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What India’s Property Laws Mean For Women

Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity; the female sex.”

Mahatma Gandhi

Regardless of our profession or our lifestyle, we are all justified in wanting to be treated right. When people are unable to assert their rights, it is the ultimate insult to humankind. It is a pre-conceived notion that Indian society is principally patriarchal in law, education and academics. Women’s lives in male dominated societies are entrenched with discrimination; holding women back from claiming equal rights. Since men enjoy preferential rights to property over women, male-centric societies suppress women’s demands for equal property rights. But advancement in India’s property law has led to a substantial boost in the importance of property rights for women. Although this article mainly deals with the rights of Hindu women in India the existence of limited rights to property for women is prevalent in other religions and countries too.

To establish harmony between men and women, there is a need to create laws for supervising succession or inheritance of property legally, among the members of the family. In the past, Hindus were governed by Shastric and customary laws which differ from area to area with reference to the caste system.

Women were denied the right to ownership but given the right to subsistence from the property. Women were denied ancestral property, unlike men who enjoyed proprietorship till death. Under Hindu law, a woman can only have rights over a particular property which was given to her at the time of the wedding. Only males were entitled to be coparcener. The first legislation which empowered women with the inheritance rights is the Hindu Law of Inheritance Act, 1929. But unjustified infringement from personal laws led to the above legislation being ruled out, and the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 was enacted by the Indian government. This act grants women with limited ownership right over property.

To eradicate the ambiguities and inequities of previous laws, the judiciary decided to reform specific provisions under the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. It was amended on September 9, 2005, where the daughters administered by Mitakshara law, were given the statutory right in the coparcenary property of their fathers.

This amendment nullifies Section 23 which states that women heirs cannot have an equal share in the property unless male heirs suggest segregating their share. According to the revised Section 6 of Hindu Succession Act, 1956, the daughter of a coparcenary is provided with the same rights and liabilities as a son from the same family.

This provision infers that going forth, women have the same authority and control over the property. She can dispose of her share of coparcenary property to anyone through a will. This amendment repudiates the customs and regulations of Shastric law. Although this resolution taken by the judiciary provides various advantage to women heirs, it also invites controversy from the public. Issues have been raised on the amendment act and whether the rights granted to daughters are reactionary or progressive. It asks whether married daughters have equal property rights.

Through recent judicial pronouncements, it has been made clear that above-stated reform is progressive in application and married daughters can claim to have equal rights on a property. In the case of Prakash V. Phulavati (October 16, 2015) the court ruled that the right will be available only when the father and daughter are alive on the date the amendment was made (September 9, 2005). Daughters cannot resume or question the authority over a property of persons who passed away before September 2005. For the sake of transparency, it may be said that the status of any self-acquired property (as distinct from coparcenary property) of a Hindu male dying intestate remains unchanged, with the daughter being entitled to a simultaneous share in such self-acquired property as the son (in absence of any will to the contrary).

The amendment will aid those women who are born into Hindu families holding ancestral property. Moreover, this law cannot be applied to any self-acquired property.

Even though it is an improvement in the Hindu Succession Act, there is still an underlying inequity faced by women heirs. The act does not take into account the significance of one member from the coparcenary property being responsible for the property. However, the status of the mother has not been given much focus. She, not being a member of the coparcenary will not receive any share at the time of notional partition. This amendment has provided immense power to women, whether married or unmarried, to be considered as coparceners and allow them to inherit ancestral property through intestate or testamentary procedures. This empowerment of women has led to the equitable distribution of rights and status in society. This amendment brings social and economic protection to women in case of marital breakdown and results in developing the life of women in a male-dominated society.

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