Naga women’s right to inheritance takes centre stage
Eastern Mirror Desk
Dimapur, Sep. 21: Naga women, for centuries, were unable to inherit land because of patriarchal customary laws. However, some parents now write wills and gift deeds are prepared to leave behind for their daughters. This practice is especially taking place within “educated and wealthy families”, according to Adani Ngullie, an assistant professor of History at Unity College, Dimapur.
Addressing the second day of a national seminar on ‘The concept of property in Naga customary tradition’ held at Immanuel College on Saturday, she said that this system is yet to reach the rural areas ‘where women are usually found to be poor’.
Ngullie was speaking on the topic ‘Lotha Naga women: Marriage, divorce and inheritance’.
The Lotha Nagas, she said, practised two kinds of marriages: arranged and negotiated marriage. Generally, marriage by negotiations was an accepted rule among the Lothas but instances of love-marriage also existed and all these operated within the patriarchal structure of the Naga society, according to her.
Polygamy was popular but confined only to the village chiefs, great warriors and to the wealthy section of the society, said Ngullie.
She said if a Lotha wife was found to be barren, the husband had every right to take another wife without divorcing his first wife. “The society being patriarchal, the birth of a male child was eagerly awaited and greatly rejoiced than the birth of a female child. And it was not unnatural to look down on women if she failed to give birth to a son and a barren woman,” Ngullie said
According to her, in the present context, there are instances where the husband can divorce his wife and marry another woman if the wife fails to give birth to a son. The custody of the children goes to the father, whatever the reason of the divorce may be.
“In rare cases, if the child is a girl, then custody is given to the mother. The same case goes with a widow; the children are always taken away by her late husband’s relatives if she goes for remarriage,” she said.
Inheritance of property
“Property is inherited by male heir and women are not entitled to inherit immovable and ancestral property. In the absence of male heir, the nearest male relative would inherit the property. According to the custom, the youngest son is entitled to a lion’s share of property including the parental house. But immovable property like land is equally shared by all the sons. If the daughter is unmarried then she stays at the parents’ house but she is just a keeper; she does not have the right to sell or say over her parent’s property. Once the daughter gets married then she loses the right to her parental properties,” Ngullie said.
Under Article 371 A, the strict adherence to customary law denies the fundamental rights of Naga women granted by the Constitution of India, she contended.
“There are clear evidences on the issue of inheritance which makes women in Lotha society economically very insecure. If the daughters do not marry after her parents’ demise, her position becomes very insecure since she cannot claim her parental properties and in many cases unable to stay at her parental house after her parent’s demise,” Ngullie said.
She asserted that it was necessary to ‘redefine’ the existing Naga customary laws with special importance on matters of divorce and inheritance of parental properties without doing away with the existing customary law, but change the existing concept and give a new meaning which would improve the economic status of women. “The existing customary law displays discrimination which indirectly governs the lives of the Nagas,” she said.
Special reference to Khezhakeno
Velhou Koza, an assistant professor of Sociology at Don Bosco College in Kohima spoke on ‘The marriage implications on property rights: Some reflections with special reference to Khezhakeno village.’
“Endogamy was the common form of marriage in Khezhakeno where the couples would be from the same village or the marriage can be of tribal endogamy or religious endogamy. The regulation of the mate selection in the Khezhakeno community was subsumed under the concepts of endogamy and exogamy,” he said.
According to Koza, Khezhakeno village regulates marriage with elaborate rules and regulations. Cross-cousin marriage is strictly prohibited in the village; however, after three-generation gap, the siblings are permitted to marry but not encouraged, he said.
As the nature of the family is patriarchal in the Chakhesang community, Koza asserted that the inheritance of property is traced through the male line. The position of woman was one of dependence; her proprietary rights, where she enjoyed them, were limited without full ownership.
‘According to customs of Khezhakeno village, men have better opportunities in the distribution of property when compared to women. If the wife leaves the husband because of quarrel or other reasons, she would get one-third of the marital property but if the husband leave the wife, the property will be shared equally. Distribution of property differs between the gender where male enjoy better privileges than the women,’ he said.
Referring to Khezhakeno, he said that when a couple divorce, the wife cannot take away the immovable property such as field or land (‘Chikhe’ in Khezha dialect) for jhum cultivation.