Dogged dad smashes 150-yr property wall: Archaic law denying rights to Christian women in Coorg & Mysore repealed

Dogged dad smashes 150-yr property wall: Archaic law denying rights to Christian women in Coorg & Mysore repealed

By: || Updated: 06 Dec 2015 10:07 AM
New Delhi: A 98-year-old father's determination to will a share of his property to his daughter has led to the repeal of a 150-year-old notification that stood in the way.

P.F. Pinto had told his four sons that after dividing his coffee plantations and giving them their share, he planned to will his share to his lone surviving daughter, Arlene. That was three years ago.

The sons dug up a little-known 1868 notification that denied Christian women in Coorg and Mysore the right to inherit property and went to court against their father.

Arlene, 52, a housewife and the youngest of six siblings, found out that the notification had been upheld in other cases and was not inclined to fight. But, she says, her father insisted.

"So I went to my MP, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, and requested him to look into it," Arlene said on phone from Bangalore.

The 1865 Succession Act empowered the governor-general to exempt any race, tribe or sect from the operation of the act. Using this power, by a notification in 1868, Christian women in Coorg and Mysore were denied property rights by the governor-general of the time.

Even after the Indian Succession Act, 1925, allowed daughters to inherit property, Christian women from these two places in Karnataka remained exempt because the old notification was not repealed.

But on December 3, the state government issued a new notification repealing the notification of 1868.

"I never thought that I would manage to do this. It was the constant support of my father, who said that he would pursue this till the Supreme Court if necessary, that I took up the matter seriously. He told me why should Christians only in these two places be denied their rights when all over the country women had succession rights?" Arlene said.

"I am extremely thrilled that this archaic law has finally gone. In fact, I didn't even know such a notification existed till my brother brought it up," said Arlene, who worked with Gulf Air in Bangalore for 10 years before deciding to be a stay-at-home mother after her daughter, now 22, was born.

The notification is little-known even in Karnataka. When The Telegraph contacted some lawyers in Bangalore, they were unable to recall it.

Senior lawyer G.R. Mohan said there were many such laws in the country that are usually ignored.

"But if someone wants to play some mischief, these are enough as they are still valid laws," he said.

Ivan D'Souza, a member of the state legislative council, said Christian women had no problems in inheriting ancestral property. "I don't think such a law is used by anyone anymore. All Christian women in Karnataka enjoy equal share in ancestral property."

But Arlene would not have got her share had she not approached Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the Independent MP from Bangalore, about a year-and-a-half ago. He persistently took up the matter for over a year, speaking about it in Parliament, writing to law minister Sadanand Gowda and the Karnataka chief minister and ensuring the law was repealed.

"I have done no research on the issue. When she came to me, I thought it was wrong and unfair. Her case was enough to convince me to take it up," said Chandrasekhar.

Arlene said she was also grateful to the chief minister and law minister, K.J. George, who pushed for the repeal in the cabinet and the Law Commission for its recommendation.

"It's an example how with support from lawmakers even a common person like me can bring changes," she said.

Thirty years ago, another woman had fought and won a case in the Supreme Court that ensured equal rights for Syrian Christian women with their male siblings in their ancestral property.

Mary Roy, an educator and women's rights activist and the mother of writer and activist Arundhati Roy, won a lawsuit in 1986 against the inheritance legislation of her Keralite Syrian Christian community. Till then, the Syrian Christian community followed the provisions of the Travancore Succession Act of 1916.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY K.M. RAKESH IN BANGALORE

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