Women in India, face numerous problems in their lives and some of them include being deprived of their rights in the society, at home, often face gender inequality and biasness at almost every phase of their lives, still considered as a weaker sex, and many more, all just for being a woman.
No matter how much ‘women empowerment’ or ‘gender equality’ we talk about or cheer for , but in actual sense , we all can still feel that the root cause which is being borne since ancient times, till now regarding the considerably lower status of women, has not yet completely vanished from the society.
We all agree that due to growing literacy rates, awareness, increasing social media support for upliftment process of women, the condition and status of women are possibly way better than ever before in history.
But not all the credit goes to these platforms. It’s also due to the extreme struggle and zeal to achieve something, that kept women going and overcoming all the hurdles in their process of achieving their rights and keeping pace with men and often leading them in various fields.
But what is still same till now is that, no matter at which place, time, social circle you are, a woman always have to fight for her rights and prove herself to establish them. Such things were never a compulsion nor required for men, neither in past nor at present.
Say in a family of five, with a grandfather, father, mother, son and daughter, the main presumption is that the male descendent will eventually receive the whole property of the family. The female descendents are provided no such right of share or inheritance in ancestral or individual property, since ancient times. For many years women in India have been denied their rights in the ancestral property, due to countless reasons.
It may be due to huge differences in the concept of inheritance laws and succession rights in various different customary and personal laws.
Mostly all the different personal laws were reluctant and not favouring the passing on property to women, due to the concept of fear in their minds regarding bifurcation and eventually division of land and losing it to others due to marrying off the women. People used to consider girls as a liability and burden due to many reasons. Some of them include liability to marry daughters, bear the expenses of their marriage, provided them ‘stridhan’ , dowry to in-laws, seen as mark of disgrace, and a way of the extortion of money from family of women by the in-laws for lifetime etc. Due to various such reasons female infanticides and other crimes against women used to take place.
The most widely spread tradition, prevalent in societies , since ancient time, is the ‘patriarchal system’ and it’s still in pursuance. Such system had ultimately built a conceptual mindset (mostly negative) regarding the acquisition and transfers of inheritance rights, which are again favouring men, the most.
Women have been subjected to great fear and violence, even in regard with the succession and inheritance, by none other than her own family members. Such members are mostly males and even women are born and brought up in such an atmosphere, where the only recognised work of a women is to take care of family and household work, be a machinery for continuation of future progeny, considered as a tool for the fulfillment of physical desires of men etc. There is no denying of the above stated status of women, in many societies, since ancient time till now.
But with the changing era, status of women have seen various upliftments and even undergone radical changes. It has become much better and stable than ever before. With increasing literacy rates among females and increasing awareness, women are getting to know more about their rights.
Different customary and personal laws vary on the concept of provision of rights to women, in inheritance and succession. Some of them are:
- the inheritance and succession principles are governed under the Indian Succession Act, 1925
- The heirs inherit equal shares irrespective of their gender
- Daughter has an equal share as her brother in father’s property
- Daughter also have full rights over her personal property, on being a major
- On death of a person,
- Mother receives share equal to the others surviving entitled sharers
- first wife , when legally divorced or not alive , then her children have right in property
- Second wife , when first wife is divorced or not alive , and children of second wife ( legal) have share in property
Besides all these, other provisions may be granted to favour women’s inheritance, but their practical applicability is rarely seen. Women are still suffering a lot, in the process of attaining their valid, legal rights in property and other assets as the males in the family try their best not to indulge women in receiving their shares and to keep the property tightened under the control and occupation of the males in family.
Under Muslim Personal Law
- Inheritance laws are governed by personal laws:
On death of man, males and females become legal heirs, but share of a women heir is typically half of that of the male heirs (not equal). There is variation in shares in property of deceased father between son and daughter as soon takes double the share of a daughter.
