The Madras high court has made it clear that the moment property is given in favour of a Hindu woman, she becomes the absolute owner despite the restrictions and limitations contained in the settlement deed.
Justice S Vimala delivered the judgment while dismissing an appeal filed by Jayalakshmi Ammal, second wife of one Dharmarajapillai, against the order of Cuddalore district court in favour of the sale of property by first wife Swarnathammal to Kaliaperumal.
Jayalakshmi Ammal contended that the power conferred under the settlement was only a limited one and not absolute.
Rejecting the contention, the judge said the express language used in the settlement deed interpreted in the light of Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, would lead to the conclusion that what was conferred was only an absolute one and not a limited estate.
"Therefore the first wife has got every right to dispose the property and the sale is valid. Therefore purchaser of the property is succeeded and the appeal is dismissed."
Dharmarajapillai, who lived with Swarnathammal for 26 years, had married Jayalakshmi Ammal with the former's consent on November 19, 1965 as the couple had no children.
The same day Dharmarajapillai executed a settlement deed in which it was mentioned that she can enjoy the property till her lifetime and after that it will revert back to him.
The judge said "the recitals in the documents reveal the expectation in the mind of the settler that he would get back the property at any cost. There is an assumption that the first wife will predecease him. He would live and enjoy the property after her death."
The judge said the amendment was brought to the Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act to take care of such documents existing with fraudulent intentions.
The section says "any property acquired by a Hindu female before or after the commencement of this act shall be held as full owner and not as a limited owner and hence the sale of property by the first wife is valid," the judge said.
While delivering the judgment, the judge made some observations about the status of married women who do not become pregnant.
"Though women are not alone the cause for the issue yet the problem of infertility has broken many homes, separated many couples and caused disharmony between the couples while they are living together," she observed.
She further said "the most inhumane form of insult is the husband, who getting married while the first wife is alive, trying to justify the second marriage in the name of giving gift of property to first wife."