January 28, 2022 - 5:11 am

Daughters To Inherit Father's Self-Acquired Property If No Will

    In a judgement that’s likely to have far reaching consequences that the Supreme Court ruled that If a property of a male Hindu dying intestate (without a will) is a self-acquired property or obtained in the partition of a coparcenary or a family property, the same would devolve by inheritance and not by survivorship, and a daughter of such a male Hindu would be entitled to inherit such property in preference to other collaterals (such as sons/daughters of brothers of deceased father). A bench of justices S Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari said in a 51-page judgment. The bench was dealing with the legal issue concerning the right of the daughter to inherit the self-acquired property of her father, in the absence of any other legal heir. The court also effectively ended a long-standing case spanning several decades over the inheritance. It also significantly documented for the coming years. After studying, Supreme Court said the right of a daughter or a widow to inherit property is not only documented in customary Hindu law but also in previous judicial pronouncements.

The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, however, had made the daughter’s right to her father’s property perfectly clear. The Supreme Court has now reportedly pronounced that a daughter’s right to inheritance would apply even before 1956. The case came to the highest court on appeal, after the trial court and the Madras High Court had dismissed a woman’s claim to one-fifth of her father’s inherited property among five heirs.

One Marappa Gounder died intestate in 1949 leaving behind a daughter, Kupayee Ammal, who also passed in 1967 issueless. Marappa has a brother called Ramasamy Gounder. Gurunatha Gounder and four other daughters are the children of Ramasamy. One of those daughters, Thangammal, sought legal intervention demanding a one-fifth share in the property of Marappa. She contented in court that after Marappa's death, the property was passed on to Kupayee Ammal, the man's daughter, and after she died childless, it ended up with Ramasamy Gounder, Marappa's brother, and that is how she is an heir and thus she's entitled to one-fifth share of the inheritance. And on the other side, the children of Gurunath, who is the son of Ramasamy, maintained that Kupayee Ammal had no right to inherit the property in the first place. Since Gurunath was the sole inheritor available, they are the rightful heirs to the property.

The trial court, dismissing Thangammal's case in 1994, noted that since Marappa died before Hindu Succession Act, 1956 came into force, she and her sisters were not entitled as heirs to the inheritance. The High Court dismissed the appeal against the trial court order in 2009. The court upheld that the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 shall apply considering the question of succession in the case only opened after the death of Kupayee Ammal in 1967. Subsequently, Thangammal, the appellant, is defined as an heir and is entitled to the one-fifth share of the inheritance. The judgment further clarified that if a female Hindu dies intestate and childless, the property she inherited from her father or mother would go to the father's heirs. And the property she received from her husband or father-in-law would go to the husband's heirs. And in case a female Hindu dies leaving a husband behind, then the properties passed on to the husband and her children would include the inheritance from her parents, according to Hindu Succession Act.

The Supreme Court used the examples of old Hindu customary laws and earlier judicial pronouncements to show that even before the Hindu Succession Act wives and daughters had equal rights with sons to a man’s self-acquired property or that acquired by share in a joint estate. These women’s inheritance rights superseded the survivorship claims of other males in the family. The court’s emphasis on the provisions of the Mitakshara law of inheritance showed that both traditional and modern laws were fair, humane and without a hint of misogyny. It is ironical that women in India need to fight for equality and justice in every sphere, even for survival amid violence, cruelty and exploitation, where the law grants them equality without being asked. Yet state laws and personal laws may still reject this forward-looking vision, especially where agricultural land is concerned. In Uttar Pradesh, for example, married daughters are not primary heirs. This is just one instance among many that demonstrate women’s difficulties in accessing rights and controlling inherited property. Society has far to go to catch up with the progressive understanding of the Supreme Court.