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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • A Hindu Undivided Family consists of all the male members descended linearly up to any generation from a common ancestor along with their mothers, wives, and daughters.
  • Without a common ancestor, there cannot be a Joint Hindu family and the family continues to be a joint Hindu family even after the death of that common ancestor.
  • The members of a Hindu Undivided Family enjoy several rights and have the benefit of united possession of the property.
  • Various Shastric laws too have contributed to the characteristic of the Hindu Undivided Family and the HUF is closely related to the Hindu Succession Act and the Hindu Marriage Act.
  • Hindu Joint Family, even if partitioned can revert and continue the status of joint family.

INTRODUCTION

Joint Family is an important aspect of Hindu Law. It is said that for every Hindu there will be no escape from Joint Family. Maybe in one generation or other, a Hindu will come into the existence of a Joint Family automatically. It is mentioned under the Hindu Law that there is a presumption that each family will be considered as a Joint family.

Before we begin with the whole Hindu Undivided Family aspect, let’s learn what a join family means in layman language. Oxford Dictionary defines a joint family as a continued family consisting of two or more generations and their spouses living together as a single household.

This article aims to throw light on what a Hindu Joint Family is, laws related to the same, property rights, adoption rights, coparcenary rights, and landmark cases.

WHAT IS A HINDU JOINT FAMILY

Joint Hindu Family in present-day is governed by the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. It is a normal condition of Hindu society. It was earlier mentioned that it is inevitable that a Hindu will come into existence as a joint family. The reasoning behind that is if one generation is brought to an end by the means of a partition, it comes back into existence in the next generation automatically. This supports the presumption that every Hindu family is a Joint Hindu Family.

It was observed in Rukhmabai vs. Lala Laxminarayan and Rajagopal vs. Padmini that a family continues to be a joint family if it is joint in affairs of food, worship, and estate. However, even if a family is not joint in food and worship, i.e. if they live separately, they still constitute a Joint Hindu Family provided they are joint in the estate. It was held in the case of Chhotey Lal & Ors. vs. Jhandey Lal & Anr. that a Joint Hindu Family is neither a corporation nor a juristic person as they do not have a separate legal entity from that of its members. A Joint Hindu Family is a unit and is represented by the Karta of the family in all matters.

A Hindu Undivided Family consists of all the family members. In other words, all the male members descended linearly up to any generation from a common ancestor. In the case of Gur Narain Das vs. Gur Tahal Das, it was observed that even an illegitimate son of a male descendant is a part of his father’s Joint Hindu Family. It includes their mothers, wives, widows, and unmarried daughters. An unmarried daughter remains a part of the joint family till she is married. Once she is married, she becomes part of her husband’s Joint Hindu Family. However, if the daughter is abandoned by her husband or becomes a widow, and returns to her father’s home permanently, she becomes a part of that Joint Hindu Family again. But her children remain a part of their father’s joint family.

However, it is important to note that without a common ancestor there cannot be a Joint Hindu family. The family continues to be a Joint Hindu Family even after the death of the common ancestor.

One can stop being a part of a joint family upon conversion to another religion or by marriage to a non-Hindu u/s 2 of the HMA. One ceases to be part of a joint family even when one is given in adoption to a third party by competent parents or when a daughter is married off.

LAWS RELATED TO HINDU UNDIVIDED FAMILY

Hindu Undivided Family is closely related to laws under Hindu Succession Act and Hindu Marriage Act.

Hindu Succession Act: This Act deals with the rules of succession among the Hindus. Where there is a Joint Hindu Family concerned, there usually is an ancestral property that is to be inherited by the descendants. This is governed by the Hindu Succession Act.

Hindu Property Act: The act recognizes the concept of Hindu Undivided Family. This means the ancestral property inherited by a family of persons who are lineally descended from the common ancestor and related with each other by birth or marriage is governed by this act.

Hindu Marriage Act: Then there is the Hindu Marriage Act. Wives of the male descendants are a part of that particular joint family. If they are widowed they remain a part of that joint family unless they choose to return to their maternal home permanently. The daughters too are a part of the joint family until they are married off. Hence, the Hindu Marriage Act plays an important role in the Hindu Undivided Family.

