Of Sons and Daughters....

Daughters got equal rights to ancestral property when the Centre amended the Hindu Succession Act in 2005 and the Supreme Court made it clear on Friday that the law applied to all women, including those born before that year.

A bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan said the amended law stipulated that a daughter would be a “coparcener” (one who shares equally in inheritance of an undivided property) since birth, and would have the same rights and liabilities as a son. It said her share in the ancestral property could not be denied on the ground that she was born before the law was passed. It said the law was applicable in all property disputes which were filed before 2005 but were pending when the law was framed.

“The law relating to a joint Hindu family governed by the Mitakshara law has undergone unprecedented changes. The said changes have been brought forward to address the growing need to merit equal treatment to the nearest female relatives, namely daughters. The section stipulates that a daughter will be a coparcener from her birth, and will have the same rights and liabilities as that of a son. The daughter will hold property to which she is entitled as a coparcenary property, which will be construed as property being capable of being disposed of by her either by a will or any other testamentary disposition,” the bench said.

It added that the law was amended to give daughters equal status to sons in property matters. “These changes have been sought to be made on the touchstone of equality, thus seeking to remove the perceived disability and prejudice to which a daughter was subjected,” the bench said.

The court passed the order on a plea of two sisters seeking share in their father’s property after his death. Their brothers had refused to give them their share, forcing them to take legal recourse in 2002. The trial court dismissed their plea in 2007 and said they were not entitled to any share as they were born before enactment of the law and, therefore, could not be considered as ‘coparceners’. Their appeal was rejected by the high court and they finally approached the apex court.

Agreeing with their plea, the SC set aside the HC order and said year of birth was not a criterion to decide whether a woman was covered under the amended law.

“We are of the view that amendment to the section clinches the issue beyond any pale of doubt in favour of the appellants. This amendment now confers upon the daughter of the coparcener as well the status of coparcener in her own right in the same manner as the son and gives same rights and liabilities in the coparcener properties as she would have had if it had been son,” the court said.

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