Women’s Coparcenary Rights
The Supreme Court held that daughters, like sons, have an equal right to inherit ancestral property ‘by birth’.
• Coparcenary property is named because the co-ownership is marked by “unity of possession, title and interest”.
• A Hindu joint family consists of lineal descendants of a common ancestor. In simple, a male head and his descendants, including their wives and unmarried daughters.
• The judgment given by the Supreme Court is related to the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005.
Hindu Succession Act, 1956
The Mitakshara school of Hindu law codified as the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 governed succession and inheritance of property but only recognised males as legal heirs.
The law applied to everyone who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew by religion. Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and followers of Arya Samaj, Brahmo Samaj are also considered Hindus for the purposes of this law.
In a Hindu Undivided Family, several legal heirs through generations can exist jointly. Traditionally, only male descendants of a common ancestor along with their mothers, wives and unmarried daughters are considered a joint Hindu family. The legal heirs hold the family property jointly.
Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005:
Women were recognised as coparceners or joint legal heirs for partition after the amendment act of 2005.
Section 6 of the Act was amended that year to make a daughter of a coparcener also a coparcener by birth “in her own right in the same manner as the son”.
The law also gave the daughter the same rights and liabilities “in the coparcenary property as she would have had if she had been a son”.
The law applies to ancestral property and to intestate succession in personal property — where succession happens as per law and not through a will.
The 174th Law Commission Report had also recommended this reform in Hindu succession law.
Even before the 2005 amendment, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu had made this change in the law, and Kerala had abolished the Hindu Joint Family System in 1975.
In August 2020, a three-judge Bench of Supreme Court headed by Justice Arun Mishra ruled that a Hindu woman’s right to be a joint heir to the ancestral property is by birth and does not depend on whether her father was alive or not when the law was enacted in 2005.
The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 gave Hindu women the right to be coparceners or joint legal heirs in the same way a male heir does.
“Since the coparcenary is by birth, it is not necessary that the father coparcener should be living as on 9.9.2005”.
The Solicitor General argued in favour of an expansive reading of the law to allow equal rights for women. He referred to the objects and reasons of the 2005 amendment. “The Mitakshara coparcenary law not only contributed to discrimination on the ground of gender but was oppressive and negated the fundamental right of equality guaranteed by the Constitution of India.”
The apex court’s recent verdict has upheld the stand that coparcenary status of daughters is created by birth, and is not dependent on whether the father was alive or not on the date on which it came into force — a daughter has the same status as a son as soon as she is born. The significance of this verdict is that it has put an end to all doubts about when the amendment comes into force, and whether some women could be left out of it on the ground that it can only have prospective application.