This article has been written by Ritesha Das, pursuing BBA LLB (1st year) from Symbiosis Law School Hyderabad. It analyses the spectrums of Stridhan with reference to the section 14 of The Hindu Succession Act, 1956.
Ancient patriarchal India has witnessed the backlash of equality and empowerment over the course of several decades. ‘The Secret History of Wonder Woman’ by Jill Lepore has provided an insight into the miserable lives of the woman juggling the ingredients of marriage, family and education together. The ancient text of Manusmriti has elucidated the suppression and subjugation of women, who were often leashed by men in the ancient patriarchal society. In the text of Manusmriti, Manu wrote “Her father protects her in childhood, her husband protects her in youth and her sons protect her in old age; a woman is never fit for independence” highlighting the plights of every woman chained with dependence and repression. The tears for striving equality, empowerment and independence were finally wiped off and the shackles of dependence, suppression and subjugation of women were broken by the waves of feminism introducing the suffrage, equality movements and the legal rights of Hindu women to inherit property. One of the notable reforms on the field of the legal rights of Hindu women to inherit property was the enactment of Right to Property Act, which affects not only covers the laws related to the coparcenaries but also includes the laws of alienation, partition, inheritance and adoption under its sphere. It allowed the widow to take a share equal to that of her son, however, it abstained her from being a coparcener, and thus the widows had only a minimal share in the property of her deceased husband with the right to apply for partition. Although the purpose of the Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act was to expand the property rights of all Hindu women in general, it was only content with widening and strengthening the rights of the widow and not the rights of women as a class.
Stridhan and Women’s Estate: Meaning
During ancient India, property rights of Hindu women have gone through the serious of alterations where in some cases the proportion of women’s share in the property was far less than that of their male counterparts. The properties given to the women were known as Stridhan, the source of which was the marriage gifts like clothes, jewellery and ancestral properties given to a woman during her marriage. However, the property rights of the women were dispossessed to ancestral or marital landed property with a limited share of the succession of landed family property. The emergence of The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 has obliterated these patriarchal norms by granting absolute power to the ownership of property.
The ambit of the women’s estate or property deals with the concept of limited rights and ownership of the women over the property, which was prevailed till 1956 but was repealed by the section 14 of The Hindu Succession Act of 1956, by conferring the absolute ownership of rights and property to women. The section 14 (1) of The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 explicitly states that Any property possessed by a female Hindu, whether acquired before or after the commencement of this Act, shall be held by her as full owner thereof and not as a limited owner. In simple terms, it deals with the right of women to claim their property at any time and to use or dispose of it according to their wish. In Punithavalli v. Ramalingam, The Supreme Court observed that the property held by a Hindu woman under clause 1 of section 14 of the Act is absolute and is not defensible, and that its scope cannot be limited by any text or inference or theory or rule under that statute. However, the court ruled that the property owned by the Hindu woman on the date on which the act had taken effect, whether obtained before or after the enactment of the act, the Hindu woman is deemed to be the sole owner of the property. In another case of Santhosh and Ors Vs. Saraswathibai and anr, the Supreme Court held that If a widow obtains a stake in the property under a preliminary declaration before or at the time that the 1956 act had been passed but had not been given real ownership under a final declaration, the estate would be considered to be owned by the widow and, by virtue of section 14(1), would have gained full or absolute rights over the property.
Sources of Stridhan
According to section 14 (1) of The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, the sources of stridhan include the following elements:
- Gifts and bequeaths from relations.
- Gifts and bequeaths from strangers during marriage.
- Property obtained at partition or devise.
- Property given in place of maintenance.
- Property acquired by inheritance.
- Property acquired by skill or exertion.
- Property acquired by adverse possession.
- Property purchased with the savings her income.
Kinds of Stridhan under Dayabhaga and Mitakshara
According to Dayabhaga, there are two kinds of Stridhan:
It means anything given at the time of marriage when the bride and groom are seated on the same seat. Thus, Yautaka means all the presents offered to the bride during the wedding ceremony, when she and her husband are seated together
All gifts that are not Yautaka fall under the range of Ayautaka. It comprises not only gifts and legacies made by the father and other relatives before marriage, but also gifts and legacies given to a woman through relationships other than the father after marriage.
According to Mitakshara, the property may be divided into two categories on the basis of the women’s independent power of disposal over it.
- Saudayika Stridhan
Property acquired by a married or unmarried female, by her husband or mother, in the position of her husband or father, is called Saudayika. All kinds of Saudayika is completely at the discretion of the woman, she can invest, sell or give it to her own pleasure. Her husband has no power over the deals or use of Saudayika.
- Non-Sauyadika Stridhan
All the remaining forms of Stridhan fall under this group. A woman does not have the right to dispose of the Stridhan property during the cover-up without the consent of her husband.
