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Hindu Succession Act: Property Rights of Women in India

By Mayashree Acharya

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Updated on: Jun 6th, 2024

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4 min read

After Independence, the Parliament passed several laws to uniformly regulate inheritance laws all across India. One such attempt was the Hindu Succession Act. It has evoked strong reactions from several quarters. But the position of women is much better today than it was at the time of Independence, thanks to amendments by Parliament and judgements given by the Supreme Court.

In this article, we will discuss in detail the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.

What Is the Hindu Succession Act?

The Parliament of India passed the Hindu Succession Act in 1956. It is a national code for the inheritance and succession of property. It sought to simplify myriad norms and traditions which traditionally governed the inheritance of property in India before the passing of this act. The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 gave women full equal rights of ownership of property as men. 

Pre-Hindu Succession Act Scenario: Limited Property Rights for Women

Under traditional Hindu law, women had a very limited right to inherit property. Two main traditions for inheritance in India were the Mitakshara and Dayabhaga laws. 

Under Mitakshara school, a woman was not regarded as a coparcener. On the other hand, the Dayabhaga school allowed a widow to inherit the property of her late husband. Thus, Daybahaga school afforded greater rights to women than Mitakshara law.

But even under Dayabhaga law, if a widow died without a son, her property would be passed on to her nearest male heir, irrespective of whether she had daughters.

The Hindu Succession Act was enacted in 1956, to bring about uniformity in inheritance laws, and confer greater rights on women.

Hindu Succession Act, 1956

Hindu Succession Act, 1956 was enacted to simplify India’s inheritance laws. It applies to:

  • to any person, who is a Hindu by religion, including a Virashaiva, a Lingayat or a follower of the Brahmo, Prarthana or Arya Samaj
  • to any person who is a Buddhist, Jain or Sikh by religion

Thus, traditional Hindu laws don’t govern property succession among Hindus anymore. Further, provisions of any law which were inconsistent with the provisions of the Hindu Succession Act ceased to be valid for Hindus.

Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005

An amendment to the original Hindu Succession Act, 1956 was enacted in 2005. It sought to amend provisions that were contrary to women's right to inherit property. Here are some important changes it brought about:

  • Section 4(2)

As per Section 4(2) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, inheritance of agricultural land was not covered by it if there were already laws for them. In other words, it left the laws for the following untouched:

  • Prevention of fragmentation of agricultural land
  • Fixation of ceilings
  • Devolution of tenancy rights.

If a state had not passed laws for agricultural land, only in that case the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 would apply. However, in practical terms, many state tenurial laws were discriminatory against women. 

The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 changes these discriminatory provisions:

  • Section 23

Section 23 of the Hindu Succession Act was deleted by the 2005 amendment. It discussed the inheritance of a dwelling-house if a Hindu died without leaving a will and was survived by both male and female heirs. In this case, a female heir would have no right to seek partition of the dwelling house unless the male heirs wanted so. 

  • Section 30

Originally Section 30 read: “Any Hindu may dispose of by will or other testamentary disposition any property, which is capable of being so disposed of by him…”(Emphasis added)

After the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, it reads: “Any Hindu may dispose of by will or other testamentary disposition any property, which is capable of being so disposed of by him or by her…”(Emphasis added)

Thus the role of women in the will-writing process was highlighted through this amendment. 

Section 6 of Hindu Succession Act: Coparcenary Rights for Daughters

The concept of coparcenary is at the heart of Section 6. Copracenary refers to descendants who can legally claim the property of a Hindu ancestor after he or she dies.

A woman could not claim inheritance as a coparcener under the provisions of the original Act. 

The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, modified this discriminatory clause. 

As per the current version of Section 6, the daughter of a coparcener shall

  • by birth become a coparcener in the same manner as a son
  • have the same rights in the property as she would have had if she had been a son
  • be subject to the same liabilities as that of a son

It further states that any reference to a Hindu Mitakshara coparcener shall be deemed to include a reference to a daughter of a coparcener.

Section 14 of Hindu Succession Act: Absolute Ownership of Property for Women

Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 says, “Any property possessed by a female Hindu, whether acquired before or after the commencement of this Act, shall be held by her as full owner thereof and not as a limited owner.”(Emphasis added)

Property under Section 14 covers both movable and immovable property. These are how a female Hindu may acquire a property:

  • Inheritance 
  • Partition
  • Maintenance or arrears of maintenance
  • Gift from any person, whether a relative or not, before, at or after her marriage
  • Her own skill or exertion
  • Purchase or by prescription
  • any such property held by her as stridhana immediately before the commencement of this act
  • Or in any other manner whatsoever

Section 15 of Hindu Succession Act: Succession in the Case of Female Hindu Ancestor

Section 15 states the order in which property should be passed on if a Hindu female dies without leaving a will. There are also some rules listed for it under Section 16.

