Sunday 14 July 2024

News Analysed, Opinions Expressed

My Tryst with Gender Bias


I wonder sometimes, what the scene would be if only daughters were born into this family. To whom would they give all the family wealth? In families which only have daughters, the daughters receive what is rightfully theirs. So looks like the problem is not in having daughters, it is in having sons!

When the Supreme Court judgement stating daughters are coparceners was out, the electronic, social and print media were full of the same. People, especially women, were rejoicing and hailing the judgement. I too rejoiced, before it struck me that in Goa the rights of the girl child have always been secured by the Uniform Civil Code. The SC judgement is welcome and strengthens the cause of the girl child. However, having a law is no guarantee for justice. Our judicial system is often beyond the reach of the common person. And of course, it is years before any semblance of justice is meted out if any. My mind immediately raced to my battle on similar lines. I connected with the emotion behind the case and the sentiment behind the judgement.

I was born in the Naik Shankhwalkar family in Margao, my grandfather being the late Narcinva Damodar Naik. I grew up in a joint family hearing how respected he was and how he stood up for the causes he believed in. My grandmother, late Laxmibai Narcinva Naik was a strong woman who feared nothing. In recent times when the going got tough for me, they are the ones I drew strength from.

I am the youngest amongst three siblings and also the youngest in my generation and was told stories of how I was born because a sister and daughter were much desired. Being the youngest with a gap of six and eight years between my two brothers and me, I was pampered and loved by all, including my extended family.

Primarily the family has always been in business, which my grandfather expanded and thereafter it was inherited and carried forward by my uncles and father. Though my family is educated, well-read, well-travelled and perceived to be modern, yet my personal experience would equate their perception of gender neutrality to medieval thought processes. What I have experienced and continue to experience is nothing new—it is the same story in my entire extended family, maternal and paternal, for more than one generation. This is a pattern in many families across Goa.

In my case, within a few months of getting married, I was pulled into a whirlpool of deception. I was made to sign on documents without being shown the relevant papers or explained its contents and consequences, despite requesting for the same. I went ahead purely on trust in the people who were closest to me and signed blindly. In hindsight, I have learned one has to be wary of the closest ones the most.

What started as a request for a copy of the signed documents, on meeting resistance and humiliation turned into a fight for justice. After being repeatedly shunned, reluctantly, with nowhere else to turn, I approached a lawyer to seek legal counsel. He advised me to think again before seeking legal remedies as the ones I would face were my own near and very dear ones. That night I found myself in Arjuna’s shoes. My battle would be akin to the Mahabharata war, where I would be fighting my loved ones. Looking at all that I stood to lose—the family ties, the relationships—I was in two minds. However, being a student of the Bhagawad Gita, I realised I had to stand up for what was right, and not what was easy. Dropping it was an easier option though not the right one. Therein began a long-drawn battle that continues till date.

When the news of my battle for justice against the ‘illustrious’ family began to spread, many women got in touch with me, many of whom were strangers, with no connection to my family. Through choking tears they shared their sordid tales and encouraged and blessed me for this fight. They felt vindicated in my fight. These were women from different background and age groups, who had all been at the receiving end like me and for years been nursing deep, painful wounds of deceit and humiliation received from their maternal families. A 75-year-old expressed her desire to seek legal justice for the wrongs of the past. Unfortunately, her husband and son were not supportive. Then there were those who advised me to let go, that they have suffered and are living with the pain thirty years hence and that a fight for justice will only cause pain and spoil the family name. Also, there were those who are not gender-neutral when it came to their children, despite being wronged themselves!

Each of these women had a story to tell. I realised various methods of deceit are employed, especially in the GSB community. For example, all assets are bought or transferred to the family business under the guise of tax planning and the daughters are of course not taken partners into the business because it is meant to be a male bastion. Lawyers and Chartered Accountants who should have guided righteously in accordance with the sentiment of law are in cahoots for such machinations.

Another excuse that is drilled in from childhood is that family assets must remain in the family and hence they are to be given only to the male descendants. Of course, it’s a different story that the male descendants sit pretty selling off those very assets. In some cases, the daughter is made to gift her rights to the brothers. In others, parents have willed all assets to the sons and nothing to the daughters. The common thread running through all is the indoctrination that happens right from day one, such that the girl grows up believing that the relinquishment of rights is a virtue and that ascertaining her rights is petty, greedy and immoral and the boy grows up with a sense of entitlement believing he’s superior. Very few may be aware that it is invalid in law to relinquish your inheritance (Article 2042 of the Portuguese Civil Code). The logic behind Article 2042 is that nobody has the right to deny the future generations of their right to inheritance. Because when a daughter is denied her right, it is not just her right but the right of generations to come that is snatched away.

