Two decades after India celebrated the year of women empowerment, a 65-year-old law continues to discriminate against women in matters of property succession requiring the SC to intervene and ask solicitor general to provide the Centre's views on a flawed provision of the Hindu Succession Act.
Amicus Curiae laid bare before a bench of Justices D and A S Bopanna “the glaring inequality in property succession as provided under the Act-on the death of an issueless Hindu married male, his properties would vest with his parents; in case of the death of an issueless widow, her properties, excluding those inherited by her from her parents, will vest not with her parents, but with her husband's parents or relatives”. The preference in succession given to the husband's relatives on the properties of a childless widow, even if the properties were gifted to her by her parents or blood relatives, after her death appeared "clearly discriminatory" to the bench headed by Justice Chandrachud, which asked the SG to get the government's view on this within four weeks.
Interestingly, if the issueless widow sells her property, which was inherited from her parents, and buys another property utilising that money, then that newly acquired property would not be categorised as inherited property to vest with her parents after her death.
Mehta said the flaws in the succession law pointed out by the court concerning an issueless widow may require legislative intervention by Govt. The bench agreed with the SG and said the discrepancy, which has remained in the statute books for so long, needs correction either through judicial or legislative intervention.
An issueless widow faces another discrimination under the succession law. Whether the property is inherited from the father or mother, in both the cases, the devolution will be upon the 'heirs of the father'. That is, even if she inherits from her mother, the 'heirs of mother' cannot succeed. However, if the issueless woman dies survived by her mother, she would count as an heir along with the other heirs of the father.
India had framed the National Policy for the Empowerment of Women in 2001, which included several policy measures to provide equal opportunities to women in all spheres of life for equal participation in every field of nation-building and work. The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 for the first time allowed a Hindu female to become an absolute owner of property. She could inherit equally with a male counterpart and a window was also given importance regarding the succession of her husband's property as also to her father's property.
The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 made the daughter, like son, a coparcener in a joint family