Inheritance, property and women in the Dāyabhāga




Dutta, Manomohini

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The largely accepted position on women in the Dharmaśāstras is that women are non-heirs—they are legally dependent on men in their respective roles as daughters, wives or mothers. While there exist studies on inheritance and property in Hindu Law, modern scholars have paid insufficient attention to women's rights to property in the Dharmaśāstras during the succession process, possibly due to Dharmaśāstric rhetoric on women. My study attempts to fill in this gap. In this dissertation, I examine the conceptual position of women in regard to inheritance and property in an influential treatise—the Dāyabhāga composed by Jīmūtavāhana. The Dāyabhāga is a specialized work on inheritance from medieval Bengal dated approximately to the 12th century CE. I analyze the Dāyabhāga closely as a historical text belonging to the Dharmaśāstric genre. I seek to explain three key legal concepts that Jīmūtavāhana reinterprets, arguing how his unique interpretations have a positive effect on women's rights to inheritance and property, at least in theory, within the Dāyabhāga. In chapter two, I investigate Jīmūtavāhana's understanding of the term dāya (inheritance) and show how Jīmūtavāhana's interpretation of dāya has the potential to liberate women from tight inheritance prescriptions in earlier Dharmaśāstras. In chapter three, I examine how Jīmūtavāhana approaches strīdhana (women's property) in terms of legal rights, which gives the power of alienation to women, and thus is reflective of women's "agency" in the Dāyabhāga. In chapter four, I discuss Jīmūtavāhana's concept of upakāra (spiritual benefit) to the deceased, where he extends upakāra beyond the śrāddhas (ancestral rites usually offered by male relatives) arguing that women too may provide upakāra, and uses it as a justification for women, especially widows, to legally claim their deceased husband's property. This study builds on and contributes to the paradigm of historical-textual studies on women. The chapters in this dissertation explore areas that have been relatively ignored in modern scholarship despite the huge popularity of Jīmūtavāhana's Dāyabhāga.



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