An Insight Into The Hindu Succession Act (2005)

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Index

  1. Introduction 
  2. What Is Hindu Succession Act, 1956
  3. What Is Hindu Succession Act, 2005
  4. Evolution Of Hindu Succession Act 
  5. Effects Of Hindu Succession Amendment Act 
  6. Before Amendment And Changes After Amendment 
  7. Challenges In The Hindu Succession Amendment Act
  8. Latest Judgments 
  9. Conclusion 

Introduction 

The Mitakshara School of thought significantly influenced family dynamics within Hindu families by establishing a distinct disparity in treatment between daughters and sons. Historically, judicial bodies displayed hesitancy in intervening in such familial matters, citing their exclusive and internal nature. Despite this, instances arose where the judiciary intervened to safeguard individual rights, recognizing that no personal law could supersede the Constitution of India. Any conflicting provisions were deemed void and inapplicable.

The pivotal change regarding daughter’s rights within Joint Hindu families came with the 2005 Hindu Succession Amendment Act, a parliamentary measure inspired by the recommendations of the 174th Law Commission Report on women’s property rights under Hindu law. This legislative amendment marked a significant milestone, ensuring daughters’ equal entitlement to property and inheritance, aligning with the broader movement advocating for gender equality and fair treatment within familial and societal frameworks.

What Is Hindu Succession Act, 1956

The Hindu Succession Act of 1956 is a significant piece of legislation in India that governs the inheritance and succession of property among Hindus. It outlines the rules and procedures for the distribution of property and assets upon the death of a Hindu individual. The Act addresses various aspects such as the rights of male and female heirs, the concept of coparcenary property, rules for intestate succession (when there is no will), testamentary succession (when there is a will), and the order of succession among different classes of heirs. The Act also lays down provisions regarding the devolution of property in joint families and the rights of widows and daughters in ancestral property.

The passage of the Hindu Succession Act in 1956 ignored the importance of women’s rights, firmly grounded in the protective provisions of Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution, ensuring that no legislation could contravene these fundamental guarantees. This landmark legislation called for significant reforms in women’s property rights, empowering them with full ownership over previously restricted inheritance rights. 

Sections 6 and 8 of the Act specifically addressed the transfer of ownership in Mitakshara coparcenary properties and the transfer of ownership concerning male Hindus, respectively. Originally conceptualised by the B.N. Rau Committee and guided by Dr. Ambedkar, the Act sought to abolish the Mitakshara coparcenary system, including the notion of survivorship and the automatic right of sons in joint family property, replacing it with principles of succession-based inheritance.

However, due to conservative opposition in the Constituent Assembly, the Act retained the Mitakshara coparcenary structure with men as coparceners, albeit with modifications. This resulted in a continuation of the survivorship rule, with exceptions for testamentary or intestate succession in cases involving female relatives under Class 1 of Schedule 1 or related male relatives.

What Is Hindu Succession Act, 2005

The Hindu Succession Act, 2005 is a significant amendment to the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, aimed at bringing about gender equality in property rights among Hindus. This Act further amended the rules of succession, particularly in coparcenary property, granting daughters equal rights as sons. It abolished the Hindu woman’s limited estate, allowing females to hold property absolutely and dispose of such property at their will. The Act ensures that daughters are entitled to inherit ancestral property on par with sons, marking a significant shift towards gender parity in inheritance laws.

Evolution Of Hindu Succession Act

The Hindu Succession Amendment Act of 2005 was passed following recommendations from the Law Commission’s 174th Report, which highlighted the unfair treatment of Hindu women in property rights under the Mitakshara coparcenary system. The Commission observed a long-standing bias favouring men in property matters, with women often deprived of property ownership rights to maintain their dependence on men. In contrast, sons were automatically entitled to inherit family property due to their status as coparceners. This unequal system perpetuated male dominance in inheritance and was deemed constitutionally unjust by the Commission. As a result, they proposed amending Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act 1956 to address these disparities.

