Saturday, 29 January 2022



               In 1955, Smt Narayani Devi and Deendayal Sharma solemnised their marriage. Within three months of the marriage, Narayani Devi was left a widow and was banished to her parents’ home by her marital family. She continued to earn a living and departed this life on July 11,1996. She died childless and had left no will behind for someone to claim her substantial amount of property. With that she had left a huge sum in her provident fund  account. All of Narayani Devi’s  property were not inherited from her parents. Now the issue rose when both hers and her deceased husband’s family filed an application for grant of succession certificate in terms of  section 372of  Succession Act. 

                 The Supreme Court, relying on section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1955(HSA) . Section 15 of the Act reads as under :

“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 children of any predeceased son or           daughter)and  the husband;

          (B)secondly, upon heirs of the husband:

          (C) Thirdly, upon the  mother and  father ;

         (D) fourthly, upon the heirs  of the mother. 

        (E) lastly upon the heirs of the mother.

(2) Notwithstanding anything contained in  subsection  (1),

        (A) any property inherited by a female Hindu from her father or mother shall devolve, in absence of any son or daughter of the  deceased (including the children of any predeceased son or daughter ), not upon the other heirs referred to in sub-section(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 predeceased son or daughter) not upon heirs referred to in sub-section (1) in the order specified therein, but upon the heirs of the husband.”

 The section 15(1) lays down the ordinary rule of succession while section 15 (2) (a) carves out an exception thereto -  However, law is silent with regard to self acquired property of woman.  Na rayani’s family received nothing at all whereas her in-laws who drove her out of her marital home, provided no support financially  and had not been contact ever since had acquired her weath and property. This judgement by the supreme court was delivered by Justice S B Sinha and Mukundakam Sharma on the 5th of May 2009. The appellants, represented by N.R Choudhary and Somnath Mukherjee were Narayani’s brother who took the place of  her mother who passed away before the verdict, the respondents represented by Arvind V. Sawant, Senior Advovate (Nitin S.Tambwekar,  B.S  Sai and K Rajeev, Advocates) were the sons of the sister of Narayani’s deceased husband.

The court said “ this is a hard case…But then only because a  case appears to be hard would not lead us to invoke different interpretation of a statutory provision, which is otherwise impermissible. It is now a well settled principle in law that the sentiment or sympathy alone would not be a guiding factor in determining the rights of the parties which are otherwise clear and unambiguous. 

              This verdict, though seems to be legally correct due to the prevailing patriarchal laws, does not fall in line with  gender equality principles and  needs to be reviewed at the earliest. Had the Narayani been a male, her self acquired wealth would have stayed in her own family. Narayani upholding her dignity and conscience , if alive would  never shared her property with her in-laws that disowned her at such a fragile state of mind after her husband’ s untimely demise. What we need urgently is new just laws that aren’t inherently discriminatory towards gender. 

This case is revolves around a sexist law that seems to turn a blind eye to women regarding matters of self acclaimed property. The fact that there is no law that talks about self-acquired property speaks volumes about how the law views a man’s property snd s woman’s property. Lets break free from the notion that  women are not able to acquire wealth an property without acquiring it from her parents. 

Even though the verdict was given in lines with the laws, it is  morally wrong and illogical to let the in-laws acquire Narayani’s wealth despite the fact that she had left no will. This unfortunate turn of events have lead us too realise the urgent  need of  law that looks at both the sexes through one window and entangle them from their gender roles. It is important to acknowledge that legislative reforms, implementation  of legal policies, responding to issues that contribute to sexual inequalities   are steps forward to achieve gender justice. 


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