This International Women's Day, Know Your Succession Rights
Gone are the days when women in India faced discrimination in matters of property ownership. In the past, married women have had limited rights to their parental property, and the widows were invariably at the mercy of their sons. This is changing now. The government has been taking a number of progressive steps to promote property holding among women in recent times. Offering home loans at concessional rates and keeping stamp duty charges lower for women are some such steps. In fact, the Centre has been trying to empower women's property rights through various amendments to legislation.
This International Women's Day, we help you know your legal rights in this regard.
Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, declares, “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.” This makes women absolute owners of their properties. However, not many women are aware of their rights; there is a misconception that women enjoy only limited rights over property, besides numerous other restrictions.
The Act was amended in 2005 to give equal rights to women. The amended Act, which came into effect on September 9, 2005, is applicable to the various sects and castes of Hindus, apart from Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains.
Prior to the amendment, a woman had no right to a joint ownership or coparcenary property. Section 6 of the amended Act talks about the devolution of interest in coparcenary properties. Now, a daughter becomes an owner of the coparcenary property by birthright in the same manner as a son does. Widows are also entitled to claim a share equal to that of their children at the time of distribution of the joint family property among the sons.
However, there still are many difficulties in granting equal property rights to women.
Section 8 and 9 of the Act deal with the devolution of property in case of the death of a male, while Section 15 and 16 deal with the devolution of property in case a woman dies. The order of succession in the event of a woman's death gives the heirs of her husband a preference to her own parents. But in case of a man, his relatives get to inherit the property. To empower women better, the laws need to be made gender-neutral, and there should be no distinction between the order of succession and rules of succession for men and women.
The other problem
Schedule IX of the Indian Constitution lists the various laws beyond the scope of judicial review. It also contains the Zaminadari Abolition and Land Reforms Acts (ZALR) of various states that govern agricultural land holdings. This Act generally does not grant the same rights to women in inheritance as their male counterparts. In its attempt to plug the problem of defragmentation of land holdings into smaller and smaller parts, authorities have resorted to this remedy. So, in most agrarian states, women don't inherit agricultural land holdings. In villages, farmers have all their wealth in the form of land. If the devolution of land takes place only in favour of the sons, it leaves the daughters with practically nothing.
To better empower the women of the country, the government will have to plug such holes in the system.