Women in India Can Now Be Heads of Households Thanks to This Legal Battle
Under Hindu law, a karta is considered a family's joint manager and chief financial planner, but traditionally only a man could assume the title and its responsibilities. That's set to change thanks to a landmark legal victory in India. In a judgment made public this week, a New Delhi court ruled that gender cannot be a factor in determining which member of a family can become its karta, as long as he or she is the first-born eldest, The Times of India reported.
The decision was spurred by a lawsuit filed by a woman who wanted to claim the role, thus taking control of her family's business after her father, three uncles, and four brothers died. When her younger male cousin attempted to assert himself as the next karta in the absence of a male elder, the woman challenged the law in court, leading to the reversal, according to The Times of India.
Justice Najmi Waziri, who ruled on the case, based his decision on an amendment passed in India in 2005 that allowed women to become joint legal heirs to their family's assets. In his decision, Waziri wrote that the amendment gave "equal rights of inheritance to Hindu males and females" and that "its objective is to recognize the rights of female Hindus and to enhance their rights to equality apropos succession."
He found it inconsistent that women could legally inherit property but were barred from managing it on behalf of their families. Therefore, Waziri said, "there is no reason why Hindu women should be denied the position of a Karta."
Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi's campaigns for gender equality, women's participation in the country's labor force has plummeted in recent years. Women account for just 27 percent of India's workforce, down by 10 percent since 2005, according to data compiled by the World Bank. That makes women's involvement in India's labor force the second lowest—next to Saudi Arabia—out of the world's 20 major economies, according to The New York Times.
On Twitter, politician Vinay Sahasrabuddhe hailed the court ruling as a sign of progress. The national vice president of India's ruling party called the verdict "remarkable" and a "big, welcome step towards Gender Equality!" But some women's advocates suggested the verdict only served to reinforce the male-dominated culture.
"Women don't need to be called 'karta,' " tweeted Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen. "In a patriarchal family, a man is always the master. Calling a woman master won't help. Fight patriarchy."