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Supreme Court seeks Centre’s response in plea against Sections 15, 16 of Hindu Succession Act

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday sought the response of the Centre within three-weeks in a plea challenging the constitutional validity of Sections 15 and 16 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.

A three-judge bench comprising Justice Dhananjay Chandrachud, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Bela M. Trivedi directed the Centre to file its response within three weeks and adjourned the matter for hearing on a later date. 

Earlier on January 31, 2022, Justice Chandrachud decided to hold a final hearing in detail. Subsequently, the parties were asked to submit detailed notes regarding the same.

Prior to the writ petition, the special leave petition was filed by advocates Mrunal Buva and Dhairyashil Salunkhe. The special leave petition was filed against the order passed by the Bombay High Court. In February, 2019, while issuing notice on the petition, the Apex Court had stated that “during the hearing, the parties tried to examine the possibility of a settlement”. 

The dispute was settled through the mediation of lawyers. The Court then issued a notice in February 2019 stating “the writ petition filed before this court under Section 32 raises an important question of gender equality”. The copy of the petition was directed to be served to the Attorney General’s office.

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The writ petition unveils deep-rooted patriarchal ideology under the Hindu Inheritance Act, 1956 based on the following grounds,

➢ Section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 gives priority to the heirs of the husband over the parents of the deceased. If a Hindu woman dies without making a will. Since the husband is alive at the time of her death, he takes all her property without leaving any share for her own mother or father; this is because they come in the next order in comparison to the hierarchy of the Hindu man dies intestate whose mother is provided in the class 1 heir class.

➢ Section 15(2) provides source of acquisition of property as a basis to devolution of a property of a woman dies intestate-issueless; whereas for a man under Sections 8 or 10 of Hindu Succession Act, 1956 no source-based devolution of a property is provided when he dies intestate. Further the property of a woman goes back to a source from whom she inherited the property such as father, husband & father in law. However again it discriminates with mother, as, even if woman inherits from her mother, her father’s heirs succeed the property.

➢ Section 8 of the Hindu Inheritance Act, 1956 gives preference to children/men. Blood relatives can only be inherited by men, not by women. When a Hindu man dies, his blood relationship is given priority. His property is distributed among the heirs of class 1 which includes his wife, children, mother and then father of class 2. His mother shares equally with the child and the widow. No matter the manner in which he acquired the property, his wife’s relatives do not even know the order of inheritance.

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The petition highlights that even after Section 14 of the Succession Act clarifies Hindu woman is an absolute owner of her property, Sections 15 and 16 which talks about the rules of inheritance and the order of succession, do not consider a Hindu woman to be an independent person capable of transferring her property to her blood relatives. However, discrimination in these legal provisions is based solely on gender and not on family ties. To test the feasibility of the dispute, the idea that under the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, that the inheritance is kept in male linage scheme to keep property in the family, is irrational, otherwise Hindu man`s property would not be inherited by daughters, sisters ‘sons and sisters’ daughters, as they marry into other people’s homes. So, the only basis for this classification is gender.

The petition states that,

“The rights of Hindu women to human dignity, social dignity and self-respect are important aspects of the right of women to live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution. Gender justice is a very important constitutional goal, without which half of the country’s citizens will not be able to fully enjoy their rights, status and opportunities.”

Case Name- Kamal Anant Khopkar Versus Union of India & Anr.

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