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19th August 2023 (9 Topics)

Inheritance Rights in India

Context

Recently, the Supreme Court (SC) reserved its judgment on whether children born out of invalid, void and voidable Hindu marriages can inherit their parents’ ancestral property.

About the Judgement:

  • Chief Justice of India (CJI) has agreed that children from void and voidable marriages had rights over the property, whether self-acquired or ancestral, of their parents.
  • The birth of a child in such a relationship has to be viewed independently of the relationship of the parents.
  • A child born in such a relationship is innocent and is entitled to all the rights which are given to other children born in valid marriage.
  • This is the crux of the amendment in Section 16(3),” the Division Bench of Justices (retired) G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly had written in their 2011 judgment in the Revanasidappa v Mallikarjun case.
  • The Division Bench had held that such children would have a right to any property that belonged to their parents.
  • The Bench had however clarified that the children’s claims would be limited to the property of their parents and no other relation.

Provisions related to Inheritance in India:

  • Section 16(3) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1956 deals with the inheritance laws in India:
    • Rights of Natural born Children: The children, both son and daughter, under the Succession Act have equal rights over the father’s property to be shared with the mother and grandmother.
    • Even a posthumously born child, if born alive, has rights to the father’s property.
    • The child’s rights come after the father's demise in the grandfather's self-acquired property.
    • Rights of Legally Adopted child: In the case of a legally adopted child, the child has the same rights as a natural child as per inheritance laws in India.
    • From the moment of adoption, the child ceases to belong to the biological parents and becomes a part of the new family.
    • But if a share of property or asset has been vested on the child before adoption from, say, the biological family, the property belongs to the child even after adoption.

Timeline for Inheritance laws:

Ancient Period:

  • Pre-Vedic to Vedic Times: Inheritance practices were often patrilineal (through the male line) and based on family traditions and customs.
  • Manusmriti (Laws of Manu): Manusmriti codified various inheritance laws and practices, emphasizing the importance of male heirs and providing guidelines for dividing property among family members.

Medieval Period

  • Islamic Rule: During Islamic rule, Islamic laws of inheritance were followed for Muslims, which emphasized fixed shares for various family members, including sons, daughters, and spouses.

Post-Independence Era:

  • Hindu Succession Act (1956): The Act aimed to modernize Hindu inheritance laws by providing more equitable shares to daughters and other female relatives in ancestral property, and it recognized the concept of a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF).
  • Hindu Succession Act Amendments (2005): Major amendments were made to the Hindu Succession Act, ‘granting daughters equal rights’ in ancestral property. It removed the gender-based discrimination present earlier.
  • Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act (1937): This Act applied Muslim personal law in various matters, including inheritance, for Muslims.

Contemporary Period:

  • Triple Talaq and Uniform Civil Code Debates: Ongoing debates and legal battles continue regarding reforms in personal laws, including inheritance, particularly with regard to Muslim women's rights.
  • Supreme Court Rulings: The Supreme Court of India has delivered judgments promoting gender equality in inheritance, such as the landmark judgment in Prakash & Ors v. Phulavati & Ors (2016) that clarified that daughters have equal rights in ancestral property even if the father died before the 2005 amendment.
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