The Supreme Court has upheld the inheritance rights of a widow over her husband’s second wife’s property on the ground that customary laws prevail over statutory laws. The bench of Justice S B Sinha and Justice Markandey Katju upheld the Punjab and Haryana high court order and observed:“Custom is one of the three sources of Hindu Law. Custom may override a statute subject, of course, to a clear proof of usage.”
The petitioner, Asse Kaur, had challenged her step-mother, Raj Kaur’s inheritance rights over her mother’s property. The rights were vested upon Raj Kaur in accordance to the Zimindara customary laws that governs inheritance among the Sidhu Jats community in Punjab.
Raj Kaur had married Asse Kaur’s father after her husband’s death. The marriage was under the Zimindara customary law that legalizes marriage of a widow with her brother-in-law in order to keep the property within the family. Subsequent to the death of Asse Kaur’s father, two brothers and mother, the entire property vested with Raj Kaur because the daughter was not entitled to any share in the family property.
However, Asse Kaur challenged the inheritance 37 years ago and sought 50 per cent of her share in the family property under the Hindu Law of Inheritance (Amendment) Act, 1929. She lost at both, the lower court and the Punjab and Haryana high court.
Asse Kaur appealed before the Supreme Court on the ground that customary laws should be in consonance with equity and justice. The bench agreed with her that in case the 1929 Act was applied, she would have succeeded to the interest of her brother after the mother’s death.
However, it added if statutory law was applicable in a case, it was subject to the applicability of the customary law. The bench held:”Raj Kaur, who was a widow, was married to another brother just to safeguard the family property. She succeeded under the customary laws to her husband’s property after the death of her co-widow. In that case, if the daughters who were married were to be excluded by customary law, no exception can be taken.”