This is the order of succession as per Section 15:

  • Sons and daughters (including the children of any pre-deceased son or daughter) and the husband
  • Heirs of the husband
  • Mother and father
  • Heirs of the father
  • Heirs of the mother

Section 16 of Hindu Succession Act: Order of Succession and Distribution of Property under Section 15

Section 16 elaborates on the rules which govern succession in the case of a female Hindu dying without a will. These are the rules it states.

Rule 1: Among heirs specified in Section 15, those in one entry shall be preferred to those in any succeeding entry, and those included in the same entry shall take simultaneously.

Rule 2: If any son or daughter had died before the female ancestor, leaving behind his or her children, the children of such son or daughter shall take between them the share which such son or daughter would have taken if they were alive at the time of the female ancestor’s death.

Property Rights as a Mother in India

Under the Schedule of the Hindu Succession Act, a mother is a Class I heir. So her property rights are governed by the relevant sections, including Sections 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, and 16.

Property Rights for Daughters in India

Under the Schedule of the Hindu Succession Act, a daughter is a Class I heir. So her property rights are governed by the relevant sections, including Sections 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, and 16.

The Supreme Court’s 2018 judgement in Vineeta Sharma vs. Rakesh Sharma & Ors is also important. It said daughters enjoy equal coparcenary status with sons irrespective of when they were born or if their father was alive on 9 September 2005, when the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 came into force.

Married Daughter's Rights in Father's Property

The marriage of a daughter has no relevance for inheriting property. As a daughter, she enjoys the same coparcenary rights as a son. Moreover, she is also a class I heir. So relevant sections of the Hindu Succession Act will be applicable in this case.

Property Rights as a Married Woman in India

A widow is a class I heir under the Schedule of Hindu Succession. If a male Hindu dies without leaving a will, property succession is governed by relevant provisions such as Sections 8, 9, and 10.

Rule 1 under Section 10 says that if a Hindu male dies without a will, then the widow, or widows if there’s more than one, shall take one share. 

Apart from this, all the rights which accrue to a daughter are also available to a married woman.

Impact of the Hindu Succession Act on Women's Economic Empowerment

While transmission of property can lead to greater wealth and prosperity, unequal and low transmission can lead to greater wealth inequality. In particular, property inheritance is very important for women who don’t have much wealth and property to begin with. In such a scenario, land and property can even become an important source of livelihood for a woman.

The Hindu Succession Act (Amendment) Act, 2005, significantly increased women’s likelihood of inheriting property. In certain cases, it also leads to an increased age of marriage for women. Moreover, even if a woman has not inherited property, the fact that she is entitled by law to do so can significantly increase her bargaining power. In the Indian context, this can also lead to a greater voice in terms of marital affairs.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Hindu Succession Act?

The Hindu Succession Act governs inheritance among Hindus in India. It was introduced to simplify inheritance laws as well as confer greater rights on women.

Who inherits first in the Hindu Succession Act?

As per Sections 8 and 9, in the case of a male Hindu dying without a will, all class I heirs under Section 8 shall inherit simultaneously to the exclusion of all others.

What are the main Sections of the Hindu Succession Act?

Some of the most important sections of Hindu Succession Act are Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16.

Is the Hindu Succession Act 2005 repealed?

No, it has been in force since 2005.

What are women's special rights to property?

The major contribution of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, was granting coparcenary rights to daughters.

What are the rights of women in the father's property?

After the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, of 2005, a daughter has the same rights as a son when it comes to becoming a coparcener. Moreover, she is a class I heir.

Do married women get property rights of their father’s property?

Yes, a married woman can inherit her father’s property as per relevant Sections of the Hindu Succession Act.

Can a married daughter claim her mother's property?

Yes, the Hindu Succession Act makes no distinction between married and unmarried women. So a married woman can inherit her mother’s property as per relevant Sections of Hindu Succession Act, 1956.

About the Author

I am an advocate by profession and have a keen interest in writing. I write articles in various categories, from legal, business, personal finance, and investments to government schemes. I put words in a simplified manner and write easy-to-understand articles. Read more

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