Women Rights in Ancestral Property
TOPIC: General Studies 2
- Judiciary; Laws in the country
For years, women in India have been discriminated against and denied the right to ancestral property due to various reasons. One, there is no uniformity in inheritance laws, with various religious communities governed by their own personal laws and different state tribals by their customary laws.
- Most of these laws discouraged passing on property, agricultural or otherwise, to women for fear of fragmentation of land holding or losing it once the woman got married.
- There is low awareness and literacy among women about their own rights and, understandably, they have shown little inclination to contest in courts.
- Strong patriarchal traditions have translated into fear of violence and threat of violation by their male relatives, preventing women from fighting for their inheritance rights. In fact, in several northern and western states, women give up their claim over ancestral property due to the custom of ‘haq tyag’ or voluntary renunciation of rights. This is justified on the grounds that as the father pays dowry and finances the daughter’s wedding, only sons should get the family property.
Till as late as the formulation of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, the law was blatantly biased against women. It was only after the amendment in the Hindu Succession Act in 2005, whereby equal rights were awarded to daughters in their fathers’ ancestral property, that it became more balanced.
Ironically, however, the inheritance laws that are supposed to empower women have also had a contrarian impact, according to a 2018 study conducted by King’s College London, New York University and the University of Essex. The report states that awarding inheritance rights to women between 1970 and 1990 led to increased female foeticide and higher female infant mortality rates, a finding supported by the Economic Survey 2017-18. This is because some people consider girls to be a liability since he works on the land and creates wealth, while looking after the parents in their old age.
Inheritance Rights of a Woman Under Hindu Law
Hindu law permits women to inherit property and gives them equal rights in inheriting property. Before 2005, Hindu women did not have the right to inherit property. In 2005, the Parliament passed the Hindu Succession Amendment Act, which gave women equal rights to inherit property.
Hindu women can inherit all types of property:
- Movable property – Like, jewellery, cash, household items (like furniture, appliances, kitchen items), etc.
- Immovable property – Like, land, apartments, etc.
There are two ways in which a Hindu woman can inherit property:
- If someone leaves you property through a Will – called inheritance through Will
- If there is no Will, then according to the rules of the Hindu Succession Act – called inheritance through succession.
- A Will is a document by which one can decide how to pass on all their property (both movable and immovable) after their death. They can choose who they want to give the property to and how they want to divide their property (if they want to give it to multiple people).
- A person making a Will can choose to leave their property to whomever they wish – it need not necessarily be to a family member or a legal heir.
If someone has left property to you in their will, after that person’s death, you will automatically inherit that property. Usually, there will be an administrator/executor for the will. The administrator/executor will take care of passing on the property according to what is given in the will.
Inheritance Through Succession
When there is no will, the property will pass on through succession according to the inheritance rules of the Hindu Succession Act. Succession rules are different for the property of males and property of females.
Succession to the Property of a Deceased Hindu Male:
If a Hindu male dies without leaving a will, his property will get equally divided between his Class I heirs.
Class I heirs of a Hindu male are:
Points to be noted:
- Daughters have the same rights to inherit their father’s property as the son. They will inherit equally, and not lesser than the son.
- A daughter’s right to inherit from her father will not change whether she is married, unmarried, divorced, or widowed. The marital status does not matter.
- A mother’s right to inherit from her son will also not change based on whether she is widowed, divorced, or remarried.
- Daughters have the same rights to inherit their mother’s property as the son. They will inherit equally, and not lesser than the son.
- The rights of a widow to acquire property are the same as the rights of a married woman to acquire property.
- If you are separated from your husband (but not divorced), your rights to acquire property are the same as the rights of a married woman to acquire property
- If you are divorced from your husband, you will not be a Class I heir of your husband. However, you can still claim your due share in your husband’s property through alimony. Your rights to inherit property as a daughter and mother will remain the same.
Connecting the Dots:
- Gender neutral inheritance laws are the need of the hour. Comment.