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Effects Of Hindu Succession Amendment Act

The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Bill of 2005 aimed to make two significant changes to the existing Hindu Succession Act of 1956. These changes are :

  1. Section 4(2) is being eliminated due to its provision preventing it from overriding other acts to prevent land division or ceiling on agricultural land or the creation of tenancy rights within such holdings. This section excluded agricultural land rights and was governed by State-level tenure laws, leading to discrimination against women who were not receiving any entitlement or interest in agricultural lands. Removing this provision ensures that women have the same interests in agricultural land as men.
  2. Section 6 marked a significant milestone in advancing women’s property rights by replacing the old provision with a new one. This change grants daughters coparcenary rights in Joint Hindu Family property from birth, equalising their rights and responsibilities with those of sons. Rather than delving into ancient practices, the focus is on legislative recognition and protection. Hindu women’s property rights are determined by factors such as familial status (e.g., daughter, married/unmarried, deserted), marital status (e.g., wife, widow, mother), and the type of property (e.g., hereditary, self-acquired, land, dwelling house, matrimonial property). Previously, women were generally unable to inherit property from their fathers or husbands, relying primarily on stridhan. This stridhan was of two types: sauadayika, gifts from relatives giving full ownership rights, and non-sauadayika, gifts from strangers or self-acquired property, with limited disposal rights for married women without their husband’s consent. The Privy Council clarified that such limited rights constituted a “women’s estate,” recognizing this concept formally only with The Hindu Women’s Rights to Property Act, 1937. Widows gained recognition as equal partition claimants if a Hindu died intestate, yet still required male family member consent for property disposal. This recognition, while a milestone, tied women’s property rights closely to their marital status, highlighting ongoing limitations and subjugation within the legal framework.
  3. A similar change introduced by this amendment was the removal of section 23 from the Act, which previously discriminated against female heirs by preventing them from seeking partition in the ancestral home until the male heirs decided to do so. This provision exemplified the clear bias present in the Hindu Succession Act before 2005, restricting female rights to reside in the family home only under specific circumstances such as being unmarried, separated, deserted, or widowed. This dependency on the decisions of male family members underscored the inherent prejudice within the legal framework.
  4. Section 24, eliminated through the 2005 amendment, discriminated against three categories of women connected to the deceased individual. They are widows of a deceased son, widows of a deceased grandson, and widows of a brother. This discrimination arose from the belief that a widow’s remarriage signalled a break in her connection to her deceased husband, thereby stripping her of property rights. However, certain widows, such as the deceased’s own wife, retained property rights even after remarriage. This inequality persisted in the law until the 2005 amendment, despite constitutional principles emphasising equality within the justice and legislative systems. The first two categories of discriminated widows, namely the widow of a predeceased son and the widow of a predeceased son of a predeceased son, are part of Class I heirs, while the third category, the widow of a brother, is an agnate heir. This means that they inherit the property immediately upon the intestate’s death, and their rights become absolute under section 15 once invested in the property as heirs. Once such rights are vested, they cannot be divested by any subsequent event. Therefore, to rectify this problematic situation that disadvantaged certain categories of women under section 24 of the Act, it was removed.
  5. Section 30 of the Act was amended to replace gender-specific language with gender-neutral terms, aligning with the objective of gender neutrality in the amendment. Additionally, the schedule under the class I heir category was expanded to provide equal treatment to lineal descendants of daughters as to sons. This marked a significant turning point in addressing the existing sexual discrimination within Hindu Law, with the introduction and enforcement of The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Bill, 2004, which came into effect in 2005.
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Before Amendment And Changes After Amendment 

Before the amendment, women had limited inheritance rights under the Hindu Law of Inheritance Act, 1929. They were allowed to inherit property as son’s daughters, granddaughters, or sisters. The Hindu Women’s Rights to Property Act, 1937, was a significant change that granted women more access to property ownership. It addressed issues related to coparceners, separation, inheritance, and adoption. Additionally, widows were given the right to claim an equal share of their husband’s estate. However, daughters still didn’t have full inheritance rights, highlighting the ongoing struggle for gender equality in inheritance laws.

The Hindu Succession Act of 1956 focused on ensuring equality, following Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. It replaced the earlier Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act, removing restrictions on women’s property rights. This new law allowed daughters to inherit a part of their father’s separate property, recognizing them as legal successors. However, daughters still couldn’t inherit ancestral property or have the same succession rights as sons. Sons were automatically considered coparceners from birth, giving them legal rights to inherit family property, maintaining inequality between daughters and sons.

After amendment: The old laws didn’t ensure equal rights for sons and daughters, prompting calls for change. The Law Commission Report of 2000 recommended reforms to improve women’s rights to inheritance, highlighting biassed clauses. The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, was enacted specifically to enhance daughters’ and women’s property rights, bringing them in line with male family members. A significant change was including daughters as coparceners, granting them equal rights to joint family property regardless of their marital status. This amendment also allowed female family members to act as the family’s Karta and treated daughters similarly to coparceners under Section 6 of the 1956 Act.

