Daughters get equal share

Daughters Get Equal Share In The Coparcenary Property - A Critique In Respect To The Amendment Brought In The Hindu Succession Act"

Introduction

"Women constitute half the world's population, perform nearly two-thirds of its hours, and receive one-tenth of the world's income and less than one hundredth of the property."-- The United Nation's Report, 1980.

Former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru championed the cause of women's right to inherit property and the Hindu Succession Act was enacted and came into force on June 17, 1956.Many changes were brought about that gave women greater rights but they were still denied the important coparcenary rights. Subsequently, a few States enacted their own laws for division of ancestral property.

In what is known as the Kerala model, the concept of coparcenary was abolished and according to the Kerala Joint Family System (Abolition) Act, 1975, the heirs (male and female) do not acquire property by birth but only hold it as tenants as if a partition has taken place.

Andhra Pradesh Tami Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra also enacted laws, where daughters were granted ‘coparcener' rights or a claim on ancestral property by birth as the sons. In 2000, the 174th report of the 15th Law Commission suggested amendments to correct the discrimination against women, and this report forms the basis of the present Act. Discrimination against women was the key issue before the Law Commission.

The amendment made in 2005 gives women equal rights in the inheritance of ancestral wealth, something reserved only for male heirs earlier. It indeed, is a significant step in bringing the Hindu Law of inheritance in accord with the constitutional principle of equality. Now, as per the amendment, Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 gives equal rights to daughters in the Hindu Mitakshara coparcenary property as the sons have. The amendment was made because there was an urgent need for certainty in law.

Though the 2005 amendment gives equal rights to daughters in the coparcenery. An important question is still unanswered whether women or daughters can be allowed to become managers or karta of the joint family. The objection to this issue of managing a joint family as visualized is that daughters may live away from the joint family after their marriage but it is well appreciated that women are fully capable of managing a business, taking up public life as well as manage large families as mothers. Another doubt being considered is that as managers of their fathers' joint family they could be susceptible to the influence of their husbands or husbands' families.

Critical Appraisal Of The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005-

 (l). Devolution of interest in coparcenary property.

(1) On and from the commecement of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, in a Joint Hindu family governed by the Mitakshara law, the daughter of a coparcener shall,--

(a) by birth become a coparcener in her own right the same manner as the son ;

(b) have the same rights in the coparcenary property as she would have had if she had been a son;

(c) be subject to the same liabilities in respect of the said coparcenary property as that of a son, and any reference to a Hindu Mitakshara coparcener shall be deemed to include a reference to a daughter of a coparcener: Provided that nothing contained in this sub-section shall affect or invalidate any disposition or alienation including any partition or testamentary disposition of property which had taken place before the 20th day of December, 2004.

(2) Any property to which a female Hindu becomes entitled by virtue of subsection (1) shall be held by her with the incidents of coparcenary ownership and shall be regarded, notwithstanding anything contained in this Act or any other law for the time being in force in, as property capable of being disposed of by her by testamentary disposition.

(3) Where a Hindu dies after the commencement of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, his interest in the property of a Joint Hindu family governed by the Mitakshara law, shall devolve by testamentary or intestate succession, as the case may be, under this Act and not by survivorship, and the coparcenary property shall be deemed to have been divided as if a partition had taken place and,-

(a) the daughter is allotted the same share as is allotted to a son;

(b) the share of the pre-deceased son or a pre-deceased daughter, as they would have got had they been alive at the time of partition, shall be allotted to the surviving child of such pre-deceased son or of such pre-deceased daughter; and

(c) the share of the pre-deceased child of a pre-deceased son or of a predeceased daughter, as such child would have got had he or she been alive at the time of the partition, shall be allotted to the child of such pre-deceased child of the pre-deceased so or a pre-deceased daughter, as the case may be.

Explanation.-- For the purposes of this sub-section, the interest of a Hindu Mitakshara coparcener shall be deemed to be the share in the property that would have been allotted to him if a partition of the property had taken place immediately before his death, irrespective of whether he was entitled to claim partition or not.

(4) After the commencement of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, no court shall recognize any right to proceed against a son, grandson or great-grandson for the recovery of any debt due from his father, grandfather or great-grandfather solely on the ground of the pious obligation under the Hindu law, of such son, grandson or great-grandson to discharge any such debt: Provided that in the case of any debt contracted before the commencement of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, nothing contained in this sub-section shall affect--

(a) the right of any creditor to proceed against the son, grandson or great-grandson, as the case may be; or

(b) any alienation made in respect of or in satisfaction of, any such debt, and any such right or alienation shall be enforceable under the rule of pious obligation in the same manner and to the same extent as it would have been enforceable as if the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 had not been enacted.

