Convert entitled to Hindu parent’s property, rules Bombay high court
Justice Mridula Bhatkar said inheritance is not a factor subject to choice, but a right acquired by birth and – at times – marriage. She also analysed the wording of section 26 of the Hindu Succession Act-1956 to note that it did not include the convert in the scope of disqualification although that could have easily been the case.Updated: Mar 06, 2018 22:08 IST
The Bombay high court on Tuesday held that the right to inheritance of a person born Hindu cannot be affected by his/her altered religious status, and the person is entitled to property left behind by the parent despite being converted to another faith.
Pronouncing her verdict, Justice Mridula Bhatkar said inheritance is not a factor subject to choice, but a right acquired by birth and – at times – marriage. “Renouncing a particular religion to get converted is a matter of choice and cannot cease relationships established by birth. Therefore, a Hindu convert is entitled to the father’s property if the latter dies intestate,” she said.
The court was hearing an appeal filed by a 68-year-old Matunga resident challenging a lower court order that restrained him from alienating or creating third-party rights in the flat left behind by his deceased father. The original suit was filed by his sister, an Andheri resident who embraced Islam after marrying a Muslim.
The woman had approached a civil court around three years ago to seek a proportionate share in a shop and flat left behind by their deceased father in Matunga. Noting that her brother had already sold the shop and was now contemplating following suit with the flat, she petitioned the court to block any attempt to put up the inherited property for sale. The latter objected to the woman’s plea on the pretext that she lost her right to inherit their father’s property when she relinquished Hinduism for Islam.
When the civil court overruled his contention, he approached the high court where his lawyer – Subhash Jha – cited section 26 of the Hindu Succession Act-1956 to claim that the sister was no longer eligible to inherit her father’s property. But Justice Bhatkar said that while section 26 disqualifies children born to a convert from inheriting ancestral property, it does not impose any such disentitlement on the convert concerned. This is probably because children born to a convert are not Hindus on account of the altered religious status of their parent, she added.
The judge analysed the wording of the legislation to note that it did not include the convert in the scope of disqualification although that could have easily been the case. The section only mentions “the convert’s descendants”, she said.
Justice Bhatkar also took into consideration the constitutional provisions pertaining to religious freedom while passing her verdict. “The constitution guarantees right to religion as a fundamental right, allowing everybody in secular India to embrace and follow any faith of their choice. Hence, Hindus converted to other religions are not disqualified from claiming the property under section 26 of the Hindu Succession Act,” she said.