Evolution of Coparcenary Rights of Women

We have often come across civil cases or fights within the family regarding the distribution of wealth. It isn’t a hidden fact that women in India had earlier been denied their right to inherit their family inheritance. Though the situation has changed from what it was earlier, the situation sure did change a lot now.

If we look back into the early days, there was no uniform law controlling the inheritances and it was only the people who made community laws. It was later when the Hindu Succession Act, 1956[1] was enacted that we got a uniform law regarding inheritance distribution. Under this act, the property is left to the survivor only after the death of the common ancestor. The inheritance of the ancestral property depended on this rule. The coparcenary rights on such property extended only to the male heirs who fall within the ambit of three degrees of the coparcener. This right to the property was passed on to only the male child due to the common thought that the female child isn’t the heir of the family as she will be leaving the family to be a part of another family after her marriage. And the belief that a female child will produce an heir for her in law’s family and not for her own birth family. This thought alone was one of the major reasons why women were denied property rights.

It was also a common thought that a female child won’t take care of her parents in their old age as she will be married into another family due to which favouring the male child with property seemed to be a way to guarantee a comfortable life in their old age. And in the case of the wife’s right in coparcener, it was believed that she wasn’t of the same bloodline thus denying her right. Though women have absolute right over their property when it comes to coparcenary of ancestral property they can’t claim the same. This was a discriminatory action towards women and oppression of their fundamental rights which held led to the demand for amendments in the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.

It was at that point that the need for enacting gender-neutral laws for an inheritance to prevent the oppression of women. A law that gave women equal rights in ancestral property and give them equal status. With this idea in mind, amendments were made to the act which led to the enactment of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 [2]. This Amendment Act enabled women to be the legal joint-heir and acquire the coparcenary property just as their male counterparts. It put an end to gender discrimination and protected the fundamental right to equality of women from being violated in this matter.

Some of the amendments in the act were:

  • It amended the provision which took away the right of daughters to inherit coparcenary property.
  • In case a Hindu dies then the coparcenary property shall be allotted to the daughter as it is allotted to the sons.
  • It established that the daughter of a coparcener shall be a coparcener by birth just as is the son.
  • It cancelled the succession as per the survivorship rule and introduced Testamentary Succession and Intestate Succession.
  • In a Hindu Undivided Family, a daughter is entitled to demand a partition as is the son.
  • A daughter of her own will can dispose-off her share of the coparcenary property.
  • In case a partition happens immediately before a female coparcener dies then the children of such coparcener shall be entitled to inherit the coparcenary property. 

This had given the daughter’s an equal status of coparcenary in ancestral property as well as in her father’s property. Equal share as that of a son is given to the daughter. It also gives daughters the status of the coparcenary and also the right to demand partition of the property. With these, a gender-neutral law for inheritance came into existence.

But, even with this new amendment, confusion arose. The extent to which the daughter enjoys coparcenary rights on the family’s land. The prominent causes for this were Prakash v. Phulavati case [3] and Danamma v. Amar Singh case [4]. The judgment of both the cases interpreted the Hindu Succession Act, 2005. They helped to question the extent to which the daughter had coparcenary.

In Prakash v. Phulavati case, the respondent had acquired a certain share of the property on a notional coparcenary basis under the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 as she had filed a complaint in 1992. Later, when the amendments were made to the same act and the Hindu Succession Act, 2009 was enacted she amended her plaint to claim for share again under it. The Karnataka High Court had ruled in her favour which was challenged by the appellant (Respondent’s brother) who had argued saying the respondent can claim only for their father’s self-acquired property and not the ancestral property. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India stated that “the rights of coparceners under the Amendment Act, 2005 apply to the living daughters of living coparceners as on 9th September 2005, irrespective of the birth date of daughters.”  It means that if the father is a coparcener who passed away before 9th September 2005, the living daughter of the coparcener would have no right to inherit the coparcenary property in such a situation. 

Similarly, in Danamma v. Amar Singh case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India stated that if the father is a coparcener who passed away before 9th September 2005 and a prior suit has been pending for partition by a male-coparcener, then the female coparceners are entitled to a share. The court observed that the provisions of Section 6 of the Amendment Act [5], are operational in a retrospective manner and they confer absolute rights upon the daughter to be coparcener since birth. This decision was in contrast to the judgment given in the Phulavati case. Thus, both the aforementioned judgments conflicted with each other and gave rise to a divergence of questions regarding the coparcenary rights of a daughter in inheriting the coparcenary property of her deceased father. This led to the grant of appeal in the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.

It was later in the Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma and others case [6] it was ruled that daughters have an equal right in the coparcenary property same as the son, even if the father died before the enactment of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005. The question of whether the Amendment Act, 2005 was applicable in a retrospective manner and whether the father (coparcener) and daughter must be alive on the date when the Amendment Act, 2005 came into force was answered through Vineeta Sharma v Rakesh Sharma.

Though the struggle for equal coparcenary rights for daughters to that of sons had taken a long time, it still had given the desired result. The rights at present are more gender-neutral and equal regarding the coparcenary right and inheritances bringing welfare and betterment to women. It promotes equal status at the same time.

Author: Diya Chandran

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