22 January 2023
By Rehan Piracha
A social media campaign about the plight of a 91-year-old widow litigating for over 50 years for share in her late husband’s property has brought to the fore numerous issues and problems women continue to face in getting their inheritance in property across Pakistan.
Tahira Sultana has spent almost 53 years in litigation for her and her three children’s share in her deceased husband Major S.S Rashidul Hamid’s property who passed away in 1964. She was forced to move the court in 1970 after negotiations with her in-laws failed to yield any results in six years following her husband’s death. She has spent her life savings on the protracted litigation over the property.
The 91-year-old widow is waiting for the implementation of 2002 Supreme Court orders regarding her property share two decades ago. “I believed that my case was on merit and the courts would give me justice but I was naive then and did not know how property cases are prolonged through adjournments by greasing the palms of court officials,” Tahira Sultan said. Sultana still remembers how she would attend court hearings after dropping her children at school and working to support her family. “Despite my protracted court struggle, I have been left empty-handed and yet not received my share in the property,” she said. “I was unaware how litigants lie in courts, seek numerous adjournments, and make applications to courts one after the another to prolong cases,” she added.
Tahira Sultana said the sole motivation for pursuing the case was that she wanted to see her children live a life of affluence which their father had enjoyed in his life. “I did not lose hope as court hearings dragged on for years,” she said, believing one day the courts would decide in her favour for being on merit. In 2002, the Supreme Court accepted her claim to the property and ordered the trial court to appoint an auctioneer. However, the execution of the Supreme Court order is still pending for over two decades and the defendants have not also paid her rental income as directed in the order.
In September 2022, Tahira Sultana approached the Punjab Ombudsperson under The Punjab Enforcement of Women’s Property Right Act, 2021, as the last resort. Despite several hearings before the Punjab Ombudsperson, there has been no progress toward the execution of the Supreme Court order. In January, she wrote to the National Commission for Human Rights in a desperate appeal for justice.
“As l approach the 92nd year of my life, confronted with rapidly declining health, It is my last wish to see the fruit of years of struggle, dedication, and belief in justice. Not for my being but for the sake of justice that widowed women and orphaned children are denied every day in Pakistan. The last five decades of my life have revolved around waiting for justice. I have no more stamina and strength left in me but god willing, I still hope that someone will come and help end my story of woe,” Tahira Sultana said in her letter to Rabiya Javeri, chairperson of the NCHR.
According to NCHR Chairperson Rabiya Javeri, the commission has written to the Punjab and Federal Ombudsperson on the Enforcement of Women’s Property Right for the implementation of the apex court verdict but received no response yet. The NCHR has launched a social media campaign to build public pressure in order to galvanise authorities to act in aid of the 91-year-old widow for receiving a share of her inheritance of her late husband’s property, Javeri told Voicepk.net. “There are two Supreme Court orders in her favour but the other party keeps on delaying the execution of these verdicts,” she added.
The NCHR chairperson expressed the fear that the widow’s influential inlaws were stalling the property case till her death. “Tahira Sultana is being cared for by a single daughter as one of her children has passed away while her son has immigrated abroad, ” she added. There might not be anyone strong enough to pursue the property case after her death, The NCHR chairperson said.
Javeri said Tahira Sultana’s heart-wrenching story is a stark reminder of the findings of a United Nations report that 80 percent of women do not receive their legal share in inheritance. Pakistan has enacted several legislations to ensure women receive their share in inheritance.
Laws protecting women’s right to inheritance and property
Under the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act 2011, a person can face a maximum punishment of up to 10 years for the offence of depriving women from inheriting property by deceitful or illegal means. The offence also carries a maximum fine of one million rupees under Section 498A of the Pakistan Penal Code.
The Punjab Enforcement of Women’s Property Right Act, 2021, was enacted to protect and secure the rights of ownership of women in the property. Women can file complaints with the provincial ombudsperson over the possession and ownership of their property. In case there are no proceedings underway in any court over the disputed property, the ombudsperson would call a report from the respective deputy commissioner within 15 days. After hearing objections from both parties, the ombudsperson is bound to pass an order regarding the disputed property within 60 days of the complaint being filed.
A woman can also approach the provincial ombudsperson if her case of ownership of property is pending with a court. After receiving a report from the deputy commissioner, the provincial Ombudsperson can write to the court for termination or holding proceedings in abeyance in the case. Following the court’s permission, the provincial Ombudsperson can hold further proceedings in the case and pass any order regarding the ownership of the property to the woman complainant.
The Ombudsperson has also powers to direct a person who is depriving a woman complainant of her property to pay rent for the use of the said property. In addition, the Ombudsperson can direct state functionaries including the deputy commission to execute orders relating to possession and ownership of a woman complainant’s property. The legislation for protection of women’s property rights has been passed by all provinces. Women have to file complaints with the office provincial Ombudsperson against harassment of women at the workplace which also handles complaints relating to women’s property rights.