Independence Day 2020: Is India's daughters gaining equality?

Published: 15 August, 2020 13:44 IST | IANS | New Delhi

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court has ruled that daughters have an equal right to paternal property by birth, marking a historic moment for women's rights in India

In a landmark judgement in the days leading upto India's 74th Independence Day, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court has ruled that daughters have an equal right to paternal property by birth, marking a historic moment for women's rights in India.

Welcoming the judgement, Sonam Chandwani, Managing Partner at KS Legal & Associates, said: "With gender equality and equity becoming a fundamental human right, the apex court took a meticulous look at Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act. A society that remains largely patriarchal yet progressive in terms of changing societal dynamics is likely to embrace this judgment with open arms."

Explaining the judgement, she told IANSlife: "The decision grants equal coparcenary rights in HUF properties to daughters even if the father passed away before the 2005 amendment to the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. This... settled the ambiguity surrounding the nature and extent of a daughter's rights in an HUF property... A progressive judgment that places male and female heirs on an equal pedestal of succession breaks the stereotype of a subservient, dependant woman and takes a small stride towards a law that applies to males and females, equitably".

Saying that courts are now recognising the fact that women have always had a rough deal, senior advocate Priya Hingorani - who calls it a progressive judgement - shared that our laws have been retograde, but with judgements like this, women are being put at par and gender discrimination is being done away with. Asked if there is a trend towards women getting their share, she told IANSlife over the phone: "This is a trend, but it is slow and should have happened years ago. The mindset in our country is that when girls are married off, there's so much dowry given, it's thought they've got their share, so they should not have any rights in ancestral property. These kind of judgements show that if men are entitled to property, women are equally entitled to property."

Rishabh Shroff, Partner and Co-head - Private Client Practice at Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas (CAM) called the judgment "very progressive and much needed".

"We support the SC's view. The intent and spirit of the 2005 amendment was always to equalise the rights of daughters and sons - so this judgement corrects the confusion that was caused by earlier judgements which only made it prospective after a certain date. It will now make families and daughters think about their succession and ancestral rights deeply and either amend existing succession plans, or create new ones. It will be interesting to see if any old settlements created under the previous approach will be reopened or questioned now," he told IANSlife in an email.

Coming on the heels of judgements like outlawing triple talaq or instant divorce, allowing a live-in partner to seek maintenance under the Domestic Violence Act, this new judgement secures the rights of women in the familial space.

According to Dr. Deepa Narayan, author of 'Chup: Breaking The Silence About India's Women', "it takes a very brave women to fight for her rights through the legal system in India, and this courage ladder is supported by the work of many women's NGOs and lawyers. And this is all happening in an environment of declining gender equality as measured by the World Economic Forum, particularly in economic participation and health, we are in the bottom five countries."

With over two decades of experience in the development sector, Narayan believes changes in laws reflect a country's values and India's determination to give women legal recourse, especially when social norms and community opinion are stacked heavily against them.

As actor Mithila Palkar notes about the equal property inheritance judgement, "times are changing and I'm glad we are changing with them."

She told IANSlife: "The change is definitely here to stay. We still have a long way to go but these small steps will add up to bigger things and that's exciting and liberating at the same time."

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