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Case Analysis: Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma (Inheritance Rights for Hindu Women)

Tejal Garg,

Symbiosis Law School, Pune


Introduction

The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act[2], introduced by the Parliament of India in 2005, gave Hindu women, especially Hindu daughters, the right to inheritance and succession. The Hindu daughters were traditionally stereotyped and were denied the right to inherit their father's property; it was believed that sons owed their parents a religious duty so they may exercise their last rights. However, the daughters were not obliged by this religious obligation or duty and were further denied other responsibilities.

The current case aims to provide better clarification on the correct interpretation of Section 6 [3] of the Hindu Succession Act after two separate judgements passed in the cases of Danamma @ Suman Surpur & Anr. v. Amar & Ors[4]. and Prakash & Ors. v. Phulavati & Ors[5]. and thus the judgement resolved the matter in dispute. The decision of the current case was made on August 11, 2020. The bench that rendered the judgement for the current case consisted of the Judges M. R. Shah, S. Abdul Nazeer, and Arun Mishra. The decision was rendered by the Supreme Court of India.

 Facts

The deceased Dev Dutt Sharma had three sons and one daughter. The daughter was named Vineeta Sharma, the plaintiff in the present case. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against her brothers and mother concerning the division of the property left behind by her father after he passed away. The plaintiff's father bought and built the suit premises. After staying there for some time, the family rented out a part of the property to a tenant. The plaintiff said that she was entitled to the property left behind by her father by claiming that her father had passed away and her brother had died intestate. Therefore, she claimed that she was entitled to a quarter of the property, according to the normal division of the property. The defendants countered that the plaintiff's inheritance rights had been diminished or were limited since she was married to another family. As a result of this argument, the plaintiff launched a lawsuit to get her part of the property, claiming that the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, gave her the right to inherit it from her father.[6]

 Issue

In the case of Prakash v. Phulavati[7], the court had determined that Section 6 of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, which was amended in 2005, did not apply retrospectively, and it also stated that it could not be used in situations where the father had died before the commencement of the said Amendment. Therefore, it is only applicable when during the commencement of the Act and when both the father and the daughter are still living.

In the case of Danamma v. Amar[8], the court had determined that Section 6 of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, grants a Hindu daughter complete coparcenary right and the right to claim property partition in the same manner as any other coparcener, like the son. In this case, despite her father's death in 2001, the daughter (plaintiff) was granted the right to her father’s property by the court in 2005, and thus, the Act was changed to apply Section 6 prospectively.

Due to the different points of view expressed in the two judgements, this led to a conflict about what was the correct interpretation of Section 6.[9]

The following issues were brought up in this present case:

1. Whether Section 6 of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, applies retrospectively or prospectively?

2. Whether the daughter coparcener's right to claim her portion of the property depend on the father coparcener's continued existence, as stipulated by Section 6 of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, following the amendment?  [10]

Judgement

The court addresses and upholds certain aspects of the Mitakshara School, among other parts of Hindu law. After extensive deliberation, it was determined that there are two kinds of coparcenary rights: the unobstructed or unrestricted heritage bestowed upon oneself at birth. Simultaneously, the other one is obstructed or the vested heritage, which develops following the property owner's passing, meaning after the death of the father or the head of the family. Traditionally, the Dayabhaga School of thinking held that the obstructed heritage was a belief, and the Mitakshara School of thought held that the unobstructed heritage was a belief. Taking this into account, the court stated that, in accordance with the Mitakshara School of thought, Section 6 grants the right at birth. As a result, the Act's applicability does not depend on the father's presence during its inception. It also took into account that the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, was based on the Mitakshara School of thought as there are more followers of the Mitakshara School of thought than the the Dayabhaga School in India.

Later, the court examined and contrasted the original and modified texts of Section 6, concentrating primarily on the purposes and rationale of the amendments. In view of this, the court determined that rights might be asserted as of September 9, 2005. Consequently, the provisions were derived to be retroactive. It went on to say that birth is an antecedent event that confers rights under the amended Section 6. Regarding asserting rights on and after the date of the Amendment Act, the provisions are in effect.

It claims that because rights and obligations stem from the commencement of the Amendment Act, Section 6(4)[11] makes it clear that the requirements of Section 6 are not retrospective. Thus, it establishes that a daughter born prior to or before the commencement or the implementation of the Amendment Act may assert her (daughter’s) coparcenary rights.

