Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Hindu succession Act - Equal rights to women still not achieved

Great concern has been shown about the declining sex ratio in this country. One step taken some years back was to amend the Hindu Succession Act. The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act 2005, which came into effect on September 9, 2005 aimed at the removal of the gender discriminatory provisions in the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 and gave a number of rights to daughters, taking them on par with sons. While this is indeed commendable, the view of the family on the birth of a daughter is formed at the time that the baby is actually born and is nowhere impacted by the knowledge that she now has equal rights of succession. The amendment has focussed on daughters/ sons but has totally ignored the position of the parents. To give adequate pride in the birth of a daughter, what is essential is that the parents of a girl child feel as secure on the birth of a daughter as they do on that of a son. Towards this, have the rights of the parents of daughter been strengthened by this amendment?

This amendment leaves major lacunae in respect of the rights of succession of the mother (or father) of a daughter vis-a-vis that of a mother (or father) of a son. As frequently happens, a person may die without leaving a will i.e. intestate. Let us look at the provisions of the law when the person is a male vis-a-vis if a female.

In the event of a male dying without a will, the following Class I heirs (or the various progeny / heirs thereof) get equal shares : Son, Daughter, Widow, Mother. It is also seen that in the event of none of these being alive, the estate passes on to the next group of Class II heirs, in order of availability – father, various direct descendents, and then various members of the father’s family etc. On the other hand, the general rules of succession in the case of female Hindus is that the estate devolves: Firstly, upon the sons and daughters (or their progeny) and the husband; secondly, upon the heirs of the husband; thirdly upon the mother and father; etc.

A quick glance shows up the following two very glaring anomalies:
a)     In the case of a son, the mother gets a share ab-initio whereas in the case of a daughter, she is the third option.
b)     In the case of a son, the father is the first of the Class II heirs, but in the case of a daughter, the mother and father are combined under ‘thirdly’ with the husband’s heirs getting priority over them.

A detailed look at the list of heirs shows up many more such differences. Today, more and more  we see a woman earning, becoming economically independent and having property or other assets created out of her own hard work, yet her parents effectively lose all rights on her marriage.

To explain what I feel, let us take the case of two sets of parents who educate their child well, who then gets a good job, works for some time and generates some assets, gets married and shortly thereafter passes away (without any child). An identical situation except with a ‘small’ difference – one has a son and the other a daughter.

In the case of the child being born a male, his unfortunate mother and widow would get a 50% share each of the assets. But if the child is born a female, the husband would get everything with the daughter’s parents being truly unfortunate.
And what happens if both husband and wife die together? In the case of the son the mother, or in her absence the father, would succeed to all but in the case of a daughter, the claims of the various heirs of the husband would supersede that of the parents who would truly be left high and dry. Why then would parents of daughters not feel shaky?

In the organisation where I worked till my retirement, I noticed a gap in one of my perquisites – while my male colleagues would get certain facilities for their wives, irrespective of other factors, I could get the facility only if my husband was totally dependent on me. I took this matter up and to my very pleasant surprise within a short time, not only was the provision for the perquisite amended but the entire Service Rules were revised to provide for officer and spouse making no discrimination between a male officer and a female officer  (except for matters relating to maternity). A truly great organisation indeed.

It would have been appropriate if, while amending the Hindu Succession Act, the same would have been revised in toto, to eliminate to the maximum extent possible if not entirely, any gender specific terms.  

Let parents have hope on the birth of a girl child.

2 comments:

  1. I quite liked this...research and all....:)

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  2. how many of the parents are aware of their rights of succession after the death of their child? i was not, till now. acc to me the parents, on the birth of a girl child, think of all the responsibilities of bringing up a daughter, all the expenses of a marriage, and all the continuing expenses after her marriage. plus thefactor, in india of continuing the 'vansh'.

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