter,” he said in an in­ter­view at his of­fice in the south­ern In­dian city of Chen­nai. Women make up more than a third of In­dia’s agri­cul­ture work­force, yet only about 13 per­cent of farm­land is owned by women, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial data. Land is usu­ally trans­ferred though inheritance in In­dia, and it is al­most al­ways men who in­herit land. While a Hindu wo­man is en­ti­tled to a share of land owned by her fa­ther, she is gen­er­ally un­der pres­sure to give up this right when she gets mar­ried. Some states is­sue joint ti­tles when they al­lo­cate land to the land­less poor. But rarely are women added to old ti­tles.


As more men from vil­lages mi­grate to ur­ban ar­eas in search of jobs, their wives and daugh­ters tend to the land. But land ti­tles are al­most al­ways in the man’s name, and women farm­ers are de­nied loans, in­sur­ance and other gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits be­cause their names are not on the ti­tles. “Men may do the plough­ing, but the rest of it - in­clud­ing har­vest­ing, thresh­ing, stor­age - is done by women,” said Swami­nathan, who was named by Time mag­a­zine in 1999 as one of the 20 most in­flu­en­tial Asians of the 20th cen­tury.

Women farm­ers tend to grow more food crops rather than cash crops, and are more sen­si­tive to the en­vi­ron­ment and to their chil­dren’s long-term needs, Swami­nathan said. “But we are slow to ac­knowl­edge the im­por­tant role of women, and slow to give them rights,” he said. In­dia ranked 130 of 155 coun­tries on the UNDP’s gen­der in­equal­ity in­dex, worse than coun­tries in­clud­ing Cam­bo­dia and Zim­babwe, on pa­ram­e­ters such as in­fant mor­tal­ity and ed­u­ca­tion. —


AIZAWL: An In­dian Mizo store keeper hangs Santa hats out­side her shop in Aizawl, cap­i­tal of north­east­ern Mi­zo­ram state, yes­ter­day. Apart from house­hold ac­tiv­i­ties, Mizo women con­trol most of the busi­ness in Mi­zo­ram state. —

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