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Analyzing Equal Rights of Women over Hindu Joint Family Property: A Case Comment

The Hindu Joint family property before the Hindu Succession Amendment Act, 2005 was only to be divided among the males in the family and the females were not even considered to be Coparceners. However, this changed after the amendment was made. Yet there were still certain questions in respect of inheritance by females including daughters who were Coparceners and had equal rights as that of males over the Joint Family Property. These questions were answered appropriately by the Courts in two landmark judgements which shall now be discussed.

G. Varalakshmi and Anr v. G Srinivasa Rao (Dead) and Anr (2009) SCC 52 (India)

In this case, the common ancestor late G Ramanajulu Naidu had four sons. One of these sons namely GK Kuppu Swamy Naidu had two sons Mohan Babu and G Srinivasa Rao who is the defendant in this case. Now G Srinivasa Rao had 4 daughters and 1 son named GS Ravi Kumar whose wife was the Plaintiff in this case. GK Kuppuswamy had effectuated the partition in 1964. Later he executed, as alleged by the defendants, a will before dying in 1973 which was in possession of the defendant and was made in their favour.

After GS Ravi Kumar's death, Plaintiff requested the Defendants to partition the joint family property through a notice but they failed to do the same. As a result, a suit was filed before the trial court. While the proceedings were going on in 2006, Mr. Srinivasa Rao also died in 2006.

The Trial Court ordered the partition of one of the items and the rest of the suit was dismissed on grounds of non-joinder of parties as given in Chapter 6 of CPC. This essentially means that if any party which is necessary to the suit has not been added a suit can be dismissed as the decree won't be effective. An appeal was filed before the High Court of Andhra Pradesh which was also dismissed. As a result, a petition was filed before the Supreme Court through a Special Leave.

  • Whether the plaintiffs shall be entitled to an equal share in the property as much as the defendants?
  • Whether the properties contended for partition constitute Joint Family properties?
Laws Applicable
The laws primarily applicable in this case are:
  • Section 8 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956
  • Section 23 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956

Section 8 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 lays down the classes of legal heirs and the order or sequence in which all of them shall inherit the property of the deceased. The Plaintiff in this given situation was the wife/widow of the predeceased son of Mr. G Srinivasa Rao. Since the wife of the predeceased son is a class I Heir according to the list and the same applies to the father who was G Srinivasa Rao, as per this Section shall be entitled to an equal share in the property.

The contentions raised by the respondent were that Mr. Kuppu Swamy Naidu had inherited Mitakshara Coparcenery Property and hence his widow or even the daughters of Mr. Srinivasa Rao would not be able to inherit any property.

However, this contention was absolutely wrong because Mr. Naidu had received the property under a will. The property acquired by him accounted for his individual property and not Mitakshara Coparcenery property. Hence, all four sons were to be the beneficiaries in this case of that property.

Further, the defendants had alleged that the will though not traceable had been written by Kuppu Swamy in their favour. However, as it was not traceable, the Court held that they are not entitled to complete possession of the property and that they actually didn't inherit any property.

As per Section 23 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, when the Hindu intestate has left a property that has been occupied by members of his or her family, the right of a woman to partition the dwelling house shall not arise till the time the male heirs of the family decide to divide their respective shares.

The defendants contended that as per this section, the plaintiffs shall not be entitled to any property. However, Section 23 of the Act had been omitted after the amendment act was passed in 2005. This omission was also reaffirmed in the case of G Sekar v. Geetha, the Court had held that this section restricts the rights only to a certain extent and is not absolute. Further, the dispute involved here was purely academic in nature because of which Section 8 shall have an overriding authority over Section 23 until the woman is subject to the proviso that had been laid down.

Due to the non-traceability of the will as alleged to be written by Mr. Kuppu Swamy, the Court clearly held that the absolute ownership of the property shall not go to the defendants and the plaintiff who is the wife of the predeceased son shall be equally entitled to a share in the property. The main reason behind the same is that Mr. Kuppu Swamy had inherited the property under a will and as a result, it became his individual property and not the Mitakshara Coparacenery Property.

As a result, they shall be entitled to an equal share in the property as both the Plaintiffs and Defendants were Class-I legal heirs.

