In the Republic of India, property rights are deal according to personal or private laws. Property rights are the rights to own, acquire (through purchase, gift, or inheritance), manage, enjoy, and dispose of tangible and intangible property, including land, house, money, bank accounts, and other assets, livestock, and crops. While Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains are governed by laws on property rights codified in 1956, Christians and Parsis are governed by the Indian Succession Act, 1925. Property rights of Muslims—both Shias and Sunnis—are yet to be codified. Before the event of equal property rights of women in India i.e., before the amendment act of 2005 in the Hindu Succession act, 1956; the male heir was the preference. He was accorded with the title, devolution, and a succession of his parent’s estate and wealth to the or harm of the daughters and sisters. It has never been a bed of roses to be a woman. Shackled at home, deprived or empty rights in society, and subjected to gender bias at the workplace, women have borne the brunt of being the weaker sex all through history. In India, women are always placed at a lower position in every aspect of life. Earlier women did not have any rights to the property and they were at the mercy of the male members of the family. The property rights of Indian women have evolved out a continuing struggle between the status quo and the progressive forces. But due to an increase in educated women, the power of social media to become their voice and the most important amendment in-laws, ameliorative steps were taken to improve the position of women in Republic of India. Still, there are many areas where there is a requirement to empower them, like one in inheritance and succession laws.
BARRIERS FOR WOMEN IN INHERITANCE RIGHTS
If we look at the reasons or the thinking of Indian society for not providing women with the property rights were that they were thought to be weak and was not perceived as an independent person to hold the property.Lack of education and empowerment, women are often unaware of the laws under which they married and those pertaining to inheritance and succession were also the main reasons of women not having any property rights in India. A confluence of factors like lack of legal awareness, scant awareness of inheritance rights, and years of societal conditioning have worked against Indian women.
Another reason was paternal dominated society. As a society, we tend to prefer a situation of status-quo but in a country like India this becomes problematic when the status-quo re-enforces patriarchy. Patriarchal mindsets have continuously sought to deprive women’s claim to equal property through brainwashing and covert pressure tactics.
BENEFITS OF WOMEN HAVING PROPERTY RIGHTS As the generation passed and the need for property rights for women was realized there have been several changes that have been bringing women on part with men. NGO and international agency representatives testified at the World Food Summit in June 2002 that ensuring women’s land and property rights are essential to enabling them to better provide for their children, which would in turn help to mitigate world hunger. Direct access to land minimizes women’s risk of impoverishment and improves the physical well-being and prospects for her children. So, this shows how beneficial are the property rights of women not only for her but also for the benefit of society at large. Acquiring property rights for women in Indian society was very important. Women need some form of independent economic independence to deter violence like domestic violence as employment doesn’t provide her the same protection as the house, as it can protect her from being homeless.
SITUATION BEFORE AND AFTER 2005 AMENDMENT ACT In the times of yore, Hindu women’s property rights were hedged with manifold limitations. The Indian patriarchal society, intentionally disregards the Hindu women’s right to property, pushing her to a position of inferiority in social and economic aspects of human relationships. If we glance at section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act 1956, before the amendment there was gender inequality and bias. It was in favor of male heirs and was unjust against female heirs. The law provided that when a person dies intestate leaving only male heirs, the coparcenary property will devolve accordingly to his male sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons i.e., no female is a member of the coparcenary in Mitakshara law. The constitution of India promulgates the principle of gender equality. The constitution of India places each male and female on the same platform in its preamble and in Fundamental Rights. With the rise in awareness of the need for the equal rights of women and with the aim to bring equality, HSA was amended in 2005. The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 sought to make two major amendments in the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. First, it is proposed to remove gender discrimination in section 6 of the original Act. Second, it proposes to omit section 23 of the original Act, which disentitles a female heir to ask for partition in respect of a dwelling house, wholly occupied by a joint family, until the male heirs choose to divide their respective shares therein. After the amendment act Daughters have equal rights of inheritance as sons to their father’s property and a woman has full rights over any property that she has earned or that has been gifted or willed to her, provided she has attained majority. She is free to dispose of these by sale, gift, or will as she deems fit. Iceland stands out as a pioneer in this area, becoming the first-ever country to grant unconditional equal inheritance rights to women all the way back in 1850. If we see in Christians, 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. But there are still loopholes in it like the mother is not entitled to maintenance from her children.
With the bringing of this amendment, there was one step towards putting a value of the role of women in society and make her safer in terms of her future. However, there are still several difficulties in granting equal property rights to women. As property rights are dealt according to the privacy laws, with the amendment in the Hindu Succession Act and granting women equal property rights there was still gender disparity within the society. Despite all the long strides our society has taken towards women empowerment and their rights to property and inheritance, there are still areas that require a lot of work. If we see property rights under Muslim Law, in inheritance, the daughter’s share is equal to one half of the son’s in keeping with the concept that a woman is worth half a man. In Islamic law women’s identity is always inferior to men, showing that women are not equally capable as men in society. One plus point is that women get full control over the property. A mother gets a ⅙th share but if a husband or a wife and the father are present, then instead of getting ⅓rd share, she only gets ⅓rd of what remains after deducting the wife/husband’s share. There is also great discrimination between the son and the daughter. The main struggle for women to acquire equal property rights is to tackle the prevailing patriarchy mentality which continues to deprive her of their property rights despite the laws. Still, social barriers play an important role to prevent women in claiming their property rights and customs like a sacrifice or perpetual wondering other’s interest is considered a duty of a woman to avoid black spot or stigma on her family. Making women economically self-sufficient is the need of an hour so that they are in a position to assert themselves is the way to tackle social barriers that curtail women’s property rights and also become examples for other women and give them the strength to fight for there own cause.
There is need to have a single body of property rights of Indian women so that women have uniform property rights and their rights are not determined according to the religion or religious boundaries because as we have seen earlier in Muslim law, women do not have equal property rights which are not in Hindu Law. To bring this disparity out of the society there is a need to bring uniform property laws that will govern every religion in India. Women need to understand that knowledge of laws and rights will ensure that they aren’t the victim of injustice. Women to have equal property rights have to stand and fight for themselves. Proper knowledge of inheritance laws will help them to fight in a logical and legal way. Society is changing and women are leading men in almost all sectors whether education, sports, etc., so when there is no difference in the ability of men and women, no difference should be made in property laws as well. Women are women whether she is Hindu, Muslim or Christian, etc., and differentiating women’s property rights on the basis of religion is not verified. Women in India are suppressed because they allow the people of society to suppress them. But in this 21st century, the situation is improving. Today we can see many women in the legal field as lawyers, judges, etc., and this is the best way in which women today can assert their rights and, in this way, society can also be forced to pen down before them. Following religious customs is not wrong but blindly following them whether they are correct or not is wrong. There are many customs in the religion that was though followed from time immemorial have lost their application in today’s society. Customs need amendment when they become a social evil, like the amendment act of 2005 in the Hindu Succession Act (giving women equal property rights as men). The second example is the abolition of Triple Talaq in Muslim law, the Sati Prohibition Act etc., So, society needs amendments when it comes to equality. Women should realize their power and strengths and fight for there rights so that the adversities that they have faced, is not faced by the coming generation.
About the author
Poojal Agarwal is a 1st-year student, pursuing BB.A. L.LLB (Hons) from Chanakya National Law University, Patna. Her interests include reading articles and keeping her General Knowledge update. She wants to pursue Company Secretary (CS) along with her law degree.