Justice delayed…

Pakistan’s judicial system is tainted with sham litigation contests seeking to disinherit female heirs

Rafae Saigal August 29, 2021

On 15th May, 1986, Muhammad Yar passed away leaving behind a humble estate for his family, including two sons and a daughter, Razia Begum. When Razia’s brothers attempted to exclude her from the family-owned estate, she filed a legal claim for succession, seeking her due share under Islamic inheritance laws.

During court proceedings, Razia’s brothers contested the application by denying she had any interest in the estate as a legal heir. They argued the estate had been gifted to them by their father on 27th July, 1986 through a written gift deed, and was no longer in their father’s name. They contended that Razia’s claim for inheritance had, therefore, extinguished.

But there was an anomaly.

Razia maintained her father had passed away in May 1986 and she was right — as an appellate court later established. How could her father have, then, signed off on a gift instrument drawn up two months after his death — in July 1986?

Razia’s brothers forged a gift instrument, and successfully registered it with local revenue authorities. The brothers also denied the death of their father in 1986, arguing instead that he passed away in 1999. How does a dead person sign off their property, anyway?

Whether the revenue authorities were negligent, or corrupt and complicit is unclear. What’s clear, though, are the impacts of this preposterous set of facts.

It took 13 years for Razia to get justice. It took 13 years, four rounds of litigation, and appeals all the way to the Supreme Court for Razia to fight off a fraudulent scheme seeking to disinherit her. And finally, it took 13 years for Razia to claim what was always hers to begin with — the right to inherit from her father’s estate.

But not every story is Razia’s.

Pakistan’s judicial system is tainted with sham litigation contests seeking to disinherit female heirs. Often, there is scant protection to women that are coerced by male co-heirs into surrendering their inheritance rights. And in Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s words, the “few ladies who have the independence, determination and resources to take their brothers to court are left embroiled in slow grind litigation” that spans over years, if not decades.

Most female heirs end up conceding inheritance rights, as a result. And in such an oppressive litigation environment where the playing field is unequal, there is only one impossible alternative — to fight it out. If anything, the susceptibility of our judicial system to fraudulent and abusive litigation merits urgent attention.

To spend 13 years in court battling a fabricated deed and disproving an individual’s date of death speaks volumes of the shambles our system is in. This is an institutional failure. And its detrimental impacts are far more disparate on women. Disinheriting or delaying inheritance proceeds undermines the economic mobility of countless women for whom those monies might be a source of financial uplift, security or independence.

Women, as much as men, are entitled to inheritance. The Quran guarantees and mandates the rights of women to their shares of inheritance in Surah An-Nisa (4:7). Depriving women of this, therefore, is to disobey Allah’s command (4:11).

As it stands, however, our systemic inefficiencies are frequently abused by male co-heirs who successfully strip women of their lawful rights, through fraudulent and deterrent litigation. In 2017, a survey conducted by AGHS — a Pakistani-based NGO — revealed that 80% of Pakistani women did not receive any share in inheritance.

It is high time to account for the many tribulations a female heir undergoes prior to claiming her inheritance rights. Systemically, we must work to ameliorate, and uplift the courtroom experience for those women whose inheritance rights continue to remain at stake.

Justice delayed is justice denied. Razia’s legal fight spanning 13 years best exemplifies the adage.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2021.

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