Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh: Shabana was 18 years old when she was married to a man 15 years her senior in Uttar Pradesh. It wasn’t long before he began beating her.
Worried for her safety and that of her two young kids, Shabana begged her eldest brother to let her return to her parental home, where he now lived. He refused, saying her place was with her husband, and that she had no right over the home.
The home was claimed by her brothers. Under Islamic law, Shabana and her two sisters were also entitled to a share of the property, but they were not aware of it.
“My father had said he would leave me a share, but he did not leave a will, and I did not know I had a right,” said Shabana, who asked that her last name not be used as she fears reprisal from her husband, who has refused a divorce.
“I thought I would have to live on the streets,” she said, wiping off tears in the small beauty salon she runs to support herself and her children.
It wasn’t until Shabana approached a women’s group, Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives (AALI), that she gained the knowledge – and the courage – to ask for her share.
It took four years of mediation by AALI before her brother allowed her to move into the house with her children, she said.
In matters of inheritance, marriage, family and divorce, Muslims are governed by a personal law, or the shariat.
According to the Shariat Act, women are entitled to half the man’s share of property, but the rule does not apply to agricultural land.
Some states have made provisions in their law to allow Muslim women to inherit land as well.
“Challenging inheritance rights means challenging the patriarchy, challenging the very notions of family and relationships,” said Niti Saxena, an advisor at AALI who has studied Muslim women’s property rights in Uttar Pradesh.
Fathers and sons are not willing to give married women a share of the parental property because they believe she belongs to the husband’s family, and that she has already been compensated with a dowry at the time of her marriage, she said.
“The women, even if aware of their rights, are afraid that claiming their share will spoil their relations with the family. So they do not make a claim unless they are desperate – usually in the case of abuse or a divorce.”
Ownership of assets increases the value of a woman in the husband’s household and reduces the violence she faces, a separate study by land rights advocacy group Landesa India showed.
But women asking for a share in property faced violence and harassment, it said.
A 2015 study by advocacy group Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) – which did not include Uttar Pradesh – showed 82 per cent of Muslim women do not own property.
Of those who owned property, most had got it from their husbands, with only a few inheriting from their fathers.
“The vast majority of these women are dependent on their husbands,” said Zakia Soman, a co-founder of BMMA in Mumbai.
“If she has nowhere to go, and if her parents are unable or unwilling to support her, she has no choice but to put up with any violence or abuse from her husband,” she said.
Shabana, who lives with her children in one room of her sprawling parental home under her brother’s eye, says, “We are not being greedy, we only want what is fair.”
“I want my daughter to be independent. For that we must treat our daughters and sons as equals.”
(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran. Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)
© Thomson Reuters 2017