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Hindu Women’s inheritance rights

Date: 13 August 2020 Tags: Judiciary & Judgments

Issue

The Supreme Court has expanded on a Hindu woman’s right to be a joint legal heir and inherit ancestral property on terms equal to male heirs.

 

Background

A three-judge Bench headed ruled that a Hindu woman’s right to be a joint heir to the ancestral property is by birth and does not depend on whether her father was alive or not when the law was enacted in 2005. 

 

Details

  • The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 gave Hindu women the right to be coparceners or joint legal heirs in the same way a male heir does.

  • The Mitakshara school of Hindu law codified as the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 governed succession and inheritance of property but only recognised males as legal heirs.

  • The law applied to everyone who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew by religion. Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and followers of Arya Samaj, Brahmo Samaj are also considered Hindus for the purposes of this law.

  • In a Hindu Undivided Family, several legal heirs through generations can exist jointly. Traditionally, only male descendants of a common ancestor along with their mothers, wives, and unmarried daughters are considered a joint Hindu family. The legal heirs hold the family property jointly.

  • Women were recognised as coparceners or joint legal heirs for partition arising from 2005. Section 6 of the Act was amended that year to make a daughter of a coparcener also a coparcener by birth “in her own right in the same manner as the son”.

  • Even before the 2005 amendment, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu had made this change in the law, and Kerala had abolished the Hindu Joint Family System in 1975.

  • While the 2005 law granted equal rights to women, questions were raised in multiple cases on whether the law applied retrospectively, and if the rights of women depended on the living status of the father through whom they would inherit.

  • Different benches of the Supreme Court had taken conflicting views on the issue. Different High Courts had also followed different views of the top court as binding precedents.

  • In February 2018, contrary to the 2015 ruling, a two-judge bench headed by Justice A K Sikri held that the share of a father who died in 2001 will also pass to his daughters as coparceners during the partition of the property as per the 2005 law.

  • Then in April that year, yet another two-judge bench, headed by Justice R K Agrawal, reiterated the position taken in 2015.

  • The ruling now overrules the verdicts from 2015 and April 2018. It settles the law and expands on the intention of the 2005 legislation “to remove the discrimination as contained in section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 by giving equal rights to daughters in the Hindu Mitakshara coparcenary property as the sons have”.

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