Rekong Peo (Himachal Pradesh): Over a decade after she spearheaded a campaign on
the issue, 57-year-old social activist Rattan Manjari is back to
leading a movement in Himachal Pradesh's Kinnaur district to
secure the rights of tribal women - single or married - to inherit
Manjari has taken on the patriarchal laws that bar tribal women
from inheriting property in the state. This, she says, is a huge
step in empowering women and making their lives more dignified.
The tribal laws of Kinnaur, and Lahaul and Spiti districts do not
give women the right to inherit the property of their parents or
"My fight against the tribal laws will continue. Most women
settled in the interiors need to be educated and motivated to
achieve social dignity," Manjari, an independent member of the
zila parishad from the Pooh block for two consecutive terms, told
She is all set again to contest the panchayat elections to be held
Manjari said it is important to first change the mindset of women
before forcing the government to change or amend the laws.
She should know it only too well. Manjari spearheaded an awareness
drive on tribal women's right to property and against polyandry
across Kinnaur with a handful of dedicated peers more than a
"There is need to visit every village to make women more
sensitive. A majority of them are illiterate and live in
obscurity. They are not willing to stand up against the
male-dominated society. The widows, completely deserted, are the
worst sufferers and their number is on the rise," she said.
Manjari, an apple grower from the picturesque Ribba village, some
250 km from state capital Shimla, recalled: "My mother made her
will putting her entire agricultural land in my name despite my
"This was somehow an exception in my community. But if this is
possible in my case, it can be possible for the rest of the tribal
women too," she insisted.
"As per customary laws, only men have the right to inherit
ancestral property. Even the wife has no right on her husband's
assets, which are directly transferred to the sons. This is
totally unjust," she added.
Manjari, who has been associated with panchayati raj institutions
since 1981, said: "If parents willed ancestral property to their
girl child, then she would be entitled for its claim. But if the
parents don't do it, then she can't claim the property even
She is also chairperson of the Mahila Kalyan Parishad, a women's
rights group based in the district.
"Polyandry (a tradition where brothers in a family share one wife)
is another problem in the area. But somehow, we have managed to
make youth break with tradition. Still a lot needs to be done,"
Manjari had played an important role in getting an all-woman
panchayat for Kamru, in the Kalpa block, elected unanimously.
"We motivated the voters to unanimously decide on seven women
candidates for the equal number of posts and we succeeded," she
The three-phase elections in 3,195 panchayats in the state will be
held Dec 28, Dec 30 and Jan 1, 2011.
The state government has already reserved 50 percent seats for
women in all panchayati raj institutions, except the post of
vice-president, which is open.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)