The right of the daughter in the ancestral property inherited by the forefathers by birth was determined by the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 which was enacted to remove gender discriminatory provisions. Under the amendment, the daughter of a coparcener shall by birth become a coparcener in her own right in the same manner as the son. Several landmark judgments have been passed recently to interpret this amendment in the context of ancestral property. But there is another type of property i.e. Self-acquired property of an individual on which the inheritance rights were unclear. Does a daughter have a share in the self-acquired property of the father? What will happen to the property in the name of the woman after her death?
The above-mentioned two questions were discussed in detail in the landmark judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in Arunachala Gounder (Dead) By LRs. Vs. Ponnusamy and Ors. on 20.01.2022.
Types of property in India
There are two types of property that a person can acquire in India:
- Self-acquired Property
Self-acquired property is the type of property that a person earns in his lifetime like purchased property from his own money, a property received through a gift deed, will, or transfer deed. The ancestral property, after being divided, will also be self-acquired.
- Ancestral Property
Ancestral property is an undivided property in which four or more generations of a single family have their share. The property is inherited by a Hindu from his or her father, father’s father, or father’s father’s father by birth.
Landmark Judgement on inheritance rights of the daughter on the father’s property
Brief Facts of Arunachala Gounder (Dead) By LRs. Vs. Ponnusamy and Ors.
- The matter before the Supreme Court was one where a Hindu man, Marappa Gounder had self-acquired property. Marappa Gounder died leaving behind a daughter, Kupayee Ammal. Marappa Gounder also had a younger brother, Ramasamy Gounder who had pre-deceased him.
- The daughter, Kupayee Ammal died issueless and the property was then acquired by the five heirs of her uncle (Ramasamy Gounder) in a share of 1/5th each. These five heirs were Guranatha Gounder (son of Ramasamy Gounder) and his four heirs (Defendant Nos. 1-4 herein)
- One of the heirs of Gunanatha Gounder, being his daughter Thangammal (Appellant) filed a suit for partition of the suit property before the Learned Trial Court. The Learned Trial Court concluded that Marappa Gounder died on 15 April 1949 and therefore, the suit property would devolve upon the sole son of Ramasamy Gounder by way of survivorship and the Appellant had no right to file the suit for partition. The Learned Trial Court, thus, dismissed the suit.
- The High Court of Judicature at Madras confirmed the findings recorded by the Learned Trial Court in the first appeal, as regards the date of death of Marappa Gounder. The High Court thus affirmed the decree dismissing the suit for partition, thereby holding that the property would devolve by way of survivorship.
Aggrieved by such dismissal of the suit for partition, the Appellant approached the Supreme Court.
Issues were framed by the Supreme Court:
- What is the nature of the property and what would be the course of succession if it is a separate property as opposed to the undivided property?
- Whether a sole daughter could inherit her father’s separate property dying intestate? And if so – what would be the order of succession after the death of such a daughter?
In this case, the Appellants contended that the property was purchased through a court auction sale by Marappa Gounder on 15 December 1938 and was thus his independent property. Therefore, the said independent property was never considered as joint family property and would devolve by succession upon his daughter. They further submitted that under the law of Mitakshara, the right to inheritance depends upon propinquity i.e., the proximity of the relationship. Since the daughter has closer proximity to the relationship, she would inherit the property from the father instead of the father’s brother’s son and daughter.
The Appellants further contended that under Hindu Law, a daughter is not disqualified from inheriting the separate property of her father. It was contended that when a male Hindu dies leaving behind only a daughter, his separate property would devolve upon the daughter through succession and the property will not devolve upon the brother’s son through survivorship.
- The course of succession if it is a self-acquired property as opposed to the undivided property
Allowing the appeal, the Supreme Court noted that the suit property was admittedly the self-acquired property of Marappa Gounder despite the family being in a state of jointness upon his death intestate. Therefore, Kupayee Ammal, his sole surviving daughter, would inherit the same by way of inheritance and the property shall not devolve by way of survivorship.
To arrive at this conclusion, the Supreme Court referred to customary Hindu Law as well as judicial pronouncements and observed that the right of a widow or daughter to inherit the self-acquired property or share received in the partition of a coparcenary property of a Hindu male dying intestate, is well recognized not only under the old customary Hindu Law but also various judicial pronouncements.
