A Significant Verdict

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A uniform civil code will help end gender disparities

In a significant verdict the Supreme Court has ruled that daughters in Hindu families have equal rights as sons in their ancestral property. A daughter, says the ruling, shall be a coparcener (one who shares equal inheritance of an undivided joint Hindu family property) throughout life, irrespective of whether her father is alive or not. “Once a daughter, always a daughter…a son is a son till he is married,” said Justice Arun Kumar Mishra who headed the three-judge bench that passed the order giving equal rights to women while overturning past conflicting orders. The ruling supersedes various rulings of the Supreme Court and high courts on cases lodged after the 2005 amendment to Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 which gave daughters equal rights in family property with retrospective effect. Let us hope that the latest ruling by the top court of the country will be respected and accepted by all with humility and people will move forward to live in harmony.

In order to close doors for further litigations the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court held that if the property had already been bequeathed before the 2005 amendment, a female heir would not be able to claim any share if nothing had been left for her. Prior to the 2005 changes, Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 provided that if the parent had given a share of the property to a woman, it would be with her only till her lifetime, following which it would be distributed among the male coparceners or their male heirs. The woman had no right to sell or give away the property. Also, before the 2005 amendment to the 1956 Act, only the male heir had the right to inherit parental property. Deciding that the daughters cannot be deprived of their rights to equality conferred upon them by Section 6 of the Act, the three-judge bench has directed courts in the country where the cases have already been delayed to decide on the cases before them within six months.

Several organisations, especially those championing the cause of women, have hailed the apex court judgement. Amnesty International has said the decision was a right step in “promoting equality for women”. Though countrymen have been demanding changes to the archaic British era laws since the country gained independence, little progress has been made to change them, despite the fact that these laws have lost relevance to our times. India is still continuing with separate laws for different religious communities – Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Jews – framed during the British rule. Though some changes have been made over the years but they have fallen short of expectations of the people. There have been demands from various quarters for a uniform civil code for all the communities, but somehow leaderships of various political parties have shied away from making a single law that would hold good for all countrymen. Having a uniform law would go a long way in bringing amity among the people and end discrimination and selective use of personal laws to one’s advantage.

The latest apex court ruling will help limit property disputes arising among the Hindu undivided families to a great extent. It will also help the courts to decide the cases based on the fresh guidelines. Reduced numbers of civil disputes cases would ease the burden of the judiciary. The latest Supreme Court ruling will bring joy to women in all parts of the country. It is significant to note that Goan women have been privileged to be governed by the Goa Civil Code that gives them equal share in their parents’ property. Goa has long been proud of being the only state in the country to have a common family law and uniform civil code regardless of religion, gender, caste. Though many a times the leadership in the country has toyed with the idea of replicating Goa’s Civil Code for India it has failed to move forward. There is no disputing that making a uniform civil law for all religions would go a long way in promoting amity and brotherhood and end gender disparities in all religious communities and also help end misuse of personal laws.

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