- Date : 24/04/2019
- Read: 5 mins
Women in India have not been dealt a fair hand in terms of property rights. What’s worse, many women are not aware of the rights they do have.
Property rights for women in India are far from just. The Uniform Civil Code does not focus on inheritance and property rights. This means there is no one law to safeguard the property rights of women. In India, a country of many religions and faiths, property rights for women are, instead, governed by the personal laws of their beliefs.
Let’s now take an in-depth look at what your rights are under each of these sections. It is important to be aware of your legal rights about the division of ancestral, husband’s, or children’s property so you can claim your right when the time comes.
Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains
According to the Hindu Succession Act of 1956, property rights of women in all the four faiths are highly fragmented. They vary depending on whether the woman is a daughter, daughter-in-law, wife, widow, or mother. They are also different for married and unmarried women. Another variable is the property in question – whether ancestral, or a matrimonial property.
The Hindu Succession Act of 1956 addressed gender equalities of inheritance. Earlier, only sons had absolute right to the parents’ properties. The Act included daughters as well, giving them the right to inherit. However, there was one lacuna. Daughters enjoyed this right only till the time they got married. After that, they ceased to be a part of their father’s family and joined the husband’s family.
In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court amended the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 in 2005 to provide equal rights to daughters. The amended law treats all children as equal, irrespective of gender or marital status. All the daughters and sons of the deceased have equal rights to inherit the parent’s property.
However, this holds only in case of intestate succession. Intestate refers to a person who dies without making a will. When there is a will involved, the law gives no rights to the children (son or daughter) left out to challenge the will.
Females under this Act have complete control over the property they have earned, been gifted, or willed. They can dispose of the property as they want by selling, gifting, or willing it to whoever they desire.
Muslims were earlier governed by customary law, which was unjust to say the least. This was replaced by the Shariat Act of 1937, which strengthened the state of women. This law governs personal matters, which includes property rights. However, this has not been codified.
Under this law, husbands and wives can be made legal heirs. It also allows females and cognates the right to inherit. Cognates are blood relatives, especially on the mother’s side. It also gives parents and ascendants the right to inherit even if there are males descendants.
However, women are not given equal rights to inherit. They are given one-half of a man’s share. So, in a situation where there are two siblings – a man and a woman – the woman gets one share and the male gets two shares. On the plus side, the woman gets full control of her share of the property. She can do whatever she wants with it while she is alive and pass it on after her death.
The law also specifies the rights of unmarried and divorced females. An unmarried girl has the right to stay in her parents’ home and inherit one-half of her share of the family properties. A divorced woman has the right to inherit one-fourth of her husband’s estate if there are no children and up to one-eighth if there are. A widowed or divorced mother also has the right to inherit one-sixth of the deceased child’s property.
Christians and Zoroastrians (Parsis)
The Indian Succession Act of 1925 does not differentiate on the basis of gender when it comes to the right to inherit. Under the Christian section of the Act, a daughter inherits an equal share as the son from the father’s or mother’s property.
A widow gets one-third share of her deceased husband’s property and the remaining two-thirds go to the lineal descendants. If there are no descendants, the entire property goes to the widow. However, if the deceased has no descendants, but has left behind people kindred to him, then one half of the property goes to the widow and other half goes to the kindred. Kindred refers to other family or relations.
The Parsi section of the Act is also gender-neutral. A widow and her children (both men and women) get an equal share in the property. A parent gets half of the share of each child’s property if they pass away.
However, the law is not fair to the widow of a pre-deceased son in both religions. This states that the widow of a son previously passed has no right to property of the parents. However, if she has children from the said son, they are entitled to an equal share.
Property rights for women are not equitable or fair in the patriarchal society we live in. There is vast room for improvement but this calls for efforts from the government, and social and religious bodies. However, it is imperative that women know about the rights they do have and are emboldened to exercise the same.