RIGHT TO PROPERTY OF MARRIED HINDU WOMEN - [She can enter family settlement - says SC]
Author: Manali Agarwal
It may be astounding that for decade’s Hindu women were not conferred the right to property and doing so was considered a threat to the religion. The absolute rights were vested with the male members, women's rights being restricted to limited ownership and maintenance only. The ancient Hindu texts also suggest the same. There was no legal recognition given to the Property right of women until the Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act, 1937 (hereinafter referred to as HWRPA) was passed with the objective of giving better rights to women with respect to the property. Further, the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 (hereinafter referred to as HSA) was passed which granted women absolute power of enjoyment and disposal of property held by them.
HINDU WOMEN’S RIGHT TO PROPERTY ACT, 1937:
The Act is the earliest legislation that recognized the rights of the Widow in cases of intestate succession. It provides that the widow (including the widow of a predeceased son, or widows collectively, of the intestate is entitled the same share as a sonwhich was not available earlier. It is pertinent to note here that the act does not apply to agricultural property and impartible estates and any property to which the HSA applies.
The act introduced the married woman in place of her coparcener husband and enabled her “same interest” that the deceased husband had. However, the act remains silent regarding her status as coparcener, her share, and right to claim partition. These issues were addressed by the Judiciary by stating that the woman acquires the status of a coparcener but she is not a coparcener,she can claim partition and her share will be ascertained when she claims partition. On the question of benefit of the doctrine of survivorship, the Court held that as she is not a coparcener, she is not entitled to benefit of the doctrine of survivorship, it was made clear that women took the property by inheritance from her husband and not from survivorship.
THE HINDU SUCCESSION ACT, 1956:
Section 10 of HSA entitles the women's right of an equal share in the husband’s property like his other heirs. She is included in the Class-I heir category and thus, she inherits the same share as other surviving heirs in the Class I heir Category of the deceased husband in case of Intestate Succession.
Although the HWRPA conferred certain rights in the property to women, it gave them limited ownership only which implies the right of enjoyment but not the right to dispose of or transfer the property. She had no power to alienate her share at her pleasure. This limited ownership was converted expressly into absolute ownership of women after the passing of the HSA by virtue of Section 14 of the HSA. Thus, now a woman can transmit the property to her heirs, which was not an option earlier as she was bound to transmit it to her husband’s heirs only. This exterminated the concept of reversioners.
In Sher Singh, the court observed that woman is the absolute owner of the property held by her husband is capable of alienating her property in favor of any person. Such alienation can be challenged only on the ground that the property alienated is ancestral property.
Where Section 14(1) of the HSA expressly confers an absolute right of property to women, Section 14(2) provides an exception to this general rule which says that the owner can be restricted by mentioning explicitly in the terms of ownership right.
MARRIED WOMEN’S RIGHT TO ENTER ‘FAMILY SETTLEMENT’:
Recently, In the case of Khushi Ram v. Nawal Singh, the Supreme Court bench comprising Justice Ashok Bhushan and R. Subhash Reddy held that a Married Hindu Women can enter ‘Family Settlement’ with her heirs on the parental side. In this case, a widow Inherited a share of her deceased husband, which was half of the agricultural property owned by his father-in-law. Her brother's sons filed a suit claimed that the widow has settled the land in their favor in a family settlement. The trial court passed the consent decree on the basis of the written statement in which the widow admitted this claim. Later, the descendants of her husband’s brother filed a suit claiming that this consent decree is illegal. This suit was dismissed by the High Court and again dismissed the second appeal. They then appealed to the Supreme Court on the ground that as a married woman, the widow cannot enter into a family settlement with her own brother’s heirs.
The Court relied on the judgment in the Ramcharan Case and Kale case, where it was held that the term has to be understood in a wider sense and include not only close relatives but also persons who have some sort of antecedent title. Parties to a family settlement must be related to each other in some way and have a claim or semblance of the claim.
Thus, the Court observed that the Married Hindu Women’s relatives on her parental side are not strangers for the purpose of the Hindu Succession Act and a Married Hindu Women can enter ‘Family Settlement’ with her heirs on the parental side.
In the male-centric Indian society, the women were not given the right to property and if given, it was limited. But the laws have evolved recognizing their rights legally. Married Women is also conferred with the right to enter into a family settlement with her heirs on the parental side by virtue of the latest Supreme Court Judgment. However, most of the women are not aware of their rights and if aware, they do not claim it. Further, society has still not accepted the changing phenomenon with respect to the property rights of women. Thus, the position of women in this respect has strengthened to a great extent legally but it could not depart completely from reality.
Section 3 of the Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act, 1937  Rosamma v. Chenchiah, (1943) 2 Mad LJ 172  Kallian Rai v. Kashi Nath, (1943) ILR All 307 14. Property of a female Hindu to be her absolute property- (1)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.  Sher Singh v. Bagheras Singh, AIR 2018 (NOC) 465 (P&H) 14. Property of a female Hindu to be her absolute property- (2)Nothing contained in sub-section (1) shall apply to any property acquired by way of gift or under a will or any other instrument or under a decree or order of a civil court or under an award where the terms of the gift, will or other instrument or the decree, order or award prescribe a restricted estate in such property.  Khushi Ram v. Nawal Singh, LL 2021 SC 106  Ram Charan Das v. Girjanandini Devi and Ors., 1965 (3) SCR 841  Kale and Ors. v. Deputy Director of Consolidation, (1976) 3 SCC 119