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Characteristics And Features Of Stridhan And Woman's Estate

Stridhan and Woman's Estate:

The Dowry system is one of the most common societal evils which has inflicted our modern society. This evil has taken lives of many girls' already, although many continue to suffer like a slow poison in their lives because of it. While we have succeeded in creating awareness to great degree, there are large ethnic, linguistic, cultural diversities in the country we live in. As such when it comes to eradication of social evils, people in our society may not follow the demands of any single given group or organization.

It is therefore essential that the task of eliminating these evils is carried out the individual level. There is though, one more factor that we need to consider and that includes the right to use Stridhan. We should be mindful that even if the dowry is refused, the bride does not forfeit her right to Stridhan and her husband does not absorb it has her own money where she has earned the Stridhan. The word Stridhan comes from the word Stri which means lady and Dhana which means property.

Therefore, by combining these two expressions, we get property of woman which is called Stridhan. This is a term that came from Hindu Smritis over the centuries, but today has engulfed in all kinds of marriage in recognizable caste. In larger terms, Stridhan is woman's property on which she has an absolute ownership. Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 made significant reforms to the Hindu law on woman's property.

Before 1956, woman's property was split into two heads: Stridhan and woman's estate. But in Hindu law, it has all been given a technical meaning. The right of a woman to hold and dispose of the property has been recognized in Hindu law. The woman has not been denied the use of property as an absolute owner at any stage. Stridhan is any valued property which is exclusively owned by the woman.

It is a property over which she has absolute right of ownership and alienation. 'Stridhan' is distinct from other property which is owned by a woman and which is said to be 'woman's estate'. The Smritakars differ from each other as to what items of property constitute her Stridhan. According to Smritakars, the Stridhan constituted those properties which she received by the way the way of gift from relations which included mostly movable property, such as ornaments, jewellery and dresses. The gift made to her by strangers at the time of ceremony of her marriage, or at the time of bridal procession also constituted as Stridhan.

Enumeration of woman's property:

  1. Gift and bequest from relations:
    This is known as the head of Stridhan. During maidenhood, coverture or widowhood, such gifts may be given to a woman by her parents and their relations, or by husband or his relations. Such gifts can be offered by will or inter-vivos. The school of Dayabhaga does not consider the husband's gift of immovable property as Stridhan.
     
  2. Gifts and bequest from strangers:
    Property given to a woman by gift inter vivos or by the will by strangers, during her maidenhood or widowhood constitutes Stridhan. Before 1956, the gift received from strangers during coverture were Stridhan but under the control of her husband during her husband's lifetime. On the death of her husband they became Stridhan.
     
  3. Property acquired by self-exertion and mechanical arts:
    By her own self-exertion woman can acquire property at any stage of her life it can be through labor jobs, employment, singing, dancing, etc., or by any other mechanical art. The property acquired by her during her maidenhood or widowhood thus constitutes Stridhan according to the schools of Hindu law. Any such property which is acquired by her during her coverture will not be meant as Stridhan according to Mithila and Bengal schools, but according to rest of the schools it is a Stridhan.
     
  4. Property purchased with Stridhan:
    According to the Hindu law schools it is said that any property which is purchased with Stridhan, or with the savings of Stridhan as well as accumulations and savings Stridhan revenue, constitutes as Stridhan.
     
  5. Property acquired by compromised:
    There is no assumption under Hindu law that a woman who obtains property under a compromise takes it as a limited state. Property received by a woman under a compromise under which she gives up her rights to her rights to Stridhan would also be Stridhan. When any woman obtains a property under a family agreement, whether that property is Stridhan or not depends up the terms of arrangement.
     
  6. Property obtained by adverse possession:
    It is a settled norm in all Hindu law schools that any property that woman acquires by adverse possession at any phase of her life is her Stridhan
     
  7. Property obtained in lieu of maintenance:
    The payments made to woman in lump sum or periodically for her maintenance, including arrears of such maintenance constitutes Stridhan, under all schools of Hindu law. In addition, all movable and immovable properties transferred to her are still Stridhan by means of an absolute gift in lieu of maintenance.

    In Chinnappa Govinda v. Valliammal:1 , the father-in-law gave some property to his widowed daughter-in-law for her maintenance. He passed away in 1960 leaving behind his interest devolved by succession to his daughter-in-law. The daughter-in-law filed a suit for partition in order to get her share of inheritance. Other family members said that she would be allowed to take her share only on one condition that she will include the property given to her under the maintenance deed in the suit properties. The Court held that there was no need for her to surrender the property given to her by the father-in-law under the maintenance deed as it was her Stridhan.
     
