Inheritance disputes a burden for women

Deprived of share and made to go through time draining court process is a distressing event many face


Asif Mehmood October 19, 2021

LAHORE:

Issues over land and more importantly over inheritance of land have flooded the courts and often last for decades draining energy and money both from all those involved.

Enmity over inheritance disputes results in crimes like trespass to land, encroachment, and murder to name a few. Women are the worst affectees of all inheritance related disputes owing to a mixture of lack of timely justice and manipulation by family members.

Abdullah Malik, a legal expert based in Lahore, shedding light on the manipulation and emotional trauma women are put through, said, “if a woman asks for her share of the inheritance, not only is she called selfish but is threatened with the ending of all familial ties.”

One such distressed affectee, going through the predicament Malik stated, is 38-year-old Ishrat Bibi who resides near the Wagah border area. Ishrat has a sister and three brothers and as is common her brothers have taken over all the property left by her father. While her younger sister Halima Bibi has forfeited her share to the brothers, Ishrat is still languishing over hers.

Keeping people like Ishrat, women’s dependency issues, and potential bloodshed in mind, the Enforcement of Proprietary Rights (Amendment) Act 2020 was introduced so that women could claim their share from their parent’s property with ease. Under the Act, if a woman is not given possession of her property rights or property, she can apply to the Ombudsman if there is no case pending in the court regarding the concerned property.

After the filing of a complaint, the Ombudsman will request a report from the concerned Deputy Commissioner within 15 days of the initial review of the application; then ask the complainant and the defendants for any objections they might have and will make a decision after reviewing the record. To further facilitate people the Ombudsman has the power to complete hearing on all such complaints within 60 days.

However, despite all the safeguards, Ishrat has been fighting a legal battle for several months to get her share from her late father’s property. “I would not have asked my brothers for a share if  the economic situation had not deteriorated,” said a teary-eyed Ishrat while talking to the Express Tribune. “My husband was injured in an accident and a lot of the money we had was spent on his treatment,” she lamented. The inconsolable Ishrat continued, “even my children do not earn so I had no other option but to file a lawsuit seeking what is rightfully mine.”

The female Ombudsman of Punjab, Nabila Hakim Khan, when queried about women like Ishrat who are suffering despite the promise of timely relief, informed that her office had received 463 complaints since May of this year. “We have made a decision on 25 of these so far, 33 are pending in civil courts, and the rest will be taken care of in the order they were received,” she informed.

“Once the Ombudsman decides, the concerned Deputy Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner are time bound to ensure a share of the property is given to affectees,” Khan stated, shedding light on the working of the process from start to finish.

However, the process is not as timely as it has been made out to be, as it gives the defendants the power to appeal the provincial Ombudsman’s decision in the Supreme Court hence the lingering cases and a reluctance by women to get involved in court matters which could potentially take years.

Malik, who is also the president of a non-governmental organization protecting women’s rights, expressing disappointment on the time and resource consuming nature of inheritance cases, said, “the law states that if a woman dies during her father’s lifetime and if her children are alive, they have a right to ask for a share in their grandfather’s property. But if women are not getting their rights, how can we expect her children to get anything?”

Published in The Express Tribune, October 19th, 2021.

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