This article is about the evolution of women’s rights before and after the Hindu Succession Act and how it has impacted gender equality.
Gender inequality is one of the main aspects under the law which requires a major focus. There are still a variety of issues pertaining to gender inequality yet to be addressed. One of the major areas where it is still prevalent is property rights. It is true about the very fact that many legislations have been passed with an aim to improve the status of women in society by ensuring economic accessibility as well as their rights on property. Mere passing of the legislation is not enough, the focus on implementation matters and this is one of the major reasons why inequality still exists.
The blame shall not fall on the legislative or judiciary alone. Everyone involved in ensuring equality is collectively responsible in some way or another. Even women themselves are less motivated to uphold their rights because of familial expectations, public stigma, and associated demands. Ancient laws in the country including Hindu law were too harsh on women denying them basic economic rights. A woman was always considered as someone who is always dependent either on their father or their husband. women’s claim to property was reduced by the patriarchal structure laid down by the commentaries and smritis. Male members were given the right of inheritance of the property under the mitakshara school of law. Since divorce was uncommon, women could not easily be denied their right to a place to live and support themselves after marriage. The Hindu Woman’s Separate Residence and Maintenance Act, of 1946 also formalized a woman’s right to demand separate housing and maintenance in specific situations, such as abuse or adultery.
The Hindu women’s right to property bill was introduced in the year 1937. The primary aim of this bill was to achieve equality in the matter of property by evicting all sorts of discrimination between men and women. But due to heavy opposition from the public, the bill had to be modified. The English notion known as a widow’s estate was adopted where women were given only rights along with restrictions the concept of providing women absolute rights on the property was discarded. The bill focused on giving women the right the separate property after marriage. The concept of inheriting the family’s property was removed. This act gave more clarity to attaining property from the eyes of a widow and not a woman. Thus, more problems were created in place of solving equality. This gave rise to the setting up of a Hindu law committee in the year 1941 which proposed to give more clarity on this act. Later in 1944, a second Hindu law committee was formed which adopted both property rights in marriage as well as succession.
The Hindu Succession Act of 1956 revolutionized the whole matter of inequality in property rights by demolishing the patriarchal structure of men enjoying all the rights with women having little room to claim rights. Earlier only stridhana was awarded to women before marriage in place of property. But even it did not ensure financial independence as it was limited. But the Hindu succession act ensured economic viability as well as social independence. The act removed the restriction on absolute ownership and ensured.
As the years passed, many needs emerged which were not as such addressed by the succession act of 1956. Many areas of property law have still discrimination. Therefore, the government decided to amend the act of 1956 in the year 2005 with the aim to provide more economic stability to women of the society. The Hindu Succession Act of 2005 gave women the recognition of coparcener and gave them the power to inherit property like that of a son and now there is no difference in the rights of a son and daughter. Now women even have the power to become the karta of the family which earlier only male members could hold the status. The 2005 Act addresses unfairness in inherited property, residential properties, and widows’ rights. It also safeguards the interests of some new heirs by adding them to the Class I heirs list. In fact, it ensures social justice and equality for women in a more profound way. It basically repeals the antiquated Hindu legislation that denied women the ability to own property. The community of Hindu women supports this legislation. Now even a woman member of mitakshara will be born with a silver spoon. All of her rights will be equal to those of her male equivalent. She is nevertheless subject to the same legal obligations for coparcenary property as a male. The Amendment Act of 2005 permits her to request a division of the dwelling. A widow no longer faces the restriction that barred her from inheriting her late husband’s assets if she marries again.
Landmark judgments and judicial interpretations
One of the major landmark judgments regarding the succession act was the Prakash v. Phlulvati case, In fact, it ensures social justice and equality for women in a more profound way. It basically repeals the antiquated Hindu legislation that denied women the ability to own property. The community of Hindu women supports this legislation. Now even a woman member of mitakshara will be born with a silver spoon. All of her rights will be equal to those of her male equivalent. She is nevertheless subject to the same legal obligations for coparcenary property as a male. The Amendment Act of 2005 permits her to request a division of the dwelling. A widow no longer faces the restriction that barred her from inheriting her late husband’s assets if she marries again. She will be eligible for her father’s tribe and self-involved property since birth because the amendment’s main purpose was to abolish the current discrepancies between sons and daughters about their coparcenary liberties. The High Court decided that the revised clauses should be applied. In spite of this, the Supreme Court rejected the High Court’s request, stating that the Act shall apply in the future and until it is expressly stated in the statute.
Since the amendment’s primary goal was to eliminate the current disparities between daughters and sons regarding their coparcenary rights, she will be entitled to her father’s tribe and self-involved property from birth. The altered sections should be used, the High Court said. However, the Supreme Court denied the High Court’s motion, holding that the Act will continue to be in effect up until and unless otherwise specified in the act.
In a recent decision known as Vineeta Sharma vs. Rakesh Sharma stated on the eleventh of August 2020, the status of women’s coparcenary rights has been switched. In this case, it was decided that regardless of when they were born—before or after the amendment—the ladies would be eligible for coparcenary status and the same liberties as sons.
The requirement that dads should be alive on the day the law was passed (09.09.2015) is not necessary. The court gave the act a “retroactive” application. The court’s decision in the Prakash v. Phulvati case was overturned, granting equality to women. The court offered an option between the two viewpoints, first providing women equal coparcenary freedoms since birth and disregarding the fact that the father was still living at the time the amendment was made. Clarification was provided for all the ambiguity and confusion surrounding women’s succession rights.
Over time, things have changed gradually. Women in the modern day now have the same inheritance rights as sons after a gradual process. The rules that prohibited gender inequality are no longer in effect. beginning with the Mitakshara rule, which prohibited women from co-owning property and so discriminated against them. The 1956 Hindu Succession Act also fell short of social law’s standards and wasn’t gender-neutral.
With the Hindu Succession Amendment Act of 2005, which gave women coparcener status, significant changes were brought about. Even though there were conflicting legal options and a chaotic demeanour, the “Vineeta Sharma Case” provided a definitive statement on the subject at hand. The Supreme Court made its final ruling, stating that it is the responsibility of the courts and other bodies to uphold the established principles.
- Prakash v Phlulvati, A.I.R. 2011 Kar. 78.
- Vineeta Sharma v Rakesh Sharma, (2020) AIR 3717 (SC).
This article is written by Vishal Menon, from Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad.