Nepalese Widows Struggle for Inheritance Rights (World Policy Blog)
“In Nepal, there is a haunting old adage that the day a woman is married, all happiness falls away from her life. This was certainly the case for Sadhana [name changed for confidentiality purposes], a 40-year-old widow from the Newari caste who lives in Kathmandu, the capital. As a child she grew up in a family that was relatively well-off. They owned a gas stove and were planning on construction of a new modern cement house—a huge status symbol for a Nepalese family.
“Then one day, when she was only 18 years old, her family advised her that she would be married later that afternoon. Throughout the ceremony she cried in terror as her new husband, whom she had never met before, took her away from her natal family. After the ceremony was over, she could never return to her parent’s household, as she was now the property of her husband. After two years of forced hard labor and abuse at the hand of her mother-in-law, Sadhana had birthed no children. She and her husband were getting desperate. Without a male heir there would be no one to support the parents in their old age. More importantly, without a son Sadhana held no standing within her husband’s family. Then one wretched day, the unthinkable occurred. Her husband had been involved in a motorcycle accident on his way to work, and was instantly killed.
“Dazed by shock and immersed in grief, Sadhana was incredulous as she found herself expelled from her husband’s home on the very same day of his death. The family had not only taken all of her possessions, but even the clothing off her back. She was categorically denied any claim to his inheritance, with no consideration of the law. Within a matter of hours, Sadhana had become a homeless and destitute widow.
“In Nepali society, the inheritance rights of women depend on their marital or sexual status. Traditionally, a woman is only entitled to her husband’s property if she is legally married and sexually faithful to him. A failure on either of these terms, whether real or alleged, results in the loss of her claims to her husband’s estate. Legally, this should not be happening. Nepal has guaranteed equal inheritance rights for widows, but religious and societal norms have a more profound effect on the execution of these rights than the actual laws. [...]
“Sadhana, a widow without a male heir to confirm her place in her husbands family, and unwelcome in her own parent’s home, was forced into a life of street beggary for some years. Ultimately, she was taken into an extended family member’s home where she was treated as little more than a slave.”