  8. Property obtained by inheritance:
    A Hindu female may inherit the property from a male or a female. Such property can be inherited from the side of her parents or from the side of her husband. Inherited property was regarded as Stridhan by Mitakshara. But in the series of rulings such property was held to be the estate of woman.
     
  9. Share obtained on partition:
    The share acquired by a partition is known as Stridhan after the commencement of Hindu Succession Act, 1956. According to section 14 of the Act, any property acquired on the partition by Hindu woman after the commencement of the Act will be considered as her absolute property and any property which she receives it before the commencement of this Act will also be her absolute property if she continues to be in possess of such property during the commencement of this Act. In Krishnamma v. Kumara Krishnan, the Court held that any such share from property received by a woman on a partition will also be her absolute property. It is established view that share obtained on partition is not Stridhan but woman's estate 2 .

Characteristics features of Stridhan and Woman's estate:
Stridhanis considered to be an absolute property of woman and she has all the rights including that of alienation. She can sell, gift, mortgage, lease, and exchange in any manner she desires. However, some restrictions were recognized on her power of disposal, if she was a married woman.
If woman is married, the Stridhan was classified under two heads:
  1. The Saudayaka and
  2. NonSaudayaka.
Woman has full rights over any property which received by the means of gift and affection and the property which she received from stranger or acquired by self-exertion or any other mechanical art cannot be alienated without the consent from her husband. A Hindu female can acquire or secure the property from numerous sources but every property cannot be Stridhan.

Whether a following property is Stridhan depends upon the following factors:

  1. Source of acquiring the property,
  2. Status of female at the time of acquiring the property,
  3. The school to which she belongs.

Succession:

In the matters of succession to Stridhan, it is laid down in section 15 and section 16 of the Hindu succession Act, 1956 that if Hindu female dies intestate leaving her all Stridhan behind then it will devolve upon her own heirs.

Of the above enumeration of woman's property, the last two heads constituted the Hindu female's limited estate known as woman's estate. It is also sometimes called as widow's estate. The characteristics features of woman's estate is that the female takes it as a limited owner. However, she is an owner of this property in the same as any other individual can be owner of his or her property, subject to two basic limitations: a) she cannot ordinarily alienate the corpus and b) on her death it devolves upon the next heir of the last full owner.

Power of management:

Woman enjoys the power of management, like the Karta of Joint Hindu Family. In fact, her position is slightly superior to the Karta as the Karta is merely a co-owner of the joint family but she is the sole owner. Thus, she alone is entitled to the possession of the estate and its entire income, she can spend it as per her own wishes. And if she saves the income, the savings will also be her Stridhan.

Power of Alienation:

The female owner being the holder of limited estate has limited powers of alienation. Like the Karta, her powers are limited and she can alienate the property only in 5 exceptional cases. The principal on which restrictions have been placed on woman's power of disposal was thus explained by the privy council:
It is admitted on all hands that if there be collateral heirs of the husband, the widow cannot, of her own will, alienate the property except for special purposes. For religious and charitable purposes or those which are supposed to conduce to spiritual welfare of her husband, she has larger powers of disposal than she possesses for purely worldly purposes.

On the other hand, it may be taken as established that alienation by her, which will not otherwise be legitimate, may become so if made with the consent of her husband's kindred. But it surely is not necessary or logical consequences of this latter proposition. That in the absence of collateral heirs of the husband or on their failure, the fetters on the widow's power of alienation altogether drop3 .

Restrictions on her power of alienation are an incident of the estate, and not for the benefit of reversioners4 . She can alienate the property with the consent of presumptive reversioners5 . she can alienate property only in exceptional cases.

She can alienate the property for:
  • A legal necessity, i.e., for her own need and for the need of the dependents of the last full owner,
  • for the benefit of the estate, and
  •  for the discharge of indispensable religious duties such as marriage of daughters, funeral rites of her husband, etc.

Surrender:

Surrender means renunciation of estate by the female owner6 . Surrender can be performed voluntarily by a woman during her lifetime or immediately by her death. In favour of her nearest successor, the woman has the right to renounce her estate, and self-effacement on her part will act as her civil death. For a valid surrender, the first condition is that it must be of entire estate7 .

There are some preconditions that need to be fulfilled for a valid surrender:
  • The surrender must be of the entire estate,
  • The surrender must be in favor of her nearest heir or the heirs of the last owner and
  • The surrender must be made with a bona fide intention.
After such surrender, the property will delve upon the reversioners. These reversioners also have the right to prevent the female owner from using the property wastefully or improperly alienating it.

Reversioners:

If the female owner dies, the estate shall revert to the heir or heir of the last owner as if the latter had died before the limited estate had ceased. Such heirs may be male or female, known as reversioners. When her estate comes to an end on her death, the property of the female is passed on to the reversioners, but if she wishes to surrender it can also come to end even during her lifetime.