The decision makes it clear that in the event of the death of the living coparcener after the commencement of the Amendment Act, the inheritance will occur through intestate or testamentary succession, as specified by the amended Section 6(3)[12], rather than through the aspect of survivorship.

The decision also discusses the statutory fiction of partition as it is established by the Proviso to Section 6. The court comes to the conclusion that neither partition nor coparcenary was disrupted by the aforementioned statutory fiction. The aforementioned provision, which is defined under Schedule to the Act of 1956, was intended to determine the share of the deceased coparcener in the event that a female heir of the class or any male related to such female survived him. Therefore, the proviso has no effect on or disruption of a daughter's coparcenary rights.

Additionally, the court has addressed the question of "survivorship" in an extensive manner. It has been noted that the Amendment of 2005 had nullified or abrogated survivorship. The court also states that, as opposed to creating a coparcenary, survivorship is a method of succession. Thus, the court concludes that the coparcenary rights of the daughter are unaffected by the survivorship rule based on this premise.[13]

Ratio Decidendi

This present case of Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma is a landmark judgement and historic because it has resolved the conflict over how to interpret Section 6 of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, that arose in the Phulavati and Danammaa cases. Thus, the following decisions were made in the current case: 

a. It was decided that Section 6 of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 would be implemented or applied retroactively, meaning that it would become effective as of a date from the past.

b. Regarding the second issue, it was decided that daughters enjoy coparcenary rights by virtue of their birth, and they are conferred on them by birth. These rights are to be equivalent to and identical with those of sons.

c. It was further decided that the presence of the father and his being alive has no bearing on the daughter's coparcenary rights. Regardless of her father's presence at the time the amendment act took effect, the daughter will still be entitled to coparcenary rights because they are granted at birth rather than after the death of the father.

d. As a result, the court partially overturned the Danamma case verdict and overruled the Phulavati case ruling with this ruling.  [14]

e. A daughter's coparcenary claims under Section 6 established before the Amendment Act went into effect are void. According to the ruling, claims filed after the specified date were considered to be valid.

f. The ruling further declares that, pursuant to Section 6(5)[15], an oral partition plea cannot be recognised as a statutorily recognised manner of partition. The court also establishes an exemption to this requirement, stating that an oral partition plea may be accepted in the event that it is backed by papers that are available to the public. But an oral partition argument by itself is insufficient.[16]

Conclusion

The judgement passed in this present case is a landmark and a reformative one. After the passing of this judgement, the Mitakshara coparcenary has been diminished because of its interpretation in the current judgement. It will essentially be nothing more than a historical artefact. It is now anticipated that the amendment will bring about a much-needed change in the social status of the Hindu daughters , with the clarification of their legal position according to Hindu law. Although it took 15 years for the amendment to come into existence and be implemented, the Supreme Court has now removed the final obstacle or the obstruction, and it is now the responsibility of the lower courts to lead the charge for change.[17] Thus, as per the Mitakshara School of Thoughts and Dayabhaga School of Thoughts, this verdict opened the door for  Hindu women, especially the Hindu daughters, to obtain coparcenary rights in the ancestral joint Hindu property, which was formerly given to the sons of the family exclusively.

References

[1] Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma, (2020) 9 SCC 1

[2] Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, No. 39, Acts of Parliament, 2005 (India).

[3] Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, § 6, No. 39, Acts of Parliament, 2005 (India).

[4] Prakash & Ors. v. Phulawati & Ors., (2016) 2 SCC 36.

[5] Danamma @ Suman Surpru & Anr. v. Amar & Ors., (2018) 3 SCC 343.

[6] Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma, The Legal State, https://lawsuperior.com/vineeta-sharma-vs-rakesh-sharma-case-commentary/ (last visited Apr. 6, 2024).

[7] Prakash & Ors. v. Phulawati & Ors., (2016) 2 SCC 36.

[8] Danamma @ Suman Surpru & Anr. v. Amar & Ors., (2018) 3 SCC 343.

[9] Chahakkanojia, Case Analysis of Vineeta Sharma v/s Rakesh Sharma,  Legal Services India, https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-9394-case-analysis-of-vineeta-sharma-v-s-rakesh-sharma.html, (last visited Apr. 6, 2024). 

[11] Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, § 6 (4