Gender discrimination happens at different levels, even education, wherein the daughter is neither encouraged nor permitted to study further. Rather, she is discouraged. One of my relatives had to rebel and face ridicule to study medicine, become a doctor and work. When I graduated, and with a good grade, she was the only person who repeatedly told me to study further and build a career. Unfortunately, in those days, I was not brave enough to fight and build a career, despite being the meritorious student amongst the siblings. With whatever education I gained, notwithstanding being employed for over ten years, I was asked not to draw a salary as it was below the dignity of the family and doing ‘service’ was the higher moral ground. Being employed is looked down even today and considered below their dignity. And all this in a family where the grandsire, Narcinva Damodar Naik, started a school for girls with hostel facilities, at a time when girls were not even being sent to school!

So what do you have—a minimum education, no work skills or job to earn an income, no inheritance—resulting in complete dependence. Robert Greene in his book, ‘The 48 Laws of Power’ says, ‘Learn to keep people dependent on you’. Looks like in Goa, especially GSB families, have been followers of that law since generations!

The daughter who is born and brought up in a particular family and has sentimental connect with that family is struck off the moment she is married and has no say in whatever happens at the maternal home and to its legacy. Today I have to be a mere spectator and watch the downfall of the legacy and family business, the nucleus of which was inherited jointly, due to sheer mismanagement by the haloed male descendants.

I wonder sometimes, what the scene would be if only daughters were born into this family. To whom would they give all the family wealth? In families which only have daughters, the daughters receive what is rightfully theirs. So looks like the problem is not in having daughters, it is in having sons! Yet, I know of an extreme case where the only daughter was given a few stray assets, while the majority was given to the sole male heir in the extended family! It is pertinent to mention here that, though rare, there are parents and families who believe and practice gender neutrality in all areas while the daughter is growing up and even after she gets married.

A lot of daughters have given up their rights having been indoctrinated from birth that it is the right thing to do and that the brothers would take care of the parents in their old age. It is another story altogether that when the parents gift the visiting daughter something, even a food item, it is grudged and accounted for by the sons and daughters-in-law of the house. I have been witness to such painful occurrences. What the daughters gave up was incomparable to the paltry gifts she was being given by the parents.

These daughters live with that pain, seeing the parents not properly cared for and in some cases even abused. The daughter is unwelcomed and treated akin to an alien in her own home. All this after she has given up her rightful dues for the brother/s to enjoy.

How fair is it that while the girl born and brought up in a family has no right over her ancestry , the daughter-in-law who just arrives, becomes a custodian to things which she has no emotional connect with? That being said, rights and duties go hand in hand. Daughters should be equally responsible for the parents and their well-being and the upkeep of the family legacy.

Why are male offspring considered more than equal?

Isn’t it the responsibility of the parents to uphold neutrality amongst their children?

How many daughters who write off their right to inheritance understand the depth or the consequences of doing so?

Did we need the Supreme Court to tell us that sons and daughters have equal rights?

Will anything change now or will families make the daughters go to the court to seek justice which is otherwise obvious?

This fight for justice is not a quest for wealth. It is a fight against humiliation, a fight for dignity and respect. The sooner families recognise this, the better it will be for all as a Mahabharata will be averted.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

Wonderfuly written and so relevant tday . I know naik family but was not aware of the strife that such a talented daughter of the family has to face so much .i salute her

Avinash bhonsle |

great writeup I appreciate your courage and respect your feelings.I stand by your rightful thoughts.Good luck.

Mahesh Gaonkar |

Very true. I totally agree. Our patriarchal family system is totally messed up. Fight for your rightful inheritance. It's yours. None can deny it to you.

Ricky Noronha |

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Rukma Abhijit Sadekar

Rukma Abhijit Sadekar is a counsellor, writer and teacher. She has authored and edited numerous books for youth. She was a teacher and later a Trustee at Manovikas, Margao; a Director of Goa Education Development Corporation and OSD for Innovation in Education, to the former Chief Minister of Goa Shri Manohar Parrikar. Presently, she is Chief Editor of CU, an inspirational youth magazine, and Managing Editor at Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth, a de novo deemed-to-be-university, in Kerala.


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