Right of Reversioners:

Reversioners have right to prohibit the female owner from making wasteful use or improper alienation of the property. Woman holder of the property can be sued for an injunction to restrain her from making wasteful use. They are in the capacity of a representative; they can sue for a declaration that the alienation rendered by the widow is null and void and will thus not be binding on them following her death. However, by such a declaration the property does not go back to the widow nor does it go to the reversioners. After the woman's death or the termination of the estate, if earlier, they filed a suit for declaration that the alienation made by the widow was null and void and did not bind them. The Supreme Court observed that when a Hindu female holder of a woman's estate makes improper alienation, the reversioners are not bound to institute a declaratory suit during the lifetime of the female holder. After the death of the woman, they can sue the alienee for the possession of the estate treating alienation as a nullity.

Judicial trend towards Stridhan:

  1. In Pratibha Rani v. Suraj Kumar8 , the Supreme Court observed that Pratibha Rani was tormented and denied stridhana by her in-laws. Pratibha Rani's parents had fulfilled the demands of her in-laws by giving gold ornaments, Rs 60,000 cash and other items to her husband's family. Few days after marriage, her in-laws started harassing her for dowry and  7 kicked her out of the house along with her two minor children without providing any money for their survival. She had lodged two complaints against her husband and in-laws under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

    The lower court favored her in the judgment but the High court reversed the judgment. Later, the apex court gave the judgment in her favor. The Supreme Court said that the joint holding of a stridhana property by husband does not constitute any co-ownership. The Court further said that a woman can file a suit against her husband if he denies returning stridhana property under Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, as well as under Section 27 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. The Pratibha Rani case is the only remarkable judgment which discusses the concept of stridhana and the applicability of Section 405 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
     
  2. In the case of Bhai Sher Jang Singh v. Smt. Virinder Kaur9 , Punjab & Haryana High Court stated that if a woman claims property, ornaments, money, etc. which were given to her at the time of marriage, then the husband and his family members are bound to return back such property. If they deny to return back the property, then they will have to face strict punishment. The Court held that Bhai Sher Jang Singh and his family had committed an offense under Section 406 for committing criminal breach of trust as they had dishonestly misappropriated the ornaments which were the stridhana that Virinder had given to her husband for safe-keeping.
     
  3. In Santosh v. Saarswathibai 10, the ambit of Section 14(1) of HSA was expanded to include not only the land which is in the possession of the Hindu female, but also the land over which she has the right to possess.
Conclusion:
The enactment of the Hindu Succession Act is a welcome step towards strengthening the property rights of Hindu women. As a part of this Act, women are given certain privileges that have been denying them for decades. It is also a colossal step in the defense of women's rights, as it has abolished a woman's disability to gain and keep land as its absolute owner. Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 has definitely been a safety guard for the women especially the Hindu women. It has provided women with those rights, which were denied to her for centuries.

This section removes the disability of a female to acquire and hold property as an absolute owner and to convert any estate already held by a woman on the date of commencement of this act as a limited owner, into an absolute estate. In case of her death intestate, she becomes a fresh stock of descent and the property devolves by succession on her own heirs.

Bibliography:
  • Status referred Hindu Succession Act, 1956 Books referred Modern Hindu Law- Dr, Paras Diwan, 24th edition, 2020, Allahabad Law Agency
Case Laws:
  1. Chinnappa Govinda v. Valliammal, AIR 1969 Mad 187.
  2. Devi Prasad v. Mahadeo (1912) 39 I.A. 121.
  3. Collector of Masulipatam v. Covery Venkata, (1861) 8 M.I.A 529.
  4. Jaisri v. Rajdewan, (1962) S.C.J. 578.
  5. Sahu v. Mukand, 1955 S.C. 481.
  6. Natwar v. Dadu, 1954 S.C. 61
  7. Pratibha Rani v. Suraj Kumar, 1985 AIR 628, 1985 SCR (3) 191.
  8. Santosh v. Saarswathibai, AIR 2009 SC 636.
  9. Bhai Sher Jang Singh v. Smt. Virinder Kaur, 1979 CriLJ 493
End-Notes:
  1. AIR 1969 Mad 187
  2. Devi Prasad v. Mahadeo (1912) 39 I.A. 121.
  3. Collector of Masulipatam v. Covery Venkata, (1861) 8 M.I.A 529
  4. Jaisri v. Rajdewan, (1962) S.C.J. 578.
  5. Sahu v. Mukand, 1955 S.C. 481.
  6. Dayabhaga XI, I, 56-57
  7. Natwar v. Dadu, 1954 S.C. 61. 6
  8. 1985 AIR 628, 1985 SCR (3) 191.
  9. 1979 CriLJ 493.
  10. AIR 2009 SC 636 8

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