Purvi Asher & Nitika Bagaria
The role and rights of women across the globe have been dynamic. Given the rapid development of society, the legal rights of women in India have evolved over the years. With various enactments, amendments and implementation of more gender-neutral laws, the judiciary has taken a step in the right direction, resulting in a more equitable environment for women. Below is a lowdown of different rights of women which are guaranteed under the respective personal laws that apply to them.
Property of an individual can be self-acquired, i.e., purchased by themselves; or inherited from their parents, by succession. Inheritance is governed by various personal laws applicable to an individual. In presence of the Will, normally the dictums of the Will are followed. However, where there is no Will left, let’s understand what law is applicable, and what women are entitled to.
Rights of Hindu Women:The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, governs the succession and inheritance laws for Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. Section 14 thereof describes what constitutes a woman’s property. It states that the property of a female Hindu shall be her absolute property. It does not distinguish between inherited and self-acquired property, nor does it distinguish between moveable or immovable property. It includes all property obtained through:
A Hindu woman is the sole owner of her property. She has exclusive rights over the assets, whether such assets are earned, inherited or gifted.
Streedhan refers to the gifts and properties given to a woman on or before her wedding by her family members and relatives. A woman’s right to her Streedhan is protected under various laws and is the absolute property of the woman, as per Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, read with Section 27 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.The husband or his family members have no right or claim over the Streedhan. Even in event of divorce, she is entitled to take back her Streedhan with her, and that cannot become part of alimony or maintenance.
A Hindu woman is also equally entitled to the property of her deceased parents. Similarly, there is no discrimination between the right of a woman vis-à-vis a right of a man in inheriting property from their deceased parent and her share in it accrues by birth itself. There is no longer any differentiation between a married and unmarried daughter. Both are entitled to the same share as their male siblings.
In a situation where the son passes away in lifetime of the mother, in absence of any will made by the son, mother is entitled to receive share in son’s property in equal proportion to his wife and kids.
In a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) system, a daughter is now also treated as a coparcener and can also become Karta, if she is the elder-most surviving child of the deceased Karta as opposed to the pre-amendment milieu where only eldest male could become a Karta.
Even further, the daughter of a female coparcener shall by birth become a coparcener in her own right in the same manner as that of a son, has the same rights in coparcenary property as that of a son and will be subject to the same responsibilities with respect to coparcenary property as that of a son. She too can seek partition of the HUF property.
Rights of Women of Islamic faith:
Muhammadan law does not recognize a joint family system and no distinction is made between ancestral and self-acquired property.
Muhammadan law does not exclude any widow from the right to succession of her husband’s property. A Muslim woman can claim up to 1/8th share of their husband’s property and 1/4th if there are no children.
On the death of their parents, daughters become the legal heirs of their estate. However, it is generally found that the quantum of the share of a female heir is half of that of the male heirs.
Mehr: A Muslim female, upon her marriage, receives Mehr and maintenance from her husband, which becomes her property and forms a part of her estate absolutely. The husband is also duty bound to maintaining the wife and children. Even in case of divorce the woman is entitled to keep her Mehr and is not obligated to return it to the husband.
Rights of Christian, Parsi (Zoroastrians) and Jewish women:
Indian Succession Act, 1925 is applicable to Christian, Parsi and Jewish women, who are entitled to 1/3rd share of the property of the predeceased husband in case they have children and the children will get 2/3rd share which they have to distribute equally, whether they are male or female. In cases where there are no children, the widow is entitled to receive 50 percent of husband’s properties, and his parents are entitled to remaining 50 percent.
Recent initiatives from the Government
The Government of Maharashtra, in public interest, had recently decided to reduce the stamp duty payable on acquiring residential property / properties by one percent, as otherwise chargeable under clause (b) of Article 25 Maharashtra Stamp Act in cases of any woman / women purchaser/s of such property within Maharashtra. This is provided that such woman / women shall not sell any such type of residential unit to any subsequent male purchaser/s within a period of 15 years from the date of purchase thereof.
Such provisions and enactments provide incentive to women to acquire property, thereby encouraging their development. Similarly, various courts have understood the plight of women is property disputes and have extended their support, while ensuring that justice is served.
The laws in India dealing with succession and inheritance are not uniform, as there are multiple cultural variations, customs and practices that have gained judicial and statutory recognition. This results in multiplicity of laws dealing with succession and inheritance, causing more ambiguity and scope of confusion. Moving towards a Uniform Civil Code is thus imperative to remove ambiguity and streamline the process for women to acquire property through succession or otherwise.
It is also necessary that the masses of our country are educated and made aware about the legal rights of women, with respect to property and otherwise, so that they are not left at the mercy of the male members in the family to exercise their due rights.(Purvi Asher is Partner & Nitika Bagaria is an Associate at Mansukhlal Hiralal & Co., Advocates & Solicitors)