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    Widows versus Daughters or Widows as Daughters? Property, Land, and Economic Securityin Rural IndiaAuthor(s): Bina AgarwalSource: Modern Asian Studies,  Vol. 32, No. 1 (Feb., 1998), pp. 1-48Published by: Cambridge University PressStable URL: 15-09-2017 14:05 UTC   JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a widerange of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity andfacilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at Cambridge University Press  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extendaccess to Modern Asian Studies This content downloaded from on Fri, 15 Sep 2017 14:05:18 UTCAll use subject to   Modern Asian Studies 32, 1 1998), pp. 1-48. ? 1998 Cambridge University Press  Printed in the United Kingdom  Widows versus Daughters or Widows as Daughters? Property, Land, and Economic  Security in Rural Indial  BINA AGARWAL  Institute of Economic Growth, University Enclave Delhi, My bangles are broken  my days of shame are gone.  I have one small son, one calf, one field.  A calf to feed, a son to nurture. but the land, baiji, this half acre of earth to feed me, to rest my head.2  (Malli, a Rajasthani widow I interviewed in 1  This paper is woven around two main arguments: O effective economic security for widows in India it ensure their command over property; and in the co  India, the most significant form of property is arabl  need to see widows not as a category in themselves, but a stage in most women's life cycle-a stage which is o  ous with old age. Effective economic security durin  would therefore need securing women's property rig  event, not only after it, namely securing their clai  in addition to their claims as widows.  Viewing the issue of widowhood and economic security in this way  will need a major shift in the prevalent emphasis of State policy,  which in its social security provisioning for women has focused essen-  tially on widowhood, and in relation even to widows focused mainly  on pensions. The possibility that unmarried women, or women  divorced, deserted or separated may be as vulnerable to poverty and  destitution has received little attention in the design of most State  social security schemes.3 And recommendations for improvement in  ' I am grateful to Jean Dreze, B. Sivaramayya, Marty Chen, Patricia Uberoi, and  the journal's anonymous referees for useful comments on an earlier draft.  2 Broken bangles signify widowhood. Baiji: respected sister.  3 The only exception appears to be Tamil Nadu where there is some provision  for pensions for deserted and destitute wives (GOI 199oa).  oo26-749X/98/$7.50+$. o10   This content downloaded from on Fri, 15 Sep 2017 14:05:18 UTCAll use subject to   2 BNAAGARWAL  these schems hve al  emoymnt for wdow  ertyrghts4 Outside propertyinhertance, practce, but the cai  lesser socal legtmc  hve pacedwdow r  thrust ofpovertyref  alone.  On the one hand, this dichotomizing of women's needs leaves their interests unprotected not just in contexts other than widowhood but  even during widowhood. It assumes the centrality of the conjugal  bond in provisioning for women, one which is likely to prove increas-  ingly precarious with weakening marital and kinship support sys- tems. On the other hand, measures which pay no attention to the  importance of land in rural livelihood systems are unlikely to prove  adequate social security alternatives for most. It is argued here that  what is needed is a more holistic approach to providing economic  security for rural women, one which includes women at all stages of  their lives, and which gives centrality to securing their claims in family land as well as in public land.  In the sections which follow, the paper outlines the importance of  landed property for women, and especially for widows; differences in  the property rights of widows and daughters in traditional Hindu law and customary practice, as well as in contemporary Hindu law;  the gap between contemporary law and actual practice, and the fac-  tors underlying this gap; the precariousness of women's rights as  widows, and the necessity of securing their rights also as daughters  for protecting their interests both before and during widowhood; why  widows' claims face less opposition than those of daughters; and, finally, the possible directions for change. The paper will confine  itself to women's situation among rural patrilineal Hindu  communities.  I. Importance of Effective Rights in Property, Especially  Arable Land  In a predominantly agrarian economy such as India, arable l  the most critical form of property, valued for its economic, poli  4 See e.g. GOI (199oa), and Gulati and Gulati (1995). Several presentatio  an ILO seminar on social security in November 1995, reflected a similar a This content downloaded from on Fri, 15 Sep 2017 14:05:18 UTCAll use subject to   LAND AND ECONOMIC SECURITY IN RURAL INDIA 3  and symbolic importance. It is a productive, wealth creating and liv  lihood sustaining asset. Traditionally it has been the basis of pol  power and social status. For many, it also provides a sense of identi  and rootedness within a village. However, while the importan  command over landed property is well-recognized in household-  analysis, its importance in defining women's situation and ge  relations needs elaboration.  Rights are defined here as claims that are legally and sociall  recognized and enforceable by an external legitimized authority, b  it a village-level institution or some higher-level judicial or executi  body of the State. Rights in land can be in the form of ownership or of usufruct, associated with differing degrees of freedom to lease out,  mortgage, bequeath, or sell. Land rights can stem from inheritance  community membership, transfers by the State, or tenancy arrange-  ments, purchase, and so on. Rights in land also have a temporal an sometimes locational dimension: they may be hereditary, or accru  only for a lifetime, or for a lesser period; and they may be conditiona  on residing where the land is located. As distinct from rights, a  person may, in theory, also have 'access' to land, say throug  informal concessions granted by kin or friends. But these cannot b  claimed as a right and their enforcement sought. 'Rights' thus pro  vide a measure of security that other forms of access typically do not. By effective rights I mean rights not just in law but in practice, an  not just of ownership but also of control over how the land is use  and its produce disposed of. By independent rights I mean rights independent of male ownership or control (that is, excluding join  titles with male relatives). Although joint titles may be preferable having no land at all, many of the advantages of having land (such the control women could exercise over their fields) would not accru  without independent titles. Independent and effective rights in arable land are important fo  rural women in general, and for widows in particular, for severa  reasons, the most critical being the implications for women's welfare.  Especially among poor households, land rights can substantiall  reduce women's risk of poverty and destitution, partly due to th  general positive effect of women having access to economic resourc  independently of men, and partly from the specific advantages associ-  ated with rights in arable land.  At the general level, there is substantial evidence of a systemati  anti-female bias against women and female children in intra  household access to resources for basic necessities such as health  care, and in some degree also food (for details see Agarwal 1986, This content downloaded from on Fri, 15 Sep 2017 14:05:18 UTCAll use subject to
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