STRIDHAN Vs. DOWRY
Stridhan is a necessary ingredient in a country like India, where stringent legislation has failed to eradicate the peril of dowry from the society. In a narrow spectrum, Stridhan involves property and possessions of a woman given by her family, relatives or acquaintances during the time of her marriage. However, there is a widespread misconception prevalent in culture concerning the age-old practice where the bride’s family transfers the wealth or any property (including both tangible and intangible) to the groom or his family ostensibly for the bride, popularly known as dowry in the modern society. The key distinction amongst ‘dowry’ and ‘Stridhan’ is the ingredients of ‘demand, avarice and coercion, which is present in the former but absent in the latter. Stridhan is a gift offered freely to women and is not the outcome of the above ingredients. The Stridhan can be recovered if the marriage fails and breaks in future, but in the case of dowry, the wealth or property is retained by the groom or his family. The distinction between dowry and stridhan was drawn out in the case of Girish Chander Raina v. Sushma Sharma, where the Apex court held that the basic element of the dowry is that the property is transferred to the person to whom it was given. It is the case that the property is passed to the person who demanded the dowry. Stridhan means that the property is granted to the bride before her marriage or at the time of her marriage or at the time of her departure, or afterwards, is her full property with all the freedom to dispose of at her own discretion. It is a voluntary act on the part of the donor to give the property. In the case of a dowry, it is under duress or a condition that the property has to be passed to the person who demands the same. In the case of Pratibha Rani vs. Suraj Kumar, while hearing the appeal, the supreme court observed that the petitioner had been endured her in-laws as she was abused and denied the Stridhan by her husband’s family. Pratibha Rani was married to Suraj Kumar on 4 February 1972. Rani’s family gave Rs 60,000, gold ornaments, and other valuable objects to Kumar’s family on their request. But shortly after Rani had entered her marital home, she was begun to be abused for dowry by her in-laws. She was driven out of her in-law’s house with her two little children, and her plea for money and other necessities of life were rejected. She lodged two complaints against her husband and her in-laws under section 125 of the Criminal Code and breach of trust. The Supreme Court acknowledged that the case illustrates the plight of a miserable married woman. The court also noted her great deals of sufferings during the legal process. The lower court ruled in her favor, but sought a seatback from the Punjab & Haryana High Court, which was subsequently handed down in her favor by the Honorable Supreme Court.
The above case of Pratibha Rani highlights the satire of modern society being rife and plagued with the clouds of various social evils. Among those, the dowry system continues to be at peak for not only extinguishing the flames of contentment and prosperity on the lives of the bride and her family, but also for overshadowing the true value of a life long bond referred as marriage, by smacking their demands at the bride’s family. The female victims of marriage and dowry have to let the darkness and domestic violence to consume her life or continue to suffer from the sluggish poison in their lifetimes. In the 21st century, on one hand, our country is on the verge of being a developed nation with advanced technologies and 2.72 lakh crores GDP, but on the other hand, it is still struggling to ward off the social evils consuming the lives of thousands of people.
RIGHTS OF WOMEN OVER HER STRIDHAN OR ESTATE
The bride enjoys absolute, complete power and ownership over her entire Streedhan earned during her marriage encompassing both movable and immovable property. She also has the power to dispose of, alienate or give away as per her own discretion during her entire life and thereafter. Her husband and the other family members including the Karta have no control over the Streedhan. In the case of Ashok Laxman Kale vs Ujwala Ashok Kale, the court noted that it is usually practical and advisable that any girl who is particularly educated today must maintain a list of her Streedhan and should also become capable to look after her own Streedhan in terms of safety and security such as opening a bank locker in their own names for the purpose of storing jewellery and money instruments, property, etc., or keeping it under their lock and key.
Some of the precautionary measures to keep a track on the Stridhan could include:
- Maintaining a note of all the gifts and assets received from family, husband’s family, friends, and other relatives before, during and after the marriage.
- Maintaining proof of all the gifts and assets such as digital evidence in the form of wedding pictures, keeping the bills and envelopes of the gifts etc.
- Maintaining a separate salary account in her name for keeping the salary.
- Maintaining a record of the bank accounts and investments after investing her Stridhan.
- Ensuring the status and title of the properties granted or acquired from her Stridhan must be on her behalf and must be transparent. The investment made from the assets of the stridhan must be in her name.