Hindu Maintenance and Adoption Act: In case you were wondering, what about the adoptions in Hindu Undivided Families, well, they are governed by the Hindu Maintenance and Adoption Act of 1956.

Income Tax Act: HUF is treated as a person u/s 2(31) of the Income Tax Act. Individual members of a Joint Hindu Family can file their separate Returns under the Income Tax Act and filing of these Returns is irrespective of the status of the family.

Various Shastric laws too have contributed to the characteristic of the Hindu Undivided Family.

PROPERTY RIGHTS

The Hon’ble Supreme Court has reiterated that all assets belonging to a Hindu Undivided Family would be considered as joint family property. Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act of 1956 and the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 enables widows to have absolute rights on the husband’s property and it cannot be stripped by remarriage. Earlier, the property of a deceased husband could only be moved ahead within the HUF.

In case a deceased male descendant is survived by a wife and a daughter, the deceased self-acquired property will pass on to his wife and daughter and all the ancestral property will be taken upon as part of the Hindu Undivided Family. But if the deceased has a partitioned share in his name, it shall be rightfully passed to his wife and daughter.

A gift by a mother can also be considered as a HUF property.

COPARCENARY RIGHTS

Under the Hindu Succession Law, Coparcener is someone who assumes a legal right in his ancestral property by birth in a HUF. As per the Hindu Succession Act, any person who is born in a HUF becomes a Coparcener by birth.

Any Coparcener can seek a partition of his or her share at any time. The continuing coparceners can choose to buy out the share of the said coparcener by exercising the right of pre-emption. A coparcener can sell or gift his share to another coparcener or even a third party.

In case of legal necessity or benefit of the estate when the Karta chooses to alienate the joint family property, the coparceners can challenge the same as not being for legal necessity or benefit of the estate within 12 years of knowledge of the said sale or gift.

The coparceners enjoy certain rights such as community of interest, unity of possession, the share of income, joint possession, right against exclusion from the joint family property, right of maintenance and other necessary expenses, right to restrain improper acts, right to enforce partition, right to account, right to alienation, right to renounce, right to impeach unauthorized alienations, right to manage, make self-acquisition and right of survivorship.

Mitakshara Coparcenary

Mitakshara School considers only the male members of the family under the Hindu joint family system. It is a conservation system but is comparatively a more reliable system. In this system, the son, grandson, and great-grandson acquire the right to property by birth. Mitakshara system does partition of the property only in terms of shares. Under this system, women have no rights and cannot demand partition.

Dayabhaga Coparcenary

Dayabhaga coparcenary system considers both males and females of the family. It is more liberal and gives the right to individuality. It can be found more in modern times. In this system, children have no right over property by birth and the right arises only after the death of their fathers. The system considers a physical separation of the property and gives partitions of property to their respective owners. Gives the right to stridhan to women and equal right in husbands’ property.

CASE LAWS

1. Janakiammal vs. S. K. Kumarasamy & Ors.

Date: 30th June 2021
Court: Supreme Court of India
Bench: Hon’ble Justices Ashok Bhushan and Subhash Reddy
Citation: LL 2021 SC 280

Facts: In the case of R. Janakiammal vs. Kumarasamy, there was a partition dated 7th November 1960 between three brothers. The Appellant claimed that the said partition agree was entered by the three brothers to save the landed property from Land Ceiling Act and there was no intention of separating each branch and changing the joint family status. The Appellant contended that there was a reunion between the three brothers to revert to the status of Hindu Joint Family which can be proved from the acts and conduct of the parties after 7th November 1960.

Judgment in Brief: The issue before the Hon’ble Apex Court was whether a particular house property purchased in 1979 is a joint family property or not. Considering the facts of the case, the Top Court Bench of Hon’ble Justices Ashok Bhushan and Subhash Reddy found that in 1979, when the residential property was obtained in the name of one brother, all 3 branches were a part of the Hindu joint family. The Court while giving its judgment referred to the concept of reunion in Hindu Law explained in Mulla on Hindu Law, 22nd edition. According to the concept of reunion in Hindu Law, a reunion in estate property can only take place between the persons who were parties to the original partition. Further, the effect of reunion is to remit the reunited members to their former status as a member of a joint family. To constitute a reunion, there must be the intention of the parties to reunite.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in its judgment held that Hindu Joint Family, even if partitioned can revert and continue the status of joint family. The Supreme Court Bench observed that acts and conduct of the parties may lead to the inference that the parties reunited after partition. The Court held that the house property purchased in the name of one member of the Hindu joint family was for the benefit of all. The Hon’ble Court also observed that the individual member of a Joint Hindu Family can file his/her separate returns under Income Tax Act as well as Wealth Tax Act. The Court held that the filing of such returns had nothing to do with the status of the family. The Bench held that all three branches had an equal share in the residential property

