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The Supreme Court of India, in its latest landmark judgment on 11.08.2020 (Vineeta Sharma v Rakesh Sharma), has clarified a few aspects of Hindu property laws, to state that daughters have equal rights to inherit property.
Before we delve into the Supreme Court’s judgment, let us understand the basics of property law. Property law in India, like marriage and divorce law, is based on religion. Each religion has its own laws about who can inherit the property of a person. Why? Because these laws were framed during the British era, and the British made laws based on each religion’s unique customs. For Hindus, we have the Hindu Succession Act, 1955 for property rights.
We have explained in detail how property passes on under Hindu law, in our FAQ section here. To briefly explain once again- a person’s property either passes through succession (i.e. to all the legal heirs according to law) or through a Will (if the person has written a Will).
Joint Family Property
Under Hindu law, a joint family as a whole can hold common property. The property will be in the name of the joint family (and not in the name of an individual). Each member’s share in the joint family property will only be determined when there is a partition of the property.
A joint family holding common property is called a Hindu Undivided Family( HUF). The head of the HUF is called the ‘karta’ and the family members who can legally inherit the HUF property, are called ‘coparceners.’ Coparceners become eligible to inherit HUF property by birth (when you are born, your name will be written on the common property pie!). Only a coparcener can ask for partition of the joint HUF property, and take his individual share after the partition.
Before 2005, only sons were ‘coparceners’ of a HUF. This means that only the male children were eligible to get a share in HUF property and only they could ask for a partition to get their individual share.
In 2005, the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act was passed, which made daughters coparceners. Therefore, daughters became eligible to inherit a share in the HUF property by birth, just like sons. As a coparcener, daughters can also ask for partition of the HUF property, to get their individual share.
The Supreme Court, in its latest judgment, once again clarified that daughters are coparceners. This right vests in them upon birth, and it is not affected by factors like whether their father passed away before the 2005 amendment. The Supreme Court issued this clarification because there were diverging views in the High Courts about this issue.
The Supreme Court’s judgment is important to Hindu women because it makes it loud and clear that daughters have equal rights to inherit property, just like sons, without any distinction. Moreover, as a coparcener, a daughter can ask for her individual share in the HUF joint property by asking for partition of the HUF property. If she was not a coparcener, she could not have asked for partition. Her right to inherit would have been almost useless, because until a male coparcener asked for partition, the property would remain joint HUF property, and she would not get her individual share.
This judgment paves the way for further equality of women under law. It does not leave daughters at the mercy of male members, to seek their rightful share in the joint HUF property. Moreover, it acknowledges that daughters are equally important members of the family, and therefore, deserve equal rights and benefits!
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