POWERS OF WOMAN OVER HER STRIDHAN OR ESTATE
- Power of Management: Under this power, the powers and authority for managing the stridhan or woman’s estate is totally vested on that woman. Being the sole owner, she is deemed to be superior to the other members including the Karta of the Joint Hindu Family. She not only has an absolute entitlement to the possession, maintenance and income of her estate, but also the freedom to spend or invest her earnings (Stridhan) at her own discretion. The power to sue and to be sued on behalf of her estate is vested on her. The concerned woman remains the sole owner of her estate until her death, surrender, adoption or re-marriage.
- . Power of Alienation – Under the power of alienation, the women can alienate her estate or property under the following circumstances: In regard to alienation, the women may, under the following circumstances, alienate their property –
- Legal necessity involving her own need or the need of dependents of the previous owner.
- For the benefit of the estate.
- To release the indispensable religious duties like the marriage of daughters, the funeral ceremony of husband, etc. She has the discretion to alienate for the benefits of the previous owner, rather than her own personal gain.
In the case of Ramappa v. Chandangouda, one of the widows of Hanamgouda sold the property of her husband to the first defendant. She was remarried in 1948. The plaintiff’s reversioner then filed a claim for restitution of ownership. It was rejected by the Court of Justice, but it was decreed by the first appellate court, which noted a legal necessity.
- Power to relinquish: Under the power to relinquish, relinquishment means the surrender of the estate by the female owner. It can either be undertaken on a voluntary basis by a woman during her lifetime or immediately by her death. The woman has the power to renounce her estate in favor of her closest heir, and the self renouncement on her part will obliterate all her rights over the property. The law under this context was drawn out by the Supreme Court in the case of Natvarlal Punjabhai and Another v Dadubhai Manubhai And Others, which laid the following conditions for surrender:
- It must be for the whole estate, although a small portion can remain for its upkeep or maintenance.
- Surrender must be made in favor of reversionary.
- Surrender must be bonafide and not a means of dividing the estate between the reversionary.
- In the case of Radha Rani v. Hanuman Prasad, it was noted that Section 14(1) of The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 deals with the rights of female Hindus both before and after the Act came into effect, and the significance of female Hindus prior to 1956 must be interpreted in the light of the Hindu Law as it then existed. The section expanded the estate to all female Hindus who would otherwise have limited ownership. This result flows from reading the first part with the last one, which uses the term ‘held by it as its full owner and not as a limited owner.’ A limited owner was a full owner, given that she was a Hindu woman who was in possession of every property acquired before the Act commenced.
- In Eramma v. Verrupana, , the Apex Court observed that the object of section 14 of The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 is to extinguish the estate referred to in Hindu law as ‘limited estate’ or ‘widow estate,’ and to make a Hindu woman who, under the old law, would have been a limited owner, an absolute owner of the property with all powers of disposition, and to make the estate heritable by her own heirs rather than reverting it.
- In Sukhram v. Gauri Shankar, it was held that the widow was the full owner of joint Hindu family property as she became entitled to the interest her husband had under the Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act. The Court held that although a male was subject to restrictions on his interest in common Hindu family property, the widow, by virtue of the Act, was not subject to such restrictions.
- To add to the rights of women, the Supreme Court in Cherotte Sugathan v. Cherotte Bharathi  held that on the death of the husband, his share of the ancestral property will devolve upon his wife and will not be subjected to disinvestment, except any statutory reason. It was also held that the mere remarriage of the wife will not disentitle her from receiving her deceased husband’s property.
- In the case of Bai Vijia v. Thakorbhai Chelabhai, the court observed that there must be two conditions for the applicability of the sub-section of section 14, namely,
(I ) The female Hindu concerned must be in possession of the property;
(ii) Such property must be owned by her as a limited owner.
The implementation of the Hindu Succession Act is a significant step towards strengthening the property rights of Hindu women. As a part of this Act, women are given certain privileges that have deprived them for decades. This is also a monumental step in the defending the women’s rights, as it has excluded a woman’s inability to possess the assets or property as a sole owner. The rights of a woman to dispossess her Saudayika property historically was always limited, but her right of disposal of non-Saudayika property remained in the hands of her husband. However The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 has obliterated all those restrictions imposed by the ancient laws. The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 specifies that irrespective of the commencement of the act, the woman is the absolute owner of her Stridhan (including both movable and immovable property) and a standard order of succession shall be complied in the event of her death in the estate.
 Suman Gupta, ‘Status of Women under The Hindu Succession Act, 1956’, AIR, vol. V, May, (New Delhi: 2007)
 The Hindu Succession Act, 1956,
 AIR 1970, SC 1730
 AIR 2008 SC 500
 LQ 2008 HC 19363
 AIR 2007 (NOC) 1093 (Bom)
 1960 Mys 260
 AIR 1954 SC 61
 AIR 1966 SC 216
 AIR 1966 SC 1789
  1 SCR 476
 AIR 2008 SC 1467
 AIR 1979 SC 993
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