Inheritance: Inheritance traditions are among the barriers that Indian women face, even though laws in most cases grant equal inheritance rights to sons and daughters.
India’s major religious groups are subject to different inheritance laws.
- Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs are governed by the Hindu Succession Act of 1956, which originally excluded daughters from inheriting ancestral property held jointly by the extended family. Although it was amended in 2005 to treat genders more equally, the new law does not seem to have completely brought about the desired change. Some families circumvent the law by pressuring daughters to give up their share of inheritance, and daughters may forfeit their rights to avoid straining family ties.41
- Muslims are governed by the Muslim Personal Law, which follows the principles of Shariah, granting sons twice as large an inheritance as daughters. This makes Islam the only religion in India that legally favors sons in this way.
- Most Christians are subject to the Indian Succession Act of 1925, which treats sons and daughters equally, although state governments have the power to exempt tribes and sects, and some small Christian groups may follow their own customs.42 (For example, the Khasi community, a majority Christian group in the Northeastern state of Meghalaya, passes ancestral property down through daughters.)
Marriage: Most marriages in India are arranged, with parents typically making the choice (sometimes in consultation with the prospective brides and grooms) based on factors such as caste and religion.
Hindus discourage marriages within kinship groups. In addition, according to Hindu custom, it is generally unacceptable for married women to materially support their parents.43
Some scholars argue that Muslim marriage customs are less disadvantageous to women than those of Hindus.44 For example, Muslims favor close-kin marriages, which means that Muslim daughters tend to live relatively close to their natal family after marriage.45 Moreover, Muslim daughters are customarily allowed to help their natal family financially, and thus are less likely to be seen as an economic liability.
Christians mostly reside in the South and Northeast, where marriage customs are widely viewed as less disadvantageous to women than customs in other regions.46
A major Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2019-20 among nearly 30,000 people across India finds that 55% of Indian adults say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. Roughly half or more of adults surveyed in most of India’s major religious groups say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, including 60% of Sikhs, 57% of Muslims, 54% of Hindus and 49% of Christians.48
Dowry: Many researchers attribute India’s widespread son preference and daughter aversion partly to the higher cost of raising daughters through the dowry tradition.49
Dowries, which were confined to a minority of Indians a century ago and were outlawed in 1961, are now prevalent across regions, castes and religions.50 (Gifts from the groom’s family to the bride’s family, known as “bridewealth” or “dower,” are given less commonly and tend to be much smaller.) Although dowry is traditionally a voluntary gift by parents to their daughters and her new family at the time of marriage, in practice it is sometimes a “price” demanded by the groom’s family.51 Not providing a sufficient dowry at marriage, or failing to meet continued demands for dowry payments after marriage, has sometimes led to harassment and violence against brides by husbands and their families, and, in some cases, to suicide.52 Parents feel obliged to pay a large dowry to marry their daughter into a socially desirable family.53