The Indian Constitution provides a comprehensive framework to ensure equality for all of its residents. Women in our country have not been hesitant to present their legal claims to inherited and privately obtained property to the courts throughout the past few decades. The High Court of Madras’ civil appeal decision in a partition case was challenged in the current case, which was brought before the Honourable Supreme Court of India. The Bench of Justice Krishna Murari and Justice Abdul Nazeer issued the historic ruling in Arunachala Gounder (Dead) by LRs v. Ponnusamy and Ors on January 20, 2022.
The Apex Court decided that if a Hindu man died intestate, leaving behind self-acquired property, such self-acquired property would devolve not through survivorship but rather through inheritance. This decision was made after taking into account customary Hindu rules and legal precedents. Furthermore, if such a Hindu male died intestate, his daughter would be eligible to inherit such self-acquired property.
Facts Of the Case
Marappa Gounder purchased the suit property for himself and owned it until he passed away in 1949, leaving only his daughter Kuppayee Ammal as an heir. Kuppayee passed away without leaving any heirs, who later received Marappa Gounder’s property upon his passing. Marappa Gounder, who died before Parappa, had a younger brother named Ramasamy. The five heirs of Ramasamy Gounder received a part of the suit property in an amount equal to one-fifth of Kuppayee’s estate after his passing. Gurunatha Gounder, the son of Ramasamy, and his four heirs and legal agents were among the five heirs.
Ramasamy’s daughter Thangammal filed the partition lawsuit with the Trial Court. The parties did not dispute that Marappa independently acquired the suit property through a court auction process. After considering the evidence
On record, the Trial Court found that the plaintiff lacked standing to bring the complaint for partition because Marappa passed away in 1949 and the property in question would pass to Ramasamy Gounder’s sole son through survivor’s rights.
After rejecting the partition claim, the High Court of Madras upheld the ruling on the first appeal, deciding that the case will proceed according to survivorship. After feeling that the decision was unfair, the appellant filed a petition with the Apex Court in this case.
The following matters will be decided in this case, according to the Honourable Court:
- What is the nature and progression of the suit property succession?
- Was it possible for a Hindu daughter who passed away intestate before the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 to inherit her father’s separate property?
- How would the stated property be passed on following the death of such a daughter?
Hon’ble Court Observations
The Court determined that it is essential to investigate the history and basis of Hindu law. The Vedas, Shrutis, and Smritis are said to be the basis of Hindu law. It is said that Lord Brahma himself wrote the Smritis, which contain the Dharma Shastra. The textbooks attributed to erudite sages Manu, Yajnavalchya, Vishnu, Parasara, and Gautama, among others, are known as the Sanhitas and Smritis and are regarded as the true texts of Hinduism.
Through these authoritative texts, Hindu law has evolved continuously. In addition to these sources, customs, equity, fairness, a decent conscience, and court judgements have all contributed to the establishment of Hindu law. After examining both conventional Hindu law and legal opinions, the Supreme Court reached this result, observing that both old customary Hindu law and multiple judicial judgements recognised a daughter’s right to inherit the self-acquired property of a Hindu male dying intestate.
Following this, the Apex Court made the following observations after considering customary Hindu law: The Mitakshara School of Law is one of the most important law schools in the country, offering a wide range of practise areas. With a few minor exceptions, it applies to the vast majority of India, but the core concepts remain the same. The Mitakshara law recognises succession by inheritance, but only for property owned individually by a single person, male or female.
Women are included in the Mitakshara School as prospective heirs to the self-acquired property. According to the summary of “Yajnavalkya,” “Whatever anyone has self-acquired as an increment without lessening the paternal estate, similarly a present from a friend or a marriage gift, does not belong to the co-heirs.”
The Hon’ble Court also noted Manu’s statement in Vyavastha Chandrika that “a man’s son is even as himself, and his daughter is equal to the son.” “How can anybody else receive his property, despite her survival, who is, as it were, himself?”
The Mitakshara sub-schools of Bengal, Benares, and Mithila acknowledged only five female relatives as being eligible to inherit: widow, daughter, mother, paternal grandmother, and paternal great-grandmother.
Before the Hindu Law of Inheritance (Amendment) Act of 1929, this existed. A number of female heirs who are the son’s daughter, daughter’s daughter, and sister were specifically mentioned as heirs in the Hindu Law of Inheritance (Amendment) Act, 1929, and the Madras sub-school accepted their inheritable ability.
The daughter of the son and the daughter of the daughter were bands in Bombay and Madras. Aside from a half-sister, a father’s sister, and women married into the family such as a stepmother, a son’s widow, a brother’s widow, and numerous other women classified as bands, the Bombay school, which is most tolerant of women, recognised a number of different female heirs.
The above factors make it plainly clear that a daughter may have properly acquired her father’s separate inheritance.