Explanation.--For the purposes of clause (a), the expression "son", "grandson" or "great-grandson" shall be deemed to refer to the son, grandson or great-grandson, as the case may be, who was born or adopted prior to the commencement of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005.

(5) Nothing contained in this section shall apply to a partition, which has been effected before the 20th day of December 2004.

Explanation- For the purposes of this section "partition" means any partition made by execution of a deed of partition duly registered under the Registration Act, 1908 or partition affected by a decree of a court.

Section 6 seeks to make the daughter a coparcener by birth in a joint Hindu family governed by the Mitakshara law, subject to the same liabilities in respect of the said coparcenary property as that of a son.

As far as the basic objective of the Act is to remove gender discriminatory practices in the property laws of the Hindus, whereby daughters have been given the status of coparceners in the Mitakshara joint family system. However, the position of other Class I female heirs should not suffer as a result of this move.

However, it does not interfere with the special rights of those who are members of Hindu Mitakshara coparcenary except to provide rules for devolution of the interest of a deceased male in certain cases.

Changes Brought In The Position Of The Women (Daughters)

Out of many significant benefits brought in for women, one of the significant benefit has been to make women coparcenary in Mitakshara joint family property. Earlier the female heir only had a deceased man's notional portion. With this amendment, both male and female will get equal rights.

In a major blow to patriarchy, centuries-old customary Hindu law in the shape of the exclusive male mitakshara coparcenary has been breached throughout the country.

The preferential right by birth of sons in joint family property, with the offering of "shradha" for the spiritual benefit and solace of ancestors, has for centuries been considered sacred and inviolate. It has also played a major role in the blatant preference for sons in Indian society. This amendment, in one fell swoop, has made the daughter a member of the coparcenary and is a significant advancement towards gender equality.

The significant change of making all daughters (including married ones) coparceners in joint family property - has been of a great importance for women, both economically and symbolically. Economically, it can enhance women's security, by giving them birthrights in property that cannot be willed away by men. In a male-biased society where wills often disinherit women, this is a substantial gain. Also, as noted, women can become kartas of the property. Symbolically, all this signals that daughters and sons are equally important members of the parental family. It undermines the notion that after marriage the daughter belongs only to her husband's family. If her marriage breaks down, she can now return to her birth home by right, and not on the sufferance of relatives. This will enhance her self-confidence and social worth and give her greater bargaining power for herself and her children, in both parental and marital families.

Now under the amendment, daughters will now get a share equal to that of sons at the time of the notional partition, just before the death of the father, and an equal share of the father's separate share. Equal distribution of undivided interests in co-parcenery property. However, the position of the mother vis-à-vis the coparcenary stays the same. She, not being a member of the coparcenary, will not get a share at the time of the notional partition. The mother will be entitled to an equal share with other Class I heirs only from the separate share of the father computed at the time of the notional partition. In effect, the actual share of the mother will go down, as the separate share of the father will be less as the property will now be equally divided between father, sons and daughters in the notional partition.

Case Laws In Support Of The Amendment

Even after passing of the Amending Act and substitution of S. 6, a number of questions were raised in the legal circles as to whether the Amending Act was prospective or retrospective and whether a daughter born before coming into force of the Amending Act i.e., 9th September 2005 was entitled to benefit under the newly incorporated S. 6 of the Act. There were divergent views and conflicting arguments.

Fortunately, these issues have now come up before our Courts and we now have the benefit of some judicial pronouncements on the effect of the new S. 6 of the Act.

In Pravat Chandra Pattnaik and Others vs. Sarat Chandra Pattnaik and Another, (AIR 2008 Orissa 133), the Orissa High Court had occasion to consider the effect of the Amending Act and the new S. 6 of the Act. It was a case relating to partition of Hindu Mitakshara coparcenary property. After decision by the lower Court, an appeal was preferred to the High Court.

The Court held that the Amending Act was enacted to remove the discrimination contained in S. 6 of the Act by giving equal rights and liabilities to the daughters in the Hindu Mitakshara Coparcenary property as the sons have. The Amending Act came into force with effect from 9-9-2005 and the statutory provisions create new right. The provisions are not expressly made retrospective by the Legislature. Thus, the Act itself is very clear and there is no ambiguity in its provisions. The law is well settled that where the statute's meaning is clear and explicit, words cannot be interpolated. The words used in provisions are not bearing more than one meaning. The amended Act shall be read with the intention of the Legislature to come to a reasonable conclusion. Thus, looking into the substance of the provisions and on conjoint reading, Ss.(1) and (5) of S. 6 of the Act are clear and one can come to a conclusion that the Act is prospective. It creates substantive right in favour of the daughter. The daughter got a right of coparcener from the date when the amended Act came into force i.e., 9-9-2005.

