Inheriting the Family Farm: Legal Reform and the Feminization of Agriculture in India

Authors: Krushna Ranaware*, Syracuse University
Topics: Gender, Agricultural Geography, Development
Keywords: Legal Reforms, Women's work, Agriculture, Mixed-methods
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Committee Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Between the years of 1986 and 1994, four Indian states undertook legal reforms to change the laws guiding ownership and inheritance of property held by Hindu joint families. These reforms were eventually adopted nationwide in 2005. Prior to these reforms, the law on the books placed ownership and rights of inheritance almost entirely in the hands of male family members. Given that joint families (i.e., extended family members joined by patrilineal ancestry living on the same property) were (and continue to be) the dominant mode of family organization in rural India, and given that property in the rural context translates largely to agricultural land, the law meant that women in these families regularly worked and helped manage agricultural land to which they had a very limited legal claim. The subsequent reforms granted women in joint families an equal ownership stake of family land. In this paper, I attempt to make a preliminary foray into understanding the effects of this inheritance law reform upon the 'feminization of agriculture' or the increased presence of women in the agricultural workforce. Using a mixed-methods approach, I ask: How does having a more meaningful ownership stake in agricultural land change women’s participation in the agricultural labour force? Did the introduction of reforms split this participation along generational lines, given that they applied only to women who were unmarried at the time of the reforms? Preliminary results indicate that legal reforms are associated with increasing participation of women in the agricultural workforce.

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