The Supreme Court clarified that daughters have the right to joint family property even if their father had passed away before the 2005 Amendment. This ruling marks progress towards gender equality, ensuring daughters ownership of family property. Women stand to gain significantly from this change, both symbolically and financially, as they become co-owners of joint family property.

Challenges In The Hindu Succession Amendment Act

While the Hindu Succession Amendment Act ensures equitable division of property among male and female heirs in a coparcener, it still places males at an advantage by granting them an additional autonomous share. The concept of coparcenary inherently favours males and should be eliminated. This change may involve some limitations on freedom of choice, a practice seen in many European countries. Although not perfect, making daughters coparceners under the Mitakshara system provides them with guaranteed interests in joint family property, without affecting bequest autonomy. However, if a Hindu woman dies without a will, her property follows a specific inheritance hierarchy, ultimately protecting it under her husband’s lien.

Another reason for a national law is the potential scenario of having two Kartas, one being a son and the other a daughter, if a joint family owns property in two different states, one governed by the Amending Act and the other not. This raises concerns about how the Act will be applied across different geographical areas, highlighting the need for a Uniform Civil Code or all-India Act. Implementing the 2005 Act poses several challenges, including the need for legal literacy campaigns, public awareness initiatives about the benefits of women owning property, and support for women navigating legal and social issues to claim their rights.

Granting daughters coparcenary rights will result in a decrease in the shares inherited by other Class I female heirs, such as the deceased’s mother and widow. This reduction occurs because the coparcenary portion of the deceased male, from which these heirs acquire, will diminish. For widows, their share will now be equal to that of sons and daughters in states where wives receive a share during division, like Maharashtra. However, in states where wives do not receive a portion, such as Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh, the widow’s share will be less than that of daughters.

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While the amendment has brought about positive changes, it also has some shortcomings. It hasn’t fully achieved its goals and has led to confusion and disruption. One notable flaw is the inclusion of Section 15, which focuses on women’s relationships with men like wives and daughters, rather than recognizing women as individuals. This overlooks a woman’s uniqueness and individuality, raising concerns about gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The amendment focuses mainly on daughters, wives, daughters-in-law, and sisters but leaves out other female relatives. Another issue is the lack of clarity on whether this amendment supersedes state laws. Additionally, the amendment removes the provision exempting agricultural land from coparcenary property, creating confusion since agricultural land falls under the State List.

Latest Judgements

In the case of Income Tax v. G.S. Mills (1966), the Supreme Court discussed whether women could be considered the head of a family. The Court ruled that widows could not be family members, but this decision didn’t prevent women from being part of joint families. This case is significant because it happened before the amended Hindu Succession Act of 2005, when the provisions of the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 were in effect.

In the case of Vaishali Satish Ganorkar v. Satish Keshaorao Ganorkar (2012), the Bombay High Court initially ruled that the Hindu Succession Amendment wouldn’t apply unless the daughter was born after 2005. However, a subsequent judgement took a different view, specifying that both the daughter and her father must be alive on the day of the amendment for the amendment to apply. 

In the case’s facts, due to the father’s loan default, the bank has the right to take the property as compensation. The daughters claimed two-thirds of the land, planning to give the bank the remaining third. The legal question revolved around whether women have coparcenary rights to property, especially those born before the amendment.

The judgement clarified that the presumption against retrospectivity doesn’t apply to declaratory acts, as they merely declare existing rights and can be retroactive. This means that vested rights cannot be removed retroactively by becoming a coparcener under the amended Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act.

In the case of Badrinarayan Shankar Bhandari v. Om Prakash Shankar Bhandari (2014), the central issue was whether the Hindu Succession Amendment Act of 2005 should be applied retroactively to events that took place before the amendment. This raises the question of whether the Act should have a retrospective impact, contrary to its stated prospective nature.

Conclusion 

In traditional Hindu society, women were historically subordinated to male family members, a practice rooted in ancient Dharmashastras. This historical context influenced the enactment of the Hindu Succession Act in 1956, which initially did not grant daughters rights to inherit their father’s property, reflecting the prevailing belief that married daughters belonged to their husband’s families and not their father’s. However, the 2005 amendment rectified this inequality, aligning with constitutional principles of gender equality. This amendment reinstated the equal status of sons and daughters within Joint Hindu Families, addressing a longstanding disparity. Yet, some ambiguity remains, particularly regarding the rights of validly adopted daughters, as the amended Act does not explicitly address them. Additionally, the Act treats the children of daughters as coparceners, similar to the status of sons’ children under Section 6. Despite these lingering issues, the 2005 amendment stands as a significant milestone in uplifting the status of Hindu women in society.

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