The Court also did not accept the contention that only the daughters, who are born after 2005, will be treated as coparceners. The Court held that if the provision of the Act is read with the intention of the legislation, the irresistible conclusion is that S. 6 (as amended) rather gives a right to the daughter as coparcener, from the year 2005, whenever they may have been born. The daughters are entitled to a share equal with the son as a coparcener.

The same issue also arose before the High Court of Karnataka in Sugalabai v. Gundappa A. Maradi and Others [ILR 2007 KAR 4790; 2008 (2) Kar LJ 406]. The Court was considering appeals where pending the appeals the Amending Act was passed by the Parliament. The Court held that as soon as the Amending Act was brought into force, the daughter of a coparcener becomes, by birth, a coparcener in her own right in the same manner as the son. Since the change in the law had already come into effect during the pendency of the appeals, it is the changed law that will have to be made applicable to the case. The daughter, therefore, by birth becomes a coparcener and that there is nothing in the Amending Act to indicate that the same will be applicable in respect of a daughter born on and after the commencement of the Amending Act.

In coming to the conclusion, the Court referred to the following principles of interpretation of statutes as laid down by the Apex Court :

(1) Statutory provisions which create or take away substantive rights are ordinarily prospective. They can be retrospective if made so expressly or by necessary implication and the retrospective operation must be limited only to the extent to which it has been so made either expressly or by necessary implication.

(2) The intention of the Legislature has to be gathered from the words used by it, giving them their plain, normal, grammatical meaning.

(3) If any provision of a legislation, the purpose of which is to benefit a particular class of persons is ambiguous so that it is capable of two meanings, the meaning which preserves the benefits should be adopted.

(4) If the strict grammatical interpretation gives rise to an absurdity or inconsistency, such interpretation should be discarded and an interpretation which will give effect to the purpose will be put on the words, if necessary, even by modification of the language used.

The Court also applied the principles stated in American Jurisprudence (2nd Edition, Vol. 73, Page 434, Part 366) quoted with approval by the Supreme Court in S. R. Bommai v. Union of India, (AIR 1994 SC 1980).

One additional issue was raised before the Court in this case as to whether there was a conflict between the Amending Act and the provisions of the Hindu Succession (Karnataka Amendment) Act, 1994. The Court held that “When there is a conflict between the State law and the subsequent law made by the Parliament on an Entry in Concurrent List, it is the law made by the Parliament that will prevail over the State Law even though the State law was passed after obtaining assent of the President and it is not necessary that law made by the Parliament should expressly repeal a State law.”

It is submitted that, in view of the aforesaid decisions of the Orissa and the Karnataka High Courts, the issue is presently settled and that the daughter of a coparcener becomes, by birth, a coparcener in her own right in the same manner as the son, irrespective of whether she was born before or after the Amending Act came into force.

Conclusion

The objective of the Amending Act indicates the objective as the removal of discrimination against daughters inherent in the mitakshara coparcenary and thereby eradication of the baneful system of dowry by positive measures thus ameliorating the condition of women in the human society.

It is necessary to understand that if equality exists only as a phenomenon outside the awareness and approval of the majority of the people, it cannot be realized by a section of women socialized in traditions of inequality. Thus there is need to social awareness and to educate people to change their attitude towards the concept of gender equality. The need of the hour is also to focus attention on changing the social attitudes in favor of equality for all by enacting a uniform law.

The difficult question of implementing the 2005 Act remains. Campaigns for legal literacy; efforts to enhance social awareness of the advantages to the whole family if women own property; and legal and social aid for women seeking to assert their rights, are only a few of the many steps needed to fulfill the change incorporated in the Act.

Bibliography

Primary Sources

Hindu Women's Right to Property Act, 1937.

Hindu Succession Act, 1956 & 2005.

Secondary Sources

Books

Mulla, Principles of Hindu Law (1998 17th ed. by SA Desai), p. 168.

Mayne's, Treatise on Hindu Law & Usage, (1996 14th Edn., edt. by Alladi Kuppuswami p. 1065.

M. Indira Devi, "Woman's Assertion of Legal Rights to Ownership of property" in Women & Law Contemporary Problems, (1994 edt. by L. Sarkar & B. Sivaramayya) p. 174

Dr. Diwan Paras, Modern Hindu Law 16th Edition, Allahabad Law Agency, Page no. 290-294.

Darret J., Duncan M. "Essays in Classical and Modern Hindu Law" Vol.2, Universal Book Traders Page no. 114.

Articles

174th Report of Law Commission of India under the Chairmanship of Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy, vide D.O. No. 6(3) (59)/99-LC (LS), dated 5th May, 2000.

7th Report of Parliamentary Standing Committee dated 13th May, 2005.

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