- more number of wives leads to decrease in share proportion to each wife
- Wife without any child is entitled to receive one fourth share in deceased husband’s property
- Wife with children, entitled to one eighth share of husband’s property
- On divorce, after iddat period of 3 months, parents of women provide maintenance to her
- Mother on death of son receive one sixth share from his property, if he has children and if son is childless then receive one third share
Status of women has always been regarded below the males and never seen with equality. The difference in property shares simply indicate the huge injustice done to them, in inheritance and succession laws. Some initiatives have been taken by the government to provide women with shields and protection against such injustice done to them and remedies are also provided. But such things are mostly attained by the educated and aware women. The poor and knowledge less still suffer. Strong actions are required to be taken for it , that too from root to top level , which should be approachable by all.
Under Hindu Personal Law
- They are governed by the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, which covers Hindus , Buddhists , Jain’s , Sikhs , converted Hindus
- Property is generally ancestral and self acquired.
- Under ancestral property, right to inherit is by birth for men and women ( by amendment Act 2005) and no difference between male and female in distribution of property. Their shares may vary, but right to share is not denied to women
- Under self acquired property, which is one’s own purchased or attained by resources of own or acquired from share in ancestral property, discrimination against women may occur, as the owner has right to decide , to whom it may transfer or pass on the property
- In absence of a will,
- entitled to an equal share in husband’s property
- In case of no other sharers, she inherits whole property of deceased
- Deceased widow entitled to share in ancestral property like all heirs
- Married Hindu women have exclusive rights over her individual property and is sole owner of her assets, whether earned, inherited, gifted etc
- During divorce proceedings, women are entitled to seek share in property of husband, along with maintenance , alimony , child expenses, court fees , some other expenses as per the case.
- By the amendment act of 2005 ,
Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 was amended, and it ended indiscrimination against women by providing daughters equal rights in ancestral property as that of a son , that too by birth.
After amendment, daughters were recognised as a coparcener and her material status makes no difference in her rights.
- Daughters will have same rights as the son, in father’s property, irrespective of her birth date i.e. born before or after the amendment doesn’t matter. But the father should be alive on date of amendment.
- Share of a pre deceased daughter, who would have got it , if been alive at the time of partition, may be allotted to her surviving children.
- Mother entitled of equal share in property of pre deceased son like other surviving coparceners, if she has no one to depend upon.
Women though have received provisions for seeking their rights by inheritance, by various amendments and laws but it’s complete applied is still denied. Many customary laws still do not assist and provide inheritance rights to whom and no actions are still taken for it.
- As under the act of 1956,
On death of a women, herself acquired property, in absence of a will goes to her husband’s heirs, and not to her parents. This is an essential area of law which requires change. No Such compulsion is there in case of a deceased man. It clearly depicts the huge amount of biasness and inequality done on basis of gender.
- Different states have different local and land laws. Many agrarian laws do not grant women to inherit agriculture land. The main notion behind such laws is very lame. They try to avoid losing land to her in laws and further divide it. They try to keep land within the male Lineage of one family.
- Due to social taboos and orthodox mentality among people in society, rights of women are suppressed and denied at large. Even they are not allowed to raise their voice against the unjust done to them.
- In an inter faith or inter religion marriage, wife entitled to inherit as per personal laws applicable to husband. This concept even varies in case of wife whether have undergone conversion into religion of husband or not.
- Wife’s religion does not prevent her from inheriting. It’s only the husband’s which impact on them
Many steps have been taken to minimise such differences and many more needs to be taken. By establishing a fair system for it, educating women with knowledge about their rights, providing base level helping systems to assist poor and needy women in attaining their rights, by fast and proper implementation of laws and increasing awareness among women betterment of status of women may be achieved. Gender neutral or equal inheritance laws are the grave need of the hour.
“The views of the authors are personal“
- Dr. Paras Diwan, modern Hindu law: succession, 405-59, 23rd edition 2016, Allahabad law Agency , New Delhi.
- Dr. Paras Diwan, Muslim law in modern Indian, succession, 212-53, 12th edition 2016, Allahabad law Agency, New Delhi.
- Riju Mehta, inheritance rights of women: how to protect them and how succession laws vary , Economic Times Bureau,29 July 2019.