In a landmark judgment that would press on the tribal society to grant equal rights to females, the Himachal Pradesh high court has observed that women in tribal areas would also inherit property in accordance with the Hindu Succession Act 1956.
Annulling a decades-old tribal custom that allowed only men to inherit property in several districts of the state, such as Lahaul-Spiti, Kinnaur and Chamba, the court held that daughters of tribal areas were also entitled to inheritance of property as equality of rights was a constitutional right and would prevail over statutory rights.
While giving this judgment on Friday, justice Rajiv Sharma observed that laws must evolve with the times if societies were to progress.
The 60-page order stated that it was made clear by way of abundant precaution that the observations made only pertained to the right to inherit property by the daughters under the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, and not any other privilege enjoyed by residents of tribal areas.
Justice Sharma added that Hindu Succession Act should be harmoniously consistent with the constitutional goal of removing gender-based discrimination and effectuating economic empowerment of Hindu females.
It was added that women had the right to elimination of gender-based discrimination, particularly in respect of property, so as to attain economic empowerment. Justice Sharma upheld an order passed by the district judge of Chamba in 2002 to grant legal property rights to women.
The court said, "Tribal belts have modernised with the passage of time. They profess Hindu rites and customs. They do not follow different gods. Their culture may be different but customs must conform to the constitutional philosophy."
The order further read that the Constitution of India was a living document and judicial power must be exercised to interpret and enforce fundamental rights in an area where the will of the elected legislature had not been expressed.
The court observed that though section 2 (2) of the Hindu Succession Act provided that the provision of this act would not apply in tribal areas, such provision was read down in section 4 of the act. Hence women would be entitled to the inheritance rights.