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Women's property: Stridhan

The Hindu Women's Right to Property Act of 1937 established a set of new inheritance rights on Hindu females, thus raising the value of women's wealth. As stated in Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act of 1956, the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 made important modifications to women's property rights.

The notion of "women's estate" has been abolished, and Vijnaneshwara's interpretation of Stridhan has been implemented. The source from which each is derived determines the distinction between Stridhan and women's estate. To remedy gender inequality in the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 (39 of 2005) was approved.

According to the amendment, a coparcener's daughter, like his son, becomes a coparcener in her own right upon birth. This article will look at the problem of women's property under Hindu law through the lenses of case law and judicial perspectives.

Women's property under Hindu Law
As a consequence of the efforts of numerous social reformers, the Hindu Women's Right to Property Act was passed in 1937. As a result of the aforesaid Act, the theory of all schools of Hindu law was revised, granting Hindu women more rights. This Act had a revolutionary impact on not just the law of coparceners, but also the laws of alienation, inheritance, division, and adoption. It permitted a widow to share an equal share of her estate with her son while also preventing her from becoming a coparcener. As a result, widows only possessed a limited estate in their late husband's property, with the option to split it.

Despite the popular belief that the Hindu Women's Right to Property Act of 1937 was intended to improve the property rights of all Hindu women, it was exclusively concerned with widows' rights. The aforesaid Act of Legislature had no effect on the status of a daughter's ability to inherit. The Hindu Women's Right to Property Act of 1937 drew a lot of criticism, so the Parliament decided to make a stronger legislation to preserve women's property rights, and the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 was enacted.

Stridhan
The Smritikars defined "Stridhan" as the property that a female got as a gift from her kin, which mostly consisted of moveable property. During both the bridal procession and the wedding ceremony, Stridhan is said to be carrying gifts provided by her wedding guests. In the case of Bhagwandeen Doobey v. Maya Baee (1869), the Privy Council stated that the possessions that a Hindu female acquires from men are not covered by Stridhan. Instead, the properties will be categorised as "women's estate."

In the case of Kasserbai v. Hunsraj (1906), The Bombay High Court created the Bombay School doctrine, according to which property inherited from other females is termed Stridhan. The Allahabad High Court observed in the well-known case of Debi Mangal Prasad Singh v. Mahadeo Prasad Singh (1912) that any share gained by a female via partition is not a Stridhan but women's land in both the Mitakshara and Dayabhaga schools.

The Hindu Succession Act of 1956 declared the joint property received by partition to be an absolute property, or Stridhan. As the owner of absolute property, a woman has complete control over its alienation, which means she may give, sell, lease, trade, mortgage, or do whatever she wants with it.

The Supreme Court of India had observed in the case of Pratibha Rani v. Suraj Kumar & Anr (1985) that according to Mitakshara and Dayabhaga Schools, Stridhan consists of the following items in the hands of a woman (maiden, married, or widow):
  1. Gifts given before the nuptial fire.
  2. Gifts given at the time of the bridal procession.
  3. Gifts given as a gesture of love by her mother-in-law or father-in-law at the occasion of her marriage.
  4. Gifts created by the women's mothers, fathers, and brothers.

According to the Supreme Court in Smt. Rashmi Kumar vs. Mahesh Kumar Bhada, when a wife entrusts her Stridhan property to her husband or any other member of the family with dominion over that property, and the husband or such other member of the family dishonestly misappropriates or converts that property to his or her own use, or wilfully allows another person to do so, he or she commits criminal breach of trust (1996).

Sections 15 and 16 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, respectively, provide forth basic norms of succession for female Hindus, as well as the sequence of succession and mode of distribution among a female Hindu's heirs. In the 1980s case of Sundari and Ors v. Laxmi and Ors, the Supreme Court of India said that Sections 15 and 16 of the Act of 1956 allow for the succession of a female Hindu who dies intestate. The phrase "inherited" is used in Section 15(2) to mean "to receive as heir" or "succession by descent," but it does not apply to devolution under the Will of the deceased owner. This was observed by the Madras High Court in the case of Komalavalli Ammal & Another v. T.A.S Krishnamachari & Another (1990)

Stridhan vis a vis dowry
Despite the fact that 'Stridhan' and 'Dowry' are two distinct terms, they are sometimes used interchangeably. Under domestic law, dowry refers to any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given by the bride's family to the bridegroom's family before, after, or during the marriage.

The most important contrast between 'dowry' and 'Stridhan' is that the former includes "demand, undue influence, or force," whilst the latter does not. Stridhan is a gift given willingly to women rather than as a consequence of coercion, undue influence, or force. The difference between Stridhan and dowry has been established by Indian courts. The main reason for this distinction is because if a future marriage fails, the lady will be able to collect the things she got as Stridhan, whereas dowry gifts would not be recoverable.

After seeing the sorrow of an estranged woman in the case of Pratibha Rani v. Suraj Kumar (1985)[1], the Apex Court established the distinction between dowry and Stridhan. It was agreed that the lady would be the sole proprietor of her Stridhan and may use it whatever she pleased. While the husband had no right or interest in the Stridhan under normal circumstances, it was determined that he might use it in times of extreme sorrow and must return it when he was able.

The Protection of Women Domestic Abuse Act of 2005, Section 12, guarantees a woman's right to her Stridhan if she is a victim of domestic violence. The provision can be simply triggered in order to reclaim such a Stridhan. Under Section 18(ii) of the Act, a woman has the right to own the Stridhan in the form of jewellery, clothes, and other appropriate things. The term 'economic abuse' is also defined in the Act. It involves the woman losing all or any economic or financial resources to which she is entitled under all existing customary laws, whether or not they are payable at the court's discretion.

Conclusion
The Privy Council earlier decided in Bhugwandee Doobey v. Myna Baee (1869) that a property obtained by a woman from her husband is not her Stridhan, and that such property will fall upon the heirs of her husband, not her heirs, following her death. Furthermore, the Privy Council declared in Debi Sahai vs Sheo Shanker Lal And Anr (1900) that property gained by a daughter from her mother is the mother's Stridhan, not the daughter's, and that after the mother's death, such property will belong to the mother's heirs, not the daughter's.

As a result, the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 represents a great step forward in safeguarding Hindu women's property rights. Women are being granted rights that have been denied to them for years as a result of this Act. It is a watershed moment in the protection of women's rights since it removes a woman's incapacity to acquire and hold property as single owner. Along with the legislation, equal credit should be given to the judiciary, which has given the terms of the legislation a broad interpretation while taking into consideration the nation's overall socioeconomic progress.

End-Notes:
  1. Pratibha Rani v. Suraj Kumar and Anr., AIR 1985 SC 628

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