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Female as Karta

Karta is the eldest member of the Hindu undivided family who manages all the family affairs and takes the decisions for everything. Co-parceners can only become a Karta. Women play a significant role in every human being’s life. But during ancient times, a woman was considered to be of low social status and treated as a dependent with barely any property rights. They were not given any rights as Karta or coparceners but now after the amendment, rights, powers are given to female members too.

The article details the analysis of the rights of women before 1956, after the enactment of the succession act, and after the amendment of the actin 2005. The article highlights the current position and rights of females as Karta and coparcener and the rights and power of a widow. Analysis of this scenario has been made with reference to cases Shreya Vidyarthi vs Ashok Vidyarthi & Ors, Mrs. Sujata Sharma vs Shri Manu Gupta & Ors among others.

Introduction
Karta is the one who manages the Hindu undivided property and he is the head of the family. A Hindu Undivided Family is a separate entity that is created by the members of a particular family and these members are lineal descendants. Karta is the senior-most male member of the family. He is responsible for all the acts and functions within the family. The position of Karta is sui generis. Also known as the manager, looks after the day to day expenses of the family and family properties. The Karta has more powers than any member of the family. The coparceners of the family can only become a Karta.

Female as Karta Position before 1956

In India, Hindus are governed by customary laws that varied from region to region and are followed through different schools. From the earlier times, women are considered physically and mentally inferior to men. The Indian patriarchal society disregards the Hindu women’s right to property and she is made to suffer inequality and oppression. So, these property laws are favouring only males and discriminating against females. Women could hold only two types of property- Stridhana and Women's Estate. Over which the female had meagre powers only. Since they had absolutely no powers and rights over the property and cannot inherit from their father, they could not become Karta or play any role in the family property.

The Hindu succession act, 1956

This act was enacted to codify the laws related to succession and property and it lays down a uniform system of inheritance and succession. The Hindu women’s limited estate and limited owner rights are abolished. After the introduction of this act, the female is given full power and absolute property rights to deal and dispose of the property she owns. Though stridhana was cleared out, there were a lot of ambiguities and limited the power of the female. Married daughters had no right over the father's property and partition. Also, a female was not considered as Karta or coparcener.

Hindu succession amendment act, 2005

A breakthrough in eradicating gender inequality and discrimination was introduced and ensured after the introduction of the Hindu Succession amendment act, 2005. This was to improve the adverse condition of the women in the society.

This act came into force on 9th September, 2005 incorporating the reforms suggested in the 174th Report of the Law Commission of India. This amendment deleted section 4(2) of the act and paved the way for equal rights of women as men. The amendment of section 6 has elevated the daughters' position. According to the newly amended provision, a woman by birth becomes a coparcener in the same manner as a son. The daughter now has the same rights and liabilities as that of a son. A daughter, after marriage, becomes a member of her husband’s joint Hindu family but doesn’t cease to be the coparcener of her father’s family. She fully enjoys the rights of the property of her father as well as her in-laws.

Case Analysis

Mrs. Sujata Sharma vs Shri Manu Gupta & Ors.

On 8 February, 2010

Facts
D.R. Gupta & Sons, HUF, whose Karta was D.R Gupta. He had 5 sons. After D.R. Gupta's death, the eldest son became the Karta. Eventually, all the sons died too. The defendant declared himself as the Karta of the family as he was the eldest living male member. This claim was challenged by the plaintiff, as she is the eldest member of the family after the death of her father and uncles. She is the senior-most member/ coparcener of the family.

Issues
Can the eldest woman member of a Mitakshara Hindu Undivided Family be its Karta?

Judgement
Pursuant to the said amendment, the daughters can also be coparceners of a family as same as the son. Plaintiff being a woman would not be a reason for disqualification from being a Karta. Since she is now a coparcener by birth too, she has to be granted equal rights as that of a son and that also includes the right to act as a Karta of the HUF. There were certain objections laid by the defendant that equal rights did not extend to granting a daughter the right to management of the HUF property. He also contended that the plaintiff is married so she cannot make such claims.

It was held by the court that there is no reason why the Hindu women should be denied the position of Karta. To become a Karta of the family one must be a coparcener and that condition is fulfilled by the woman. So, by the virtue of being the eldest daughter, the plaintiff can become a Karta.

This Landmark judgement made it very clear that a woman who is a coparcener can also become a Karta of the family.

Can a widow be a Karta?

Shreya Vidyarthi vs Ashok Vidyarthi & Ors

On 16 December, 2015

Facts of the case
One Hari Shankar Prasad had two wives. After his death, the second wife took care of the family and managed the day to day affairs. She was the nominee of an insurance policy and was also receiving monthly maintenance from a trust. It was contended that the property she bought was from her funds and joint family funds. Later on, property disputes aroused.

Judgement
The court observed that a Hindu widow is not a coparcener in the Hindu Undivided Family of her husband and therefore, cannot act a Karta. But after his husband's death, if they are no surviving male members/ coparceners in the family, the widow can be the manager of the family to run the day-to-day affairs. The mother of the minor male coparcener can take up the role of managing the family. She can also take decisions regarding the family under particular circumstances.

In a very recent landmark judgement, the court by a three-judge bench held that:

  • The provisions contained in substituted Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 confer the status of coparcener on the daughter born before or after amendment with equal rights and liabilities that of a son.
  • The rights can be claimed by the daughter born earlier with effect from 9.9.2005 with savings as provided in Section 6(1) as to the disposition or alienation, partition.
  • Since the right in coparcenary is by birth, it is not necessary that the father coparcener should be living as on 9.9.2005.[1]

This landmark judgement was pronounced after a contrarian view over the issue passed in many judgements including Prakash & others v. Phulati & others. In this case, it was held that the amendment is prospective and applies only to living daughters of living coparceners, irrespective of the date of birth of daughters. However, in Danamma @ Suman Surpur v. Amar, the court granted coparcenary rights to the daughter of a coparcener who had died before 9.9.2005.

The virtue of the judgement, in the case Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma was to bring a retrospective operation to the 2005 amendment act, it confers rights on daughters from the time of their birth even if the birth took place before the amendment and the father coparcener need not necessarily be living at the time.

Conclusion
The position of a Hindu woman in respect of her property has undergone unprecedented changes from ancient times to date. This transformation of exclusion to the recognition of Hindu daughters has been remarkable. This has happened only after years of debates and struggles for equal rights of women. But even today the exclusion of other Hindu Females is irrational and unjustified. According to the Constitution of India, all women are entitled to equal economic and social justice. Despite this progress, the females are still at their lawful tights in the predominantly patriarchal society.

Even after such many changes and amendments brought for the betterment of Hindu Women and equality among men and women, there are a large number of women who are unaware and uneducated about their rights. They lack basic knowledge about these legislations thus unable to fight for what is lawfully theirs. Men, on the other hand, take advantage of this lack of awareness and neglect them from the family property rights and powers.

So, after enactment, implementation of such amendments is very crucial. True justice will be served only when women know what is rightfully theirs and fight for it. For this women should be made aware through campaigns and other mediums about their property rights and what can be claimed by them, thus eliminating oppression and negation. Concerned efforts should be brought by everyone for changing the mindset of people and promoting equal rights for achieving gender equality.

References:
  1. Vineeta Sharma vs Rakesh Sharma

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