WOE betide a woman who insists on her rights in this patriarchal society. The full spectrum of family and communal pressure, underpinned by hidebound notions of ‘honour’, is applied to compel her retreat. A report in this paper yesterday told of the ordeal endured by 20-year-old Iqra Perveen in rural Punjab simply because she had the temerity to demand her share in the family inheritance. A series of interdependent family ties complicated the scenario still further, driving her to threaten suicide. An uncle of Iqra’s has filed an application with the police, claiming her father and brothers were indeed scheming to deprive her of her share and that she was in danger of being killed by them on the pretext of honour.

The story is sadly typical of a society where women have to navigate a plethora of prejudices and misogynistic traditions on a daily basis. Legislation to protect their rights may have been on the statute books for several years, but many women’s lived reality is quite different. Defiance can come at a very high price, and acquiescence in an essentially male-dominated environment seems far more practical than seeking redressal. Last year in Punjab, a woman was rescued after having been held captive in a room for an entire decade by her brothers who did not want her to get her rightful share in the family property. Under the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act, 2011, depriving women of inheriting property by “deceitful or illegal means” is punishable with imprisonment of up to 10 years, but no less than five, or with a Rs1m fine, or both. Nevertheless, men’s sense of entitlement continues to trample on the rights of female relatives. Sometimes however, outliers like Iqra Perveen emerge, refusing to be cowed by ‘tradition’, demanding they be given their due. The state must not countenance any attempt to intimidate women into giving up their inheritance; those guilty of trying to do so must be firmly dealt with. Only then can things change.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2020

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