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Year 2010

HIV+ Widows Often Denied Right to Property, Say Experts

arvThe denial of a woman’s inheritance and property rights can also increase her vulnerability to HIV. Not owning property means the woman is not economically stable. This can lead to an increased risk of sexual exploitation and violence
Twenty–three–year–old Alka lives with the continuous fear of being robbed of her right to her husband’s property. The reason: Alka’s husband recently died of HIV infection and now, Alka’s inlaws want to evict her from the house as she is also HIV positive. Alka’s is not an isolated case. Soudamini, an NGO that works for the upliftment of HIV positive women, alone provides support to over 300 women who have been denied their right to property. Property grabbing, dispossession, or eviction of women after their husband’s death or because they are HIV positive are being reported in large numbers from various parts of Maharashtra, say experts.

“Most cases are reported from districts like Dhule, Nandurbar, Sangli, Kolhapur and Pune,” said Asim Sarode, a human rights activist. Women who are HIV+ are more vulnerable because, in most cases, in–laws do not give them their rightful share in the property. “They question a dying woman’s need for property. This pretext cannot be used in case of a healthy woman,” Sarode explained.

Elaborating on the reasons why most HIV+ women choose to stay quiet, Sarode said, “Most HIV+ women are not willing to file petitions as it mentions their positive status. They avoid going to the court as this discloses their status, which attracts social stigma.”

He informed that the recent judgment of the Bombay High Court, which allowed pseudonyms (assumed names) to be used for filing a petition in case of an AIDS patient, can be used. “But there is very little awareness regarding this. Moreover, the Bombay High Court has also given permission for ‘in camera’ trials in HIV/AIDS case as well. In camera trials are carried out only in presence of essential court staff and judge. Again, very few women are aware of this,” Sarode said.

The law has made ample provision for securing the property rights of women. “Even under the ambit of right to life (Article 21 of the constitution), expedite trial is a fundamental right of every person. When it comes to HIV positive person, it is an important right they can exercise,” said Sarode.

“Property, as articulated by women, goes beyond land and housing. It is linked to one’s livelihood and economic security. It includes all that she receives from her family at the time of marriage, and all that she is entitled to as a wife, including jewelry, dowry, furniture, insurance, pensions, bank accounts, fixed deposits and land/house or any other asset acquired by her husband. As per the law, a woman is entitled to all these as the wife of a deceased man irrespective of her HIV positive status,” lawyer Shrikant Shivade clarified.

“HIV+ widows suffer discrimination with little financial, emotional, or social support. At times, the marital family simply isolates her, refusing to support her or help her and/or her children financially,” said Ujawala Kadam of Soudamini Network of Positive Women and Children, an NGO. There are over 300 woman in the age group 20 to 30 who have been denied their property rights attached to Soudamini, added Kadam.

“Women usually come to know of their positive status at the time of pregnancy or when they are tested after their husbands’ health deteriorates. All of them believe they were infected by their husbands, but families often blame them for passing the virus. This is especially true, if their status was revealed before the husbands’, as is the case during pregnancy. Often, husbands refuse to take the HIV test or disclose the results. In some instances, they are quick to distance themselves from their wives and children to preserve the confidentiality of their own status,” Kadam revealed.

Anuaradha (30) who is attached to Soudamini, said, “When my inlaws came to know about me and my husband being HIV+ they forced us to stay in just two room when the entire property is in my husband’s name. We don’t want to go to the court as the procedure is very lengthy.”

“The denial of a woman’s inheritance and property rights can also increase her vulnerability to HIV. Not owning property means the woman is not economically stable. This can lead to an increased risk of sexual exploitation and violence, as the woman may have to endure abusive relationships or resort to informal sex for survival,” said Kadam.

Calling it a serious concern that need immediate attention, Shivajirao Moghe, minister for social justice, said, “The ministry will definitely take stock of cases wherein property rights have been denied to HIV+ women.”

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Source: Times of India

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