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Monday, June 27, 2011

SKEWED HINDU INHERITANCE LAWS: A law that thwarts justice!

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PRABHA SRIDEVAN / THE HINDU / June 26, 2011.

The Supreme Court held that Section 15(1) lays down the ordinary rule of succession; Section 15(2)(a) only carves out an exception to Section 15(1).
The Supreme Court held that Section 15(1) lays down the ordinary rule of succession; Section 15(2)(a) only carves out an exception to Section 15(1) - The Hindu.

Section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act that determines the order of succession in the case of a Hindu woman who dies intestate should be amended for, it reflects an entrenched system of subjugation of women.
The family that had sent a young woman back to her parents after her husband's death, surfaced when she died. There was a contest between her mother and the husband's sister's sons for her property. The mother lost all the way up to the Supreme Court, which noted that it was a “hard case.”
“What women can expect from Courts… is a qualified degree of equal treatment,” wrote Professor Wendy Williams in “The Equality Crisis: Some Reflections on Culture, Courts, and Feminism,” published in 7 Women's Rts. L. Rep. 175 (1982), adding that “women's equality as delivered by Courts can only be an integration into a pre-existing, predominantly male world.”
This is so because, though the courts may be well meaning and earnestly intend to uphold equal rights for women, they can only reflect the shared life experience of individuals. This takes a largely male hue, not only because the judgment-deliverers are predominantly male, but also because society systemically supports male supremacy. And this systemic slant shades the thought processes that lie behind laws too, and the courts apply the laws in their judgments.
The skewed reality in which gender is positioned in the social, political, economic and cultural transactions shows up the fact that law is not gender-based — sometimes it is not even gender-neutral. Gender-neutrality will not be enough if it merely maintains the status quo — which is nothing but the perpetuation of gender discrimination. Women need, and must have, affirmation of their equality.
If enactment of laws was sufficient to protect women, then women in India are on velvet. But reality bites. The law is observed in the breach, or the law is not effectively enforced by the law-enforcement agencies, or judicial redress lies beyond the woman's horizon, or yet, the evil is seen as an accepted practice. Or women get beaten by “hard cases.”
Look at this particular “hard case,” which is reported in (2009)15 SCC Page 66 Omprakash and Others Vs. Radhacharan and Others. In 1955, Narayani Devi married Deendayal Sharma, who died within three months. Soon she was driven out of her matrimonial home. She lived with her parents, earned a living and died on July 11, 1966. She left behind a substantial estate, but wrote no will. Both her mother and her husband's family claimed a succession certificate. The Supreme Court considered the scope of Section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act and held against the mother.

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