2. Palani Ammal vs. Muthuvenkatacharla Moniagar & Ors.

Date: 20th November 1924
Court: Privy Council
Bench: Hon’ble Justices Sumner, Phillimore, John Edge, L. Jenkins
Citation: AIR 1925 PC 49

Facts: The appeal was filed by Palani Ammal, a Hindu lady who was one of the several defendants, against a decree of the High Court at Madras, which affirmed a decree for partition of the Vadimitta estate, of the District Judge of Madura.
The impugned property, which appeared to be a large zamindari, was purchased by Periyar Muthukumaraswami, who passed away in 1834. He was a Hindu Sudra, and he and his descendants were governed by the law of the Mitakshara and constituted a Mitakshara joint family unless they separated. He had two wives. With the first wife, he had six sons, most of whom were married and had a male child. With the second wife, he had one son, who left a male issue. As the family was not ancient, the property, which was acquired in modern times, was in the possession of the senior son and his descendants as managers of the joint family and not as the senior male member of a joint family.

Questions Considered

  1. Whether the principal parties to the suit were bound by an award which was made by some arbitrators, who have been made defendants to the suit?
  2. If they were not bound by the award, then the question was whether the joint family which descended from the Muthukumaraswami ever separated?

Judgment in Brief

The Judges observed the members of that joint family intended to separate. Their object was probably to establish themselves, if possible, as a joint family with an impartible estate descending according to a rule of lineal primogeniture with rights of maintenance and other privileges for the younger members.

It was held in this case that if a Hindu joint family separates, the family or any members of the family may agree to reunite as a Hindu joint family. However, such a reunion must be strictly proved as any other disputed fact is proved under the Mitakshara law.

3. Mukku Venkataramayya vs. Mukku Tatayya & Ors.

Date: 28th June 1942

Court: Madras High Court

Bench: Hon’ble Justice Krishnaswami Ayyangar
Citation: (1943) 2 MLJ 83

Facts: The appeal is in light of a suit instituted by the appellant for a declaration of his exclusive title to the properties set out in three schedules attached to the plaint and for possession thereof. The first respondent, the Appellant’s younger brother disputes the claim and contends that they are the joint properties of both the brothers. Respondents 2 to 9 are claimed to be the adherents of the first Respondent who have come together to keep Appellant from the enjoyment of the properties.

Judgment in Brief

After considering the facts and the shreds of evidence of the case, the Court negatived the claim of the Appellant of having exclusive ownership of the properties and it was held that to establish a reunion, it is necessary to show that the parties have not only lived together and were divided but that they did so intending to alter their status and of forming a joint estate with all its usual incidents.

Other cases one can refer to relating to the concept of HUF are Bhagwan Dayal vs. Reoti Devi, Anil Kumar Mitra & Ors vs. Ganendra Nath Mitra & Ors., Rukhmabai vs. Lala Laxminarayan, Chhotey Lal & Ors. vs. Jhandey Lal & Anr., and Rajagopal vs. Padmini.

CONCLUSION

In modern times, we rarely come across a joint family. With changing times, Hindu Undivided Families are dwindling in popularity. Many times, when members of a joint family have divergent views, it becomes difficult to maintain good relationships and it often leads to legal disputes.

In modern times, nuclear family systems have become popular. Even though undivided families help save taxes, the difficulties that are there make them less lucrative, and hence people tend to opt for nuclear families.

However, tax benefits are not the only advantage of having a joint family. A family consists of people we can rely on. Having good relationships with them is very important because these will the people who will be there for you when you need it. Joint families offer moral support and back you up in times of need as well. The Hindu joint family system has been in existence for a long time and it is rightly said that a Hindu cannot entirely escape the clutches of a joint family.


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