As the world commemorates ‘Human Rights Day‘ on 10th December ‘Hungreiphy ZAS Zimik a young Baptist indigenous theologian shares her story and efforts to promote ‘Women’s Rights are Human Rights and ‘Indigenous Women Right to Inheritance of Ancestral Property’. Zimik states “I am indigenous woman and belong to Tangkhul Naga Tribe from Ukhrul District in Hungpung Village in state of Manipur in India. My immediate family consist of six members i.e. my mother, father, two brothers, me and my sister. Tangkhul indigenous society is a classless society and forbids any kind of unreasonable discrimination among the members of the tribe. However there are certain areas guided by indigenous customary laws where the principle of ‘Rights to Equality’ of men and women cannot be strictly applied.
Tangkhul tribe women are not allowed to participate in the decision making process of the village till date. They are not given recognition as members of the Village Assembly. Tangkhul women are also prohibited to become Village Councillors even though Government of India and our constitution allows equality. No Tangkhul village has a woman Village Councillor till date. Thus, the general expression ‘Equality before Law’ has got no central place for women in my tribe.
The Tangkhul customary law on inheritance and succession forbids a woman from inheriting her parents’ properties including ancestral property called ‘shimluikat’ in native language. Women in our tribe can get some property or money of their parents during marriage as gift but they have no rights over ancestral property. Customary law confers only the male folk the right to inherit and possess both movable and immovable properties. Such customary laws are biased, discriminatory and unreasonable.
I am the eldest daughter in my family and as per our customary law, me and my sister will be deprived of our ancestral property. For us indigenous people, ancestral land and forest is not just property. We believe the forest and land is sacred where the spirits of our ancestors reside. Land represents our identity. But as women we loose our identity as we have no right over ancestral land.
I am greatly inspired by the story of five daughters of Zelophehad in the Bible. Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah came forward and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chieftains, and the whole assembly, at the entrance of the Tent and claimed their rights to inherit property in the absence of male members in the family. The daughters of of Zelophehad were well aware of their law and history; they were wise, diplomatic and knew when to speak. They knew that the continuity of the family name depends on inheritance of the land; and they realized that the current law was not adequate, for it did not take into account the unusual circumstances of a man without sons. They possessed the acumen to recognize this omission in the law! But because they considered God’s law to be just, or to aim to be just, they showed no hesitation in pointing out the unfair nature of the present situation with complete confidence and supporting their claim with compelling arguments. Moses brought their case before God( Numbers 27:5).
Moses discloses his inability to assess the claims of these sisters. He takes the case to God, who responds by unequivocally supporting the sisters’ demand and even by promulgating a new and permanent law to secure inheritance for any daughters in such circumstances ( Numbers 27:6-8). Thus, the sisters’ claim leads to the law of inheritance being changed forever. The Book of Job which textual scholars date to the fourth century BCE, states in its epilogue that Job’s daughters were given equal inheritance rights as those of his sons. The Karaites always gave daughters the same rights as sons but the laws changed later.
True the daughters of Zelophehad were claiming for their right to property as their family did not have a male heir and it was a daring step during their time. However in my case I want to claim equal inheritance rights and rights to participate in decision making process in Thangkhul tribe.
I never a lose an opportunity to dialogue about this with my family members and relatives. I have started dialoguing and creating awareness about this among my indigenous friends and my community. My Bachelor of Divinity Thesis also was focused on these issues. I know the process of changing customary laws is not easy. Laws can only change if mindset of people changes. I always tell my family members change should start from our own home. Thus, my effort right now is to create awareness and change the mindset of my own family members who can also influence other members of my community. If Zelophehad’s daughters can influence people to change laws why can’t we.”
16 Days of Activism@ Hungreiphy. NCCI
Story narrated by Hungreiphy ZAS Zimik to Women Concerns Ministry of National Council of Churches in India. Zimik served as an intern in Women Concern Ministry from 2016 June – 2017 May. While working in NCCI she promoted the ‘World Day of Prayer Movement’ and Thurdays in Black (Campaign to End Culture of Rape and Gender Based Violence). Zimik is now pursing her Masters in Theology specializing in History of Christianity in United Theological College in Bangalore.
Reported by Moumita Biswas – Executive Secretary – NCCI