Pic: Vedic “Theorama” Series, painted by M. F. Hussain
The issue of succession equality and rights for women has been extremely important and perhaps controversial in recent times. However, it is very heartening to see that our Indian Courts have continued to adopt a pro-women approach in a number of legal aspects, one of the most important of which is in relation to ancestral properties.
In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court of India (SC) upheld the right of a daughter to an equal share as a son in an ancestral property, including daughters who were born before the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 (HSA) came into force. The judgement was delivered by Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan on February 1st, 2018 in the matter of Danamma v. Amar.
The Bench further clarified that the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 (2005 HSA Amendment) to Section 6 of the HSA makes a daughter a “coparcener” since birth (one who shares equally in the inheritance of an undivided joint family property, and since 2005 this applies equally to both sons and daughters). This fact gives her the same rights and liabilities as a son while asserting that it is applicable in all property disputes filed before 2005 as well. The marriage of the daughter makes no difference to this position.
A Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) is a unique concept that exists under Hindu law. It is a body that has a separate legal personality, comprising of all lineal descendants of a common ancestor and includes their wives and daughters. A ‘coparcener’ is a lineal descendant who is within four degrees from a common ancestor; such a person acquires an undivided interest in the HUF property immediately at birth.
Prior to the 2005 HSA Amendment, a daughter ceased to be a coparcener in her father’s HUF upon her marriage. However, as per the amended law, whilst a married woman becomes a ‘member’ in her husband’s HUF (i.e. she has very limited rights in the husband’s HUF), she also continues to be a coparcener in her father’s HUF.