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Female Succession under Hindu Succession Act, 1956

There have been various theories of the emergence of the concept of property and one of the most popular among them is the 'Property as a Natural Right' by John Locke. After the emergence and possession of property, the first and most important question has always been who will inherit and succeed it. This question is found in all religions, communities and tribes to such an extent that sometimes this property dispute leads to even the break up of families.

However, the legislation of Hindu Succession Act, 1956 has clearly laid down the rules with regards to intestate and testamentary succession. It is due to this law that we get a clear picture of the provisions regarding the succession to a female Hindu's property. Still, there are various controversies and opinions about the validity and morality of these provisions. This article will focus on the rules laid down on intestate succession to female Hindu's property and the contrasting opinions about it.

Females Right to Property

Before getting into who the heirs of the female's property are, it is significant to understand what the female Hindu's property is and to what extent and scope. Section 14, Hindu Succession Act, 1956 states that 'a female Hindu's property is her absolute property'[1]. The term absolute here implies that any property which she earned, inherited, got as a gift or as maintenance either before or after the commencement of this act will be only hers.

In view of Section 14(1), it is immaterial as to how the female acquired the property and after the commencement of this act, if she possess any property it is considered as her absolute property as held in the case of Chaudhary v. Ajudhia[2]. However, in the light of Section 14(2) of this act, if the property is the first time acquired property and that too by a 'grant without any pre-existing right'[3], it cannot be treated as her absolute property.

This sub section can be called as an exception to section 14(1). In case of Bhura v. Kashi Ram[4], the property was given to 'Sarjabai' for a limited timeframe and thus she was not held to be the 'absolute owner'.

Scope and Extent
The absolute right of a female to the property possessed by her is not only limited to the actual possession but also the constructive possession[5]. The term 'possession' has been used in a wider sense so as to include the "state of owing or having in ones hand or power"[6].

The term 'property' is restricted in this Section to not include the sum of money given for maintenance as held in the case of Sulabha v. Abhimanyu[7]. But any property acquired as a right to maintenance by the karta of a Joint Hindu Family is the widow's absolute property[8].The right will not be absolute if she has been specifically given a limited estate[9] as this is covered in Section 14(2).

Succession Of The Property Of A Hindu Female

Prior the commencement of the act, the laws relating the succession of a female's property were very complex and confusing[10].

This act simplified the provisions and divided it into three heads:
  1. Property inherited by parents.
  2. Property inherited by husband or in-laws.
  3. Other Sources.
The basic idea behind dividing it into different sources is that the property should go back to its original source[11]. However, this criterion is applied only when the woman does not have children. If she has children, the source of the property is immaterial and they will automatically be the first heirs of the property.

Other Sources:
  1. Entry:
    These other sources can be better understood if divided into the following entries. These are:
    Sons And Daughters As Heirs:
    Without considering the acquired property's source, the sons and daughters of the female are heirs to her property. The daughters and sons also include the issues of pre-deceased sons and daughters. Children born out of void and voidable marriages which have been annulled will not be included as they can inherit only from their parents[12]. Similarly, step children of children are also not considered.

    Husband:
    The lawfully wedded husband is also the successor to the property of his wife. However, the divorced husband, husbands of void marriages and voidable marriages which have been annulled cannot be the heirs.
     
  2. Entry:
    If entry 'a' heirs cannot inherit property or there are no heirs in entry a, the property will be devolved into the heirs of entry b. Heirs of entry b are the 'heirs of the husband'. The property is divided among them as per rules laid down in the Section 10, 11 and 12 of the act. The first preference will be given to the Class I heirs, then to Class II heirs and then to the cognates. In the cognates are not present, the property will be given to entry c heirs.
     
  3. Entry:
    This includes the father and mother of the deceased. Father includes adoptive as well as putative father. Mother includes putative as well as adoptive mother. The property is given to the mother even if the daughter is her illegitimate child.
     
  4. Entry:
    In the parents are not present, the property is given to the father's heirs.
     
  5. Entry:
    If the father has no heirs, the property is given to the mother's heirs.


Property Inherited By The Parents

If the female has inherited the property from her father or her mother, her husband will not be a heir to such property. However, the son and daughter including the son and daughter of pre deceased children will be the heirs. In the absence of children, the father's heirs and after them the mother's heirs will be considered. Here seems to be a small flaw. Suppose the woman inherits the property of her mother and is dead before her father, the property will go to the father's heirs[13].

But this property should be the inherited property. In case of bequest, firstly, the children and then the father will be the heirs[14].

Property Inherited By The Husband Or In-Laws

If the inherited property is of father-in-law or husband, her children will be the first heirs followed by the heirs of her husband.

The son and daughter should be the children of the husband from whom she inherited the property and not the children of any other man as it will defeat the object of returning property to its original source[15].

If the female does not have any relative, the property is given into the Government Escheats.

Conclusion
Hindu Succession Act, 1956 clearly provides that a Hindu female's property is her absolute property and also the order of succession. However, the time at which this act was made had a different socio-economic environment and hardly any woman went out for work. Now, the socio-economic stratum has changed and many women are working, therefore, there are many elements in the 'inheritance from other sources'.

Following the outdated provision shows gender bias as the woman's natal family is given a subordinate position. Hence, it is suggested that the income from other sources should be divided equally between the husband's heirs and the woman's natal family.

End-Notes:
  1. The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, 14, No. 30, Acts of Parliament (India)
  2. AIR 2003 NOC 126 (HP).
  3. Supra Note 1.
  4. Air 1994 SC 1202.
  5. Mangal v. Ratnao, AIR 1967 SC 1786.
  6. Gurumalappuru v. Setra, AIR 1959 SC 577
  7. AIR 1983 Ori 71.
  8. Santosh v. Sara Wathibai, 2008 SC 500
  9. Suba v, Gauranga, 1971 Ori 242.
  10. Paras Diwan, MODERN HINDU LAW, 448 (25th ed. 2021).
  11. Dhanistha Kalita v. Ramakanta Kalita, AIR 2003 Gau 92.
  12. The Hindu Marriage Act, 16, No. 25, Acts of Parliament, 1955 (India).
  13. Supra at 8.
  14. Shashi Ahuja v. Kulbushan Malik, 2009 Del 5.
  15. Supra at 9.

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