To hold that a daughter was capable of inheriting her father’s self-acquired property as per customary Hindu Law, the Supreme Court observed the following:
- Mitakshara School of Law:
Inheritance by succession is recognized by the Mitakashara school of law, but such inheritance by succession is limited to the property separately owned by an individual, male or female, and includes females as heirs to such property. Before the enactment of the Hindu Law of Inheritance (Amendment) Act, 1929 (Act of 1929), Bengal, Benares and Mithila sub-schools of Mitakshara recognized only five female relations as being entitled to inherit. These were the relations of widow, daughter, mother paternal grandmother, and paternal great-grandmother.
- The Madras sub-school of Law:
The heritable capacity of female heirs is also recognized by the Madras sub-school in the form of the son’s daughter, the daughter’s daughter, and the sister, as also recognized in the Act of 1929.
- The Bombay School of Law:
The heritable capacity of a large number of female heirs is also recognized by the Bombay school of Law, including a half-sister, father’s sister, and women married into the family such as stepmother, son’s widow, brother’s widow, and also many other females classified as “bandhus.”
- The order of succession after the death of a woman
The Supreme Court observed that the legislative intent behind enacting Section 14(1) of the Act of 1956 was to address the limitation imposed on a Hindu woman, who was not previously permitted in law to claim an absolute interest in the properties that were inherited by her. Thus, her claim was limited to only a life interest in the property she so inherited. The Supreme Court observed that the order of succession after Kupayyi Ammal will be in accordance with the Act of 1956 as she died in 1967, much after the Act of 1956.
Section 14 of the Act of 1956 declares the property of a female Hindu to be her absolute property, which reads as under: –
“Section14. Property of a female Hindu to be her absolute property:
(1) Any property possessed by a female Hindu, whether acquired before or after the commencement of this Act, shall be held by her as full owner thereof and not as a limited owner. Explanation.—In this sub-section, “property” includes both movable and immovable property acquired by a female Hindu by inheritance or devise, or at a partition, or instead of maintenance or arrears of maintenance, or by a gift from any person, whether a relative or not, before, at or after her marriage, or by her own skill or exertion, or by purchase or by prescription, or in any other manner whatsoever and also any such property held by her as stridhana immediately before the commencement of this Act.
(2) Nothing contained in sub-section (1) shall apply to any property acquired by way of gift or under a will or any other instrument or under a decree or order of a civil court or under an award where the terms of the gift, will or other instrument or the decree, order or award prescribe a restricted estate in such property.”
Lastly, the Supreme Court described the scheme of sub-section (2) of Section 15 of the Act of 1956. It was observed that if a female Hindu dies intestate without leaving any issue, then the property inherited by her from her father or mother would go to the heirs of her father whereas the property inherited from her husband or father-in-law would go to the heirs of the husband. The Legislature’s fundamental objective is thus to ensure that the inherited property of a female Hindu dying issueless and intestate, goes back to the source. Accordingly, Thangammal (and other daughters of Ramasamy Gounder) were held entitled to 1/5th share each in the suit property.
Section 14 (1) converted all limited estates owned by women into absolute estates and the succession of these properties in the absence of a will or testament would take place in consonance with Section 15 of the Act of 1956, which reads as follows:-
“Section 15. General rules of succession in the case of female Hindus:
(1) The property of a female Hindu dying intestate shall devolve according to the rules set out in section 16,—
(a) firstly, upon the sons and daughters (including the children of any pre-deceased son or daughter) and the husband;
(b) secondly, upon the heirs of the husband;
(c) thirdly, upon the mother and father;
(d) fourthly, upon the heirs of the father; and
(e) lastly, upon the heirs of the mother.
(2) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (1)-
(a) any property inherited by a female Hindu from her father or mother shall devolve, in the absence of any son or daughter of the deceased (including the children of any pre-deceased son or daughter) not upon the other heirs referred to in subsection (1) in the order specified therein, but upon the heirs of the father; and
(b) any property inherited by a female Hindu from her husband or from her father-in-law shall devolve, in the absence of any son or daughter of the deceased (including the children of any pre-deceased son or daughter) not upon the other heirs referred to in subsection (1) in the order specified therein, but upon the heirs of the husband.”
Property of a female Hindu is her absolute property and if the woman dies intestate then her property goes back to the source from where she inherited, if a Hindu male dies intestate leaving behind the self-acquired property, then his self-acquired property would devolve by inheritance and its devolution shall not be by way of survivorship. Further, the daughter of such a Hindu male would be entitled to inherit such self-acquired property.
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