Adv. Yashomati Thakur, Minister, MWCD
On 15th December 2021, the Women and Child Development Depaprtment of Maharashtra has come out with an important G.R (government resolution) with regard to property rights of Covid widows. The GR directs the local level teams formed under Mission Vatsalya to meet Covid widows in their jurisdiction and identify whether they are being denied property rights or are facing any problems in accessing the same. Denial of property rights, according to the GR, should be treated as a case of economic violence under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, 2005. All such identified cases have to be reported to the Protection Officers appointed under the Domestic Violence Act and the Protection Officers are expected to take the assistance of Legal Aid Authority in order to ensure the rights of the woman. The District Collector, as the Chairperson of the Mission Vatsalya Task Foce is expected to monitor the cases of Covid widows and issue required directions to orders to protect the property rights of Covid widows.
One must welcome the GR as a positive step in the right direction. Widows across the country face grave obstructions in accessing their property rights ranging from their own ignorance to outright violence and torture. Women face opposition from brothers who do not want her to get a share in the parental property as well as from in-laws who want to deprive her of the share in marital property. For many women who fight a lonely battle, the GR, if implemented in letter and spirit can provide valuable support.
However, one feels that the same support should be available to all widows in need. After all, it is not as if only Covid widows are denied property rights while all other widows are getting it. In what way is the situation of the woman whose husband has died of Covid substantively different from that of a woman (in similar economic conditions) whose husband may have died of tuberculosis or cancer?
According to the constitutional right to equality, the state must treat equals equally. The GR unnecessarily and senselessly categorises widows into Covid widows thereby simultaneously creating another category of Non-Covid widows and then goes on to provide special attention to the former. The MWCD should be called upon to answer the exact basis on which they have categorised widows as Covid Widows and Non-Covid Widows and how they are implementing the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 with a special focus on the former. Why does the MWCD not want to protect the property rights of all widows in the state especially all those who belong to the financially and/or socially weaker sections?
It also makes us wonder what impact the creation of ever smaller categories of women has on the women’s movement. Certain categories on the basis of caste or tribe is understandable as it provides voice to women which are otherwise silenced. To a certain extent one can also understand the emergence of ‘Ekal Nari’ as a category because it deals with single women who have special issues and interests. But a further fragmentation of the Ekal Nari into Covid Widows and Non-Covid Widows is really difficult to accept.
The female population of Maharashtra is around 54 Crores. Even if 2% are widows then the number comes to 10 lakhs of which not more than 15000 are ‘Covid Widows’. This is not to say that the government should not take care of them – it is just a reminder that lakhs of other women are in need of the same protection and welfare. The MWCD should extend the mandate to all women and children in need and not make senseless categories – at least not on the basis of the disease which caused the husband’s death.
– Paromita Goswami