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A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE HINDU SUCCESSION ACT 1956 THROUGH THE LENSES OF JUSTICE AND EQUITY

Introduction

Hindu Succession Act, 1956   denotes the rights of succession and inheritance in Hindu law. It includes the Hindu people which includes Sikh, Buddhist, or Jain. This proviso covers the important definitions such as that of an agnate, cognate, heir, and intestate. It also covers the main principle of justice, equity, and a good conscience which is the external manifestation of natural justice and ensures equal inheritance powers to all the heirs of a person. This principle also acts in consonance with all the comprehensive and radical changes that have taken place in the intestate succession amongst Hindus. It brought a massive and positive change to the socio-economic conditions of the Hindus. These acts form the foundation for the succession laws as it is often seen that in the Indian business when the “Karta” or the head of the family dies, it often leads to family disputes over the inheritance of the property. This act defines the Class 1 heir, Class II, Class III, and Class IV heir to settle the disputes among the family members.

Case laws acting under Hindu succession act 1956

In the recent judgment in the case of Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma,[1] where the quorum was headed by Arun Mishra adjudicated on Hindu woman’s right and declared that women will have the right to be a coparcener by birth irrespective of the fact whether his father was alive or not. The court also granted them to have the liability as to the male co-parceners. This was one of the most favourable judgments towards the step of achieving equality by doing justice, equity, and good conscience to the daughter of the Hindu. This proviso was highly needed in our system to fill the gap for equity. It is very valid that the natal family of the woman is the strong foundation of her support in the cases where marriage has been broken and the death of the husband. Earlier women were going through a series of injustices to maintain peace and harmony at her home, she used to surrender all her rights as it has been taught to females, from the very beginning that they are meant to maintain peace even if it meant sleeping upon her rights.

The uncultured and unfavourable dowry system is another reason for which we should have such laws to ensure justice for women. It is often misinterpreted that all the expenses on the marriage of the daughter, stridhan is substituted as her share in the property whereas all the things provided as a subject matter of the dowry is used by the husband and his relatives thus exploiting the women and forcing them to be a victim of dowry deaths. The Vineeta Sharma judgment in itself is a case that summarizes the fact when there are no statuses left to be used in a particular case, the principle of equity, justice, and good conscience came into play. This principle thinks beyond the substantive and procedural laws and thrives for establishing justice, a good conscience, and equity to be the basic source of Hindu succession law.

Mitakshra and dayabhaga school as an important source of Hindu succession act, 1956

Mitakshara and Dayabhaga schools are the two schools that govern the Hindu succession law. Mitakshara is an orthodox school whereas Dayabhaga is a reformist school. Mitakshra emerged from yajnavaklya smriti which was also the main source of Hindu succession law. Mitakshra system was initially famous in Bengal but later ruined as it quoted the reason of not including women as the female co-parceners in the share of the property which has already been terminated by the 2005 amendment of Hindu Succession Act, 1956. Dayabhaga gives the right to claim property only after the death of the person who was the last owner of the property and also allowed women to be the co-parceners in the share of the property. Now the difference between the two has been dissolved by the intervention of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 which is the ultimate symbol of the principle of justice, equity, and good conscience. Though Mitakshara and Dayabhaga do not hold much relevance in today’s scenario however they have shown the pathway on how succession laws should be shaped in the future to ensure the path of progress and prosperity. The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, the Hindu adoptions, and the Maintenance act have completely substituted the Mitakshra and Dayabhaga system. These two schools help India evolve from the inadequacies of the succession laws and maintain a strong structure for the same.

ANALYSIS

Hindu women have suffered a long time of injustice regarding their rights in succession and inheritance-related matters. Amendment to Sec. 4(2) of this Act gave the right to women over the agriculture property. However, this amendment has certain lacunas and loopholes as it has not explicitly mentioned the rights of women over this matter. The important case adjudicating case upon this matter is Nirmala and Ors. v. govt of NCT Delhi and Ors.,[2] in which it was held that deletion of this section shall supersede of what has been mentioned in Hindu Succession act and land reform act. By the provisions of Sec. 14, all the property whether movable or immovable belonging to a female is held by her as the real owner, it may be acquired by partition, sale, or through gift deed, before this Sec. 14 did not give any power to the females to be an equal co-parceners in the property. Earlier the woman did not have any right to dispose of her property but now they can do so without any permission, it removed the red-tapism.

Sec. 6 of this act, highlights the interest in the inheritance after the death of the father which is guided by the survivorship of the other Hindu undivided family. Under this section, it propounded that under mitakshra law, women shall have the right to become a co-parcener similar to that of a son and was also subject to the same liabilities. Rescinding Sec. 23 was also one of the good steps as it barred the female to seek partition in the dwelling houses, it granted the right to inherit dwelling houses only to the unmarried females. This act contains a strong legal framework when it comes to adjudicating the laws of succession and inheritance-related matters.

Impact

This act provided women with much-awaited equality and also empowered the women. The impact of this act provided them equality and they were given rights to become the co-parceners and even allows her to be the Karta of the family, and now even a widow can have the right to be a Karta. They can also now dispose of the property. It also helped in attaining equality which has been enshrined in the constitution. The positive shortcoming of this act was seen in the case of Ms. Vaishali Satish Ganokar & Anr v. Mr. Satish Kesharoo Ganokar & Ors.,[3] in which it was questioned whether this act was retrospective or prospective.

Loopholes of this act

These acts objectify women and identify them based on their relationship with a man and are against article 15 [4]that has been enshrined in the constitution. It harms the individuality and dignity of the woman.

Conclusion

Since ancient times women have been subjected to a lot of discrimination and achieving equality. Through the amendment of the relevant section in the Hindu Succession act 1956, it had achieved a major gap in gender equality. The Hindu succession act 1956 from the lenses of justice and equity is complete in itself and has also achieved the aim of natural justice which is the external manifestation of gender neutrality when it comes to inheritance and succession laws. Over time it has also solved the issue of distribution of property and has been successful in providing timely justice to the individuals and has also prevented overcrowding of the courts. It ensures social order in the society and also ensures economic and social independence after the death of the elders. It originates from the viewpoint that the family is the focal point and is a social unit. It helps a person to get his rights and also supports a person in making a will as his choice. Succession laws have to adapt themselves to the demography of the country. External factors such as same-sex couples, reduction in the number of children born in a family and live-in relationships, etc. They all have the major power to influence the succession laws. E.g., there was a huge transformation from the Mitakshara School to the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. However, we need more comprehensive laws to address the dynamic changes taking place in succession matters.

Author(s) Name: Shubhra Goyal (symbiosis Law School, Noida)

References:

[1] Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma, (2020) 9 SCC 1.

[2] Nirmala and ors v. govt of NCT Delhi and Ors, 2016 3 AD (DELHI) 388.

[3] Ms. Vaishali Satish Ganokar & Anr v. Mr. Satish Kesharoo Ganokar & ors, 2012 ALL MR 737.

[4] Indian Constitution, 1950, art 15.