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Finally, Hope!

Female Intestate Succession under Hindu Law

Gender equality often stands compromised in various personal laws in India, with the legislature's history of having a non-interfering attitude in amending discriminatory personal laws--in order to avoid compromising on their political vote bank--unless rebuked by the judiciary. This article discusses one such admonishment by the courts, a rather progressive development, declaring a part of the female intestate succession scheme under the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 as unconstitutional.

Under the present legal system of India, people are governed by the personal laws of their religion in matters of inheritance, marriage, separation, guardianship, etc. Succession in Hindus is governed by the Hindu Succession Act (HSA), 1956. A peculiar fact about this act is that it differentiates between men and women in matters of intestate succession. Female intestate succession is dependent on the source from which the deceased female received the property. This article, after critiquing the act as it stands (it being discriminatory and, therefore, unconstitutional), discusses the development in the law brought in by a Bombay High Court decision, which will hopefully be affirmed by the larger bench, putting an end to the present manner of female intestate succession among Hindus.

The HSA slots property of a Hindu female under three categories: namely, property inherited by a female from her father or mother, property inherited from her husband or father-in-law, and properties that are not governed by the first two categories. No other personal law makes such discrimination. Section 15, along with Section 16, of the HSA stipulates the general rule for succession of all kinds of properties and states that property will pass on to the children (or if children predeceased the female, to the predeceased children’s children) and the husband. However, in case there is no such successor, the first kind of property will be inherited by the heirs of her father, while the second kind will be bequeathed to the husband’s heirs.

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