Amid raging debates on gender equality in India, the Delhi high court has ruled that the eldest woman member can be a ‘Karta’ — the manager of a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF).
The landmark ruling will help women break another glass ceiling as traditionally only men used to be the ‘Karta’ of an HUF. All personal laws — based on religious dogmas and practices — have had inherent gender biases in them. Conservative elements in politics and society have been opposed to any changes that give equal rights to women. That was perhaps the reason that women were not made part of a coparcenary, i.e. joint legal heirs of the ancestral property of a Hindu family under the ‘Mitakshara’ school of law.
Regrettably, even after coming into force of the Constitution, which gave equal rights to men and women, women were discriminated against for almost 55 years and denied the right to ancestral property.
It was only in 2005 that Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act was amended to give equal rights to women in ancestral property by making them a coparcener. The HC ruling takes the amendment to its logical conclusion by declaring that if the eldest man in an HUF can be the ‘Karta’ so can a woman, if she happens to be the eldest member.
“It is rather an odd proposition that while females would have equal rights of inheritance in an HUF property, this right could nonetheless be curtailed when it comes to the management of the same. The clear language of Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act does not stipulate any such restriction,” said the high court.
India has changed a lot since 1956, when the Hindu Succession Act was passed. It’s heartening to see that the legislature has taken note of this change and accordingly empowered women, challenging the patriarchal mindset in society.
The remaining ambiguity in the law has been clarified by the Delhi High Court, which must be commended for taking a progressive view of the amended law and giving it a gender-friendly interpretation.