The Supreme Court passed the judgement stating that the items contended for equal distribution shall be divided in the same manner and both the plaintiffs and the defendants shall be equally entitled to the same. The property inherited by Mr. Kuppuswamy is going to be his individual property and not the Coparcenery Property.

R Mahalakshmi v A.V Anantharaman

In this case, the appellant was the real sister of the respondent, with they being sons and daughters of later AV Anantharaman who died intestate in 1961. His wife later died in 1996 intestate. The partition had taken place between AV Anantharaman and his brothers concerned which had also been registered. However, a dispute arose between the parties with respect to the distribution of the ancestral property among them left by AV Anatharaman. The appellant sent a legal notice to the respondents for a partition in the property and claimed a separate possession of 1/5th share in the same.

The respondent replied to the notice but the dispute could still not be resolved. As a result, the respondent/plaintiff filed a suit before the Trial Court claiming a certain share in the partitioned property along with a legal general to facilitate this partition of property. The appellant who was one of the respondents filed a written statement alleging that she had spent a considerable amount of money on the maintenance and welfare of the parents and she should be compensated for the same. Further, all the properties claimed by the plaintiff didn't include all the properties of the father and the mother thereby making it completely partial in nature.

The Trial Court held that the preliminary decree shall be upheld and 6/20th share shall be kept by the respondents and the cost must be decided among themselves only. Aggrieved by this the appellant appealed before the High Court and the decision was upheld. Finally, the suit was filed before the Supreme Court.

  1. Where the Respondent can be made liable for bad partition due to partiality?
  2. Whether the Plaintiff (now respondent) is entitled to a 6/20th share in the property?
  3. Whether the Court was correct in holding that the Plaintiff is in joint possession of the suit property?

Laws Applicable:
The laws primarily applicable in this case are as follows:
  • Section 8 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956
  • Section 23 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956
  • Section 29-A of the Hindu Succession (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 1989

As per Section 8 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 all the legal heirs who fall within the same class shall have the complete right to inherit the property in an equal share. Further, both the son and the daughters fall within the same class and being direct coparceners, shall be entitled to equal rights including a share in the property.

The Court referred to the case of Geetha v Sekar focusing on the woman's right to dwelling in the house of the deceased male. It essentially imposes a restriction on the woman's right to claim a share in the property in which she is dwelling. However, this right is only restrictive to a certain extent and shall include women who fall within this exception. Hence, a woman can be entitled to a share in the dwelling property, and it is not absolutely restrictive.

However, for the purposes of this case, the question was more academic in nature and the Court was not required to answer as it was self-explanatory.

Now with respect to partial partition, the Supreme Court clearly highlighted the ignorance on part of the trial Court as well as the High Court to consider the fact that not all the property had been presented by the respondents that had to be partitioned. Hence the partition was clearly very partial and delusionary in nature.

While the legal notice had been sent by the appellant the Court gave more attention to the same and ignored the fact that all properties inherited by the father had not been included in the partition suit. As a result, the decision of the previous Court had been quashed and fresh proceedings were ordered in the Trial Court since it had been a long time since the suit had been initially instituted.

As per Section 29-A of the Hindu Succession (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 1989 daughter shall also have equal coparcenary rights and liabilities in comparison to that of the son. However, the daughters who married before 1989 might not get an equal share as compared to the son. After 1989 only they were considered to be at par with the sons.

This question was decided by the Courts on the ground that the woman is also to be considered an equal stakeholder in the ancestral property and the Courts committed a grave error in not considering that all the immovable properties had not been considered.

The entire property had to be taken up for consideration after which the division should have been made between the sons and the daughters. Since it was the Mitakshara Coparcenery Property that was to be considered as being held by AV Venkataraman, both the son and the daughter falling within the same class of legal heirs shall be equally entitled to the same and there shall be no discrimination among them with respect to inheritance.

The Court in this case reversed the decisions passed by the Trial Court and the High Court of Madras. They ordered the Trial Court to consider the proceedings again since it had been a long time since the case had been filed and to take into consideration the complete property of Mr. AV Anantharaman while determining the shares of both the son and the daughters being the respondents and the appellants respectively.

From both these cases it can be inferred that both son and daughter are equally entitled to the share in Coparcenery property and at the same time even the widowed daughter-in-law as given in the first case. Hence, the rights of females in a family to inherit Joint Family property were substantiated in these two cases.

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