SC sets deadline for Centre’s response on Hindu Succession Act

Plea against gender bias in Act filed four years ago

April 05, 2022 06:54 pm | Updated 06:54 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Representative image. File

Representative image. File | Photo Credit: AP

The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Centre to respond to a petition challenging provisions in the Hindu Succession Act as gender discriminatory.

A three-judge Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud gave the government four weeks to file its counter affidavit, failing which the Bench said it would go ahead with the final hearing of the case. The government had not filed a reply despite the fact that the case was filed four years ago, in December 2018. The court had in January 2022 appointed senior advocate Meenakshi Arora as amicus curiae in the case.

The petition filed by Kamal Anant Khopkar said sections 15 and 16 of the Act, which deals with inheritance of the self-acquired and inherited properties of Hindu women, “unveils deeply rooted patriarchal ideology”.

The petition, represented by advocates Mrunal Dattatraya Buva and Dhairyashil Salunkhe, draws attention to Section 15 of the 1956 Act which actually mandates how the husband’s heirs have the first right over the self-acquired property of a woman who dies intestate. That is, the husband’s family come first in the line of inheritance, even before the dead woman’s own parents.

“Section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 gives priority to the heirs of the husband over the parents of the deceased. If a Hindu woman dies without making a will, her husband can take all her property without leaving any share for her own mother or father,” Ms. Buva, who drafted the petition, argued.

On the other hand, when a Hindu man dies, his blood relationship is given priority, it said. “His property is distributed among heirs, which includes his wife, children, mother and then father. His mother shares equally with the child and the widow. No matter the manner in which he acquired the property, his wife’s relatives do not even know the order of inheritance,” the petition noted.

Similarly, when a Hindu woman dies intestate without leaving behind any children, the property she inherited during her lifetime returns to the source. That is, if the woman had inherited the property from her father or mother, the asset would devolve upon the heirs of the father. The mother’s family is however ignored.

Again, if a woman had inherited the property from her husband or father-in-law and dies intestate without leaving behind any children, the asset would this time devolve to the husband’s heirs. “For a man, on the other hand, there is no source-based devolution of property when he dies intestate,” Ms. Buva had argued.

The plea said the provisions manage to retain property largely within the male lineage.

“Sections 15 and 16 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 are highly discriminatory. Her own property is not inherited by her original heirs. These sections therefore violate the scheme of the Constitution and are unconstitutional,” the petition contended.

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