Since time immemorial, women always had to fight for all of their rights. One such rights is the Right to Property. In a Hindu household, it was always assumed that the girl would marry one day and leave the house and thus, it was only the men of the family who got a share in the property. Women were only offered property when they were married, i. e. Stridhan or on other auspicious occasions and this property mainly consisted of movable items.
But, with time, women have come at par with the men. They have become independent and have started contributing as the bread winner of the household. And, to keep up with the change in times, the laws in India have also progressed in order to promote the plight of women in matters of property. Statutes, such as the Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act, 1937, the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 and the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 are a few of them.
Women’s Rights according to the Classic Hindu Laws
In the ancient times, Manu, in his writings, give us an idea of the condition of women in terms of holding property. One of the Manu says that a son, a wife and a slave had no right over property and any property which had been acquired by them would belong to the men who controlled them. This indicated that any transaction which were done by women in those times were invalid. Women’s property was divided into 2 parts:
(i) Stridhan Property: Stridhan was the property which a bride received from her close relatives and strangers, during the marriage ceremony or the bridal procession. It is further divided into 2 types:
(a) Saudayika Property: On such property, women had full rights of ownership and alienation. This was gifted to her by her family members.
(b) Non-Saudayika Property: On such property, women had the rights of ownership, but if she wanted such property to alienate, she would require her husband’s permission. This was gifted to her by strangers.
(ii) Non- Stridhan Property: Such property was inherited by the women through a male or a female. The women who inherited the property had only the rights to use it, i. e. she just had the right to usufruct the land and not the rights to alienate it.
Women’s rights after the Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act, 1937
With the introduction of this Act, the widow wife had a right on the property of her dead husband, however, it did not make her a coparcener in the property. This left the widows with a Right to limited estate on the property of her deceased husband and gave them the right to ask for a partition. The widow had no rights to dispose of the property, but only to use it. It was inherited by the rules of inheritance and survivorship in case of self-acquired and ancestral property, respectively by the heirs of her deceased husband. Though the main aim of the Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act was to strengthen the rights of women in matters of properties, it only helped to bring about a change for the widows.
Hindu Women’s rights after the Hindu Succession Act, 1956
Section 14 of this Act gave absolute property rights to women. It says that any property which is possessed by a Hindu female shall be held by her through complete ownership. In the explanation of this Act, it has been explicitly mentioned that the property stated above includes both immovable and movable property, acquired by the woman through inheritance, partition, gifts - by close or distant relatives, before or after marriage, purchase or any other manner or the property which she had through Stridhan. This meant that there was no difference between Stridhan and Non-Stridhan property or Saudayika or Non-Saudayika property. Women could now transfer or sell such property as per their own wish. This Act, however failed to give coparcenary rights to women in terms of inherited property.
Punithavalli Ammal v. Ramalingam &Anr.
In this case, the Supreme Court held that, no matter the time of acquisition of property by the female – before or after the enactment of the Hindu Succession Act, she had all the rights over her property through Section 14(1) of the said Act and this shall not be curtailed through any presumption or interpretation.
Radha Rani Bhargava v. Hanuman Prasad Bhargava
In this case, the Supreme Court, mentioned an exception, that, in the matter of transfer and alienation by a widow, if it is proved, that such transfer or alienation has been done before the enactment of the Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act, and such transfer or alienation has been done on unreasonable grounds, then the complete ownership of the widow in the matter of that property can be challenged.
Pratap Singh v. Union of India
By this time, the Hindu men had started claiming that their Right to Equality guaranteed under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution had been infringed due to the enactment of the Hindu Succession Act, but the Supreme Court, in this case, held that this Act was absolutely in coherence with the Constitution of India and no gross violation of Article 14 or 15(1) can be seen due to its enactment.
Agasti Karuna v. Cherukuri Krishnaiah
In this case, it was held that a widow had absolute rights over the property of her deceased husband and any transfer or alienation after the enactment of the Hindu Succession Act cannot be challenged.
Further amendment in certain States of India
Andhra Pradesh, in its one-of-a-kind amendment in the Hindu Succession Laws, gave coparcenary rights to unmarried daughters in case of inherited property. Later, this amendment was also brought about in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka. This became an inspiration for the Law Commission which later recommended this amendment to be enacted centrally.
Hindu Women’s Rights after the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005
The highlight of this amendment was the coparcenary rights given to women in terms of inherited property. The marital status of women was irrelevant in this regard. It substituted the Section 6 of the previous version of this Act, which now stated that all the rights of a coparcener which were previously only enjoyed by the men are also bestowed upon the women of the family. After this amendment, a woman could become the Karta of the family if she is the senior most member. A woman could now include her self-acquired property in the family fund. A woman could now demand partition, if she wanted and could start her own joint family. This amendment gave the women the right to dispose of their coparcenary property as per their will. Section 6(3) of the amended Act states that when a women dies, the partition of her coparcenary property will be in the same manner as her self-acquired property.
Prakash & Ors. v. Phulavati & Ors.
In this case, the Supreme Court held that a daughter can get coparcenary rights in her father’s inherited property only if her father was alive at the time of the enactment of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, otherwise, she only had a right in the self-acquired property of her father.
Danamma v. Amar Singh
In this case, the Supreme Court held that the date of birth of a daughter was irrelevant while having any coparcenary rights. The Apex Court also noted that the daughter could get coparcenary rights if the case was pending before the court before 2005. The judgement in this case was in contradiction to what was held in the Prakash &Ors. v. Phulavati & Ors.case.
Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma & Ors.
In this case, the Supreme Court overruled the judgement in the Prakash &Ors. v. Phulavati & Ors. case and held that a daughter holds coparcenary rights irrespective of her date of birth or the date of her father’s death. The coparcenary rights are innate in nature and such rights cannot be taken away from an individual. The Apex Court also pointed out that the main aim of this amendment was to bring about equality in the rights of the sons and the daughters with respect to matters of property and thus, this can only be achieved if the daughter got her coparcenary rights in the same manner as the son.
After the enactment of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, we can say that women now have the same rights in matters of property as their male counterparts. This can be seen as quite an evolution from the time when women had partial rights over their own property and no rights over their self-acquired property. The role of judiciary in this regard is also commendable as without its intervention in the form of cases, this would not have been possible. Apart from these, the Uttar Pradesh government passed the UP-Revenue Code (Amendment) Act in 2020 which talks about the rights of widows and unmarried daughter in case a bhumidar, asami or government lessee dies intestate. This Act gives preference to the window, or third gender spouse, unmarried daughters, third gender issue and sons over the other relatives of the deceased.