The evolution of women’s rights in India narrates a chronicle of historical suppression and legislative apathy. These socially sanctioned prejudices represent a flawed scheme of fettered liberty. However, with the penchant participation of the Supreme Court’s judicial conscience, this skewed structure of basic human rights such as that of Inheritance rights of females has been gradually rectified towards fairness while proclaiming a progressive outlook in weeding out unrequited biases. As Justice K. Ramaswamy rightfully voiced out, ‘Self-sacrifice and self-denial are their nobility and fortitude, and yet women in India have been subjected to all kinds of indignities, inequality, and discrimination since the time immemorial’. It is well-lauded how the Apex Court continues to play a critical role in the development of the jurisprudential landscape and deepening democratic ethics through conferring rights and eliminating depravities. The women in India are positioned at a receiving end because they have remained ignorant of their fundamental and constitutional rights. The patriarchal system strikes on every sphere of a woman’s life. In such a situation, often a majority of them are forced to accept the traditional practices that are detrimental for both their and their children’s development. Although women have acquired a level of financial and political autonomy and consciousness about their rights, yet they experience helplessness in bringing about basic changes for eliminating gender inequalities from society. As India has remained greatly sequestered from the western wind of the radical feminist movements of the 19th and 20th Century, the trajectory of women’s rights have acquired prominence in the light of the contemporary nationalist struggle which has widened the scope of their participation in the reformation of civil society and political upheaval, unquestionably bolstered and punctuated by various judgments of the Supreme Court.
One legislation endorsing gender inequality was the original Hindu Succession Act, 1956 wherein the women’s right to inheritance was restricted to that of limited ownership. The law prevailing prior to 2005 traced its origin from the ancient belief that women would move(and belong) to another family, therefore, not deserving of family property. It was subsequently corrected by Section 6 of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act of 2005 concerned with devolution of interest in coparcenary property while shedding light on the concept of survivorship and order of succession under the Mitakshara law. This amendment of 2005 was celebrated by the hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Danamma @Suman Surpur V. Amar (Civil Appeal No. 188189 of 2018. Delivered on 01.02.2018) by affirming that these changes have been sought to be made on the touchstone of equality and to remove the perceived disability and prejudice to which daughters were subjected to.
In the latest development towards the extension of these rights, the recent judgment delivered by the Supreme Court in Vineeta Sharma V. Rakesh Sharma & Ors ( Civil Appeal No. 32601 of 2018. Delivered on 11.08.20 20), could be claimed as nothing short of a landmark in terms of protecting the rights of female coparceners. The bench headed by Arun Mishra J thoroughly analyzed the established precedents in a comprehensive 121-page judgment where it was held that daughters would have equal coparcenary rights in Hindu Undivided Family’s property by virtue of their birth and could not be excluded from inheritance, irrespective of whether they were born before the Amendment of 2005. Therefore, legitimizing the women’s right to inheritance retrospectively. This judgment is not only one of the essential ones but also one of the most progressive judgments delivered by the apex court so far.
Consequently, the Court has extended the benefits promised by the Amendment of 2005, cemented the traditionally vulnerable position of women, and upheld their respect and right by making them an integral part of their family. It is noteworthy nonetheless that it took 15 patient-years since the Amendment for the Highest Court of the land to sieve out the hurdles fortified by the fervent notions of patriarchy.
This judgment thus immortalized an axiomatic phrase by an American jurist, Paul Freund that ‘A court should never be influenced by the weather of the day but inevitably, be influenced by the climate of the era’. To that end, as the expanse of gender justice continues to unfold exponentially in the public and private sphere, it is imperative for the law to reinforce dynamism to cater to the evolving needs of the society and accommodate the rising aspiration of an empowered generation.
Gender inequality is still deep-rooted in Indian society and has been a social evil for centuries.
Patriarchal norms have marked women as inferior to men. Within the framework of a democratic polity, the laws and development policies have aimed at women’s advancement in different spheres. India has also ratified various international conventions and human rights instruments committing to secure equal rights of women. In the recent past, the Supreme Court has acknowledged that gender equality holds a central stage for the optimal development of the country, and thus, women’s rights could no longer be ignored at the stake of the country’s deterioration. Along with the Supreme Court, laying the groundwork for; the citizens of the country specifically the youth are developing a greater conscience towards women’s rights. The fact cannot be ignored that discrimination and inequality in the country persist awfully and now is the time that it needs to be eradicated. Both, the citizens and the judicial system are working towards it with no uncertain terms, which is appreciable. But, this certainly doesn’t mean by any chance that the struggle for women’s rights is over, it’s on! It will continue until there are firm upshot results.
Consequently, with the discernment of the legal position by the judiciary, the responsibility to inspire a meaningful change has to be undertaken by the society in order to truly realize the goals of fundamental equality.
Author(s) Name: Anupriya Upadhyay (Ajeenkya DY Patil University, Pune)