When Kiran Ali* was married off to Sikander Ahmed* in an arranged wedding, she was only 16 years old. Born and raised in a conservative family, she thought her life would be blissful and full of freedom after marriage. However, her happiness was short-lived. Just two years into her marriage, her beloved husband died from a cardiac arrest, leaving behind an 18-year-old widow and an infant son.

Sikander owned two commercial properties at a prime location in Karachi, along with other assets. Soon after Kiran's iddat (the Islamic mourning period for widows) was complete, her in-laws arranged her marriage to Sikander's elder brother, Kamran* to avoid questions about inheritance. Kiran agreed to marry Kamran for her son's sake.

As a young, naive woman who was grieving her husband's loss, Kiran did not claim her inheritance. She later moved abroad with Kamran to start a new life and gave birth to a beautiful daughter.

However, life had some other challenges in store for her. When Kiran was pregnant with her second daughter, Kamran was diagnosed with cancer. He died when his youngest daughter was only one-year-old. At 29, Kiran was widowed for the second time; this time with three children to feed but just as naive as her 16-year-old self.

Despite laws existing to protect the rights of women in matters related to inheritance and matrimony, why are many women in Pakistan often deprived of their due, forgo their share or struggle for years to get what is rightfully theirs? And what can be done about it?

'Both of my husbands believed that a woman's job was to raise kids,' says Kiran. 'I was never allowed to continue my education or learn to drive or visit banks. I never had a say in financial matters. Women are usually considered stupid and are excluded from the important financial or property matters. I was no exception.'

When Kamran passed away in 2011, Kiran had no idea about banking matters, bus routes or what assets he had left behind. Kamran's brothers took control of their deceased brothers' estate and denied Kiran and her children their rightful share.

After trying for a year to settle the matter through negotiations, Kiran took legal action against her brothers-in-law. The case lingered on for four years with no fruitful progress. Kiran and her father would spend hours in courts. It pained Kiran to see her old, frail father suffering because of her, so she decided to accept whatever little her brothers-in-law were offering and withdrew her case.

'I took the legal course with high hopes, but our justice system let me down. I learnt that it is only for the powerful. For the weaker lot like us, there are delays, hearings, and a never-ending wait.'

From the inheritance share of approximately seven crores, Kiran only received 1.5 crores in the settlement. 'I rest my case to Allah, who is the most just of all,' she says.


Fatima Butt, an Islamabad-based lawyer and human rights activist, agrees that attaining justice, especially in matters related to property is a long, tiring process, sometimes spanning decades. 'At times, one generation files the case, and the other generation reaps the benefit. It can be a hectic and exhausting process, which can take a toll on people's mental and physical health,' she says.

Butt blames the weak implementation of laws that grant women's rights to property and inheritance. 'The majority of women do not get their inheritance share,' she says, 'and very few dare to claim it legally.' While most women aren't fully aware about their rights to property or assets, especially following a death, they also have a host of fears that stop them from claiming their rights. Some of them are blinded by love and do not want to lose their relatives for 'material' things. They fear isolation and social boycott. Others lack the courage to even talk about their share, fearing for their life and safety.

Razia Jahan's* father passed away nearly two decades ago. Her brother, who has since been living in his house, does not understand that she needs her share of inheritance in order to buy her own house. Neither have discussed the distribution of property in all these years. Razia did not need the money but now that she wants to move out and buy her own small place, she lacks the funds to do so.

'I need my share, but not at the cost of losing my brother. He is the only sibling I have,' she says. She does not think her brother will be able to buy a decent place for himself amid inflation. 'I don't want him to struggle...

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