The Court next considered the significant decisions for the adjudication of the subject before it. The case of Katama Natchiar v. Srimut Rajah Mootoo Vijaya Raganadha, decided by the Privy Council in 1863, was mentioned. Swamy, Bodha Gooroo
According to Periya Odaya Tavern, “in the event of a Hindu male dying intestate, succession is to be decided by inheritance rather than survivorship.” When a male family member dies, the property belongs to the widow, who subsequently gives it to the daughter.” Overall, it appears that some observers erred in drawing negative conclusions from the older Smritis’ imprecise references about women’s succession. Women’s rights to upkeep in the family have always been vitally important. It is clear what the Mitakshara believe about women’s rights in relation to the current crisis.
Even though the family was still together when Marappa Gounder died intestate, the property in question will pass to his only surviving daughter, Kupayee Ammal, by inheritance rather than survivorship because it was acknowledged to be Marappa Gounder’s self-acquired property.
In contrast to the then-existing restricted estate of women, the Hindu Succession Act recognises the rights of women as absolute, bringing equality between men and women in issues of property.
The legislature adopted Section 14(1) of the Act to address the limitation that a Hindu woman faced in that she could not inherit an absolute interest in the assets, only a life interest. Section 15 of the Hindu Inheritance Act of 1956 turned all restricted estates owned by women into absolute estates, and the inheritance of these assets would take place in the absence of a deed or testament.
The exclusions listed in sub-Section (2) of Section 158 only apply when a Hindu female passes away without leaving any immediate heirs, such as her son or daughter or the offspring of the deceased son or daughter. As a result, if a Hindu woman dies intestate and without children, the property she got from her parents would go to the descendants of her father, while the property she inherited from her husband or father-in-law would go to the heirs of the husband. The major goal of Section 15(2), which was passed by the legislature, is to ensure that the original owner of the inheritance of a female Hindu who dies intestate and without issue receives it back.
As a result, the appeal is granted, and the contested ruling and decree issued by the trial court are quashed.
In its ruling, the SC supported the basic goals and purposes of Section 14 of the Act, which is to achieve gender equality with regard to property rights and inheritance. The decision stresses the significance of Section 14 of the Act, which, among other things, states that a Hindu woman’s property is her absolute property and not only her life interest.
According to Mulla’s Hindu Law, which examines the law in place before the Act’s implementation, the Mitakshara system of law accepts two ways to transfer ownership of property survivorship and succession. Property owned by a joint family is covered by the first, while property owned by the last owner is covered by the second.
According to Mitakshara law, women and girls are included as heirs in the transfer of property by succession since the right to inherit results from propinquity, or closeness of kinship. Therefore, long before the Act was passed, Hindu customary law recognised a daughter’s right to her father’s self-acquired property.
In a patriarchal culture, particularly in India, conversations and arguments about gender discrimination are not new. As a result, Hindu women in our nation now have access to coparcenary rights thanks to the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act of 2005.
The Supreme Court’s widely praised decision in Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma, which established the coparcenary rights of Hindu girls as having retroactive effect, further put an end to the ambiguity surrounding these rights. There was no jurisprudential clarity on the rights of women in self-acquired properties in spite of all these legislative and judicial attempts to enact gender-neutral property laws.The judiciary provided all the answers about the property rights of Hindu females as to distinct property of a Hindu man dying intestate through its landmark decision in the Arunachala Gounder case.
Through this decision, the Supreme Court has carefully examined the history of the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 and the generally progressive stance of Hindu customary laws, which acknowledge women as legitimate heirs in a variety of capacities. This laudable decision demonstrates how several authoritative texts, commentaries, and judicial precedents have crystallised and validated the lone surviving daughter’s right to her father’s separate properties, even before the 1956 Act was passed. It also makes it clear that the rule of proximity would apply in accordance with the rule of succession.
It follows that this eagerly anticipated ruling by the nation’s Apex Court would put an end to any lingering questions about women’s self-acquired property rights, significantly enhancing the socioeconomic standing of Hindu women and daughters.
Last but not least, the SC examined the distribution of a Hindu woman’s wealth after her intestate death without any direct heirs, such as her son, daughter, or the offspring of a predeceased son or daughter. Although Hindu customary law has different views on the distribution of inherited property, Section 15 (2) of the Act codifies the law in this area. In such a case, the assets she acquired from her parents would pass to her father’s descendants, while the assets she inherited from her husband or father-in-law would pass to the husband’s heirs.
The SC determined that B had a complete interest in her father’s self-acquired property and that, upon her passing, which occurred after the passage of Section 15(2) of the Act, the property would return to its original owners, i.e., her father’s heirs, who include all five of A’s brother’s children equally.
This decision is significant because it shows that a daughter can inherit her father’s independently acquired fortune, regardless of whether such devolution occurred prior to the Act’s passage. Additionally, it explains the legislative intent behind Section 15 (2) of the Act, which is to guarantee that the inherited property of a Hindu woman who dies issueless and intestate is returned to its original owner. This is crucial because without it, those who are not even close relatives of the person who originally owned the property would be granted the right to inherit it, which is against the fundamental principle of closeness.
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