Even though there are numerous avenues that gender inequality in India expresses itself, operational and legal rights to property are where it most frequently appears. Innumerable laws have been passed to end women’s economic dependence and elevate their status and equality. Additionally, the Indian Constitution guarantees equality, enhancing women’s ownership rights and opportunities for economic advancement. It has been suggested that early Hindu law was particularly tough on women, depriving them of both economic and physical autonomy. Manu, the supreme lawgiver, supported this notion, “A woman must be dependent on her father in childhood, her husband in youth, and her sons in old age.” India is notorious for its patriarchal social system, where men have historically controlled power and property ownership. India has a rich cultural legacy and different religious practices. However, there seems to have been a progressive trend in recent years toward gender equality and women’s empowerment, and legal reforms have been critical factors in this transition. The Hindu Succession Act, which has brought about a legal revolution and cleared the road for women’s economic independence, is a crucial step towards women’s empowerment in India. Among Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs, property succession and inheritance are governed by the Hindu Succession Act of 1956. Before it became law, women were frequently refused their fair portion of inherited property and subjected to various discriminatory practices. To address these gender-based inequalities and guarantee equal treatment for women, the Act was subsequently revised in 2005. The Hindu Succession Act of 1956, which reduces the patriarchal system developed in Indian society and stipulates that only male descendants are eligible to possess and inherit assets, has been regarded as a turning point in the history of women’s property rights. Only Stridhana, which was highly complex and constrained, represented the idea of women as possession. Due to this Act, Hindu women are now the sole beneficiaries of their property with no restrictions on how they may dispose of it. Previously, they had a limited proprietorship.
HINDU SUCCESSION ACT AMENDMENT: TRANSFORMING PROPERTY RIGHTS
The extent of stridhan land was constrained by several court rulings during colonial administration. The new statutory notion was progressively created through court rulings: if a woman inherits property through her female or male relatives (mother, mother’s grandmother, daughter), it is not her stridhan and will pass to her husband’s or father’s heirs. Women could no longer leave their stridhan, a large estate, in wills or gifts. In India, the Hindu Succession Act’s amendment in 2005 to provide daughters with equal footing in inheritances has been a significant step in empowering women and fostering their economic independence. Several case laws have significantly influenced the interpretation and application of the Act’s provisions, ensuring that women are empowered and that their rights are upheld.
The Supreme Court of India made apparent that the 2005 change to the Hindu Succession Act allowing daughters equal rights in ancestral property is retrospective in the landmark case of Prakash & Ors v. Phulavati & Ors (2016). The court determined that even though the father had passed away before the amendment’s enactment, the daughters still had a claim to the property owned by the coparcenary. This decision promoted gender equality and empowered women by ensuring that daughters’ rights to inherited property were safeguarded regardless of when their fathers passed away.
The empowerment of women in India has changed dramatically due to this amendment. It has given women a feeling of freedom and financial security. Due to their lack of or limited share in ancestral property in the past, women frequently were forced to rely on male family members for monetary assistance, leaving them open to abuse and exploitation. According to the modified Hindu Succession Act, women now have the legal power to inherit their ancestors’ property, giving them a sense of ownership, control, and financial security. Women in India traditionally have limited access to property ownership, which has exacerbated gender disparities. However, according to the revised Act, women now have an equal entitlement to ancestral property, greatly enhancing their ownership rights. In addition to empowering women, this has made it easier for them to participate in social affairs and decision-making.
GENDER EQUALITY IN HINDU SUCCESSION LAW: RECENT JUDICIAL RULINGS & THEIR IMPACT
A law governing property succession and inheritance is the Hindu Succession Act of 1956. This Act establishes a thorough and consistent structure that considers succession and inheritance. This Act likewise covers intestate or unwilled (testamentary) succession.
The Supreme Court established the rights of daughters as coparceners in a combined Hindu family and the extent of their stake in the ancestral property in the case of Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma & Ors (2020). Whether the father is living or dead or when the daughters were born, the court ruled that daughters have the same rights as boys in the coparcenary property. The court asserted that females have the same rights and obligations as sons and that their ownership stake in the property is not equal to their father’s. This ruling upheld daughters’ equal rights to share in the inherited wealth and gave them the authority to do so.
The Delhi High Court interpreted the provisions of the Hindu Succession Act to rule that daughters, even though they were married before the 2005 amendment was passed, have equal rights in the father’s property, including ancestors’ property, in the case of Sujata Sharma v. Manu Gupta (2018). The court emphasized that the modification occurred in the past and that daughters could not be denied their fair portion of the inherited property because of their marital status. This ruling strengthened gender equality in inheritance laws and safeguarded the rights of married daughters. Sneha Ahuja v. Satish Chander Ahuja (2019), The Punjab and Haryana High Court ruled that in this case, daughters’ entitlements as descendants in inherited property are unassailable and cannot be overridden by a settlement or other type of family arrangement. The court clarified that daughters have the same rights to inherited property as sons, and any agreement or family structure that denies them their due part is illegal.
The Hindu Succession Act of 1956, as well as later revisions and significant court rulings, have all contributed significantly to the cause of gender equality and the protection of daughters’ rights in areas of property succession and inheritance. No matter their marital situation, birth order, or the status of their father, these legal achievements have recognized and established the equal rights of daughters as coparceners in their ancestors’ property. These rulings have strengthened the position of women and supported their right to inherit and partake in inherited money, preventing daughters from being cheated out of their just share. Daughters now have the legal capacity to assert their claim to their total percentage of inherited property according to the Hindu Succession Act, which promotes equality between the sexes.
Author’s Name: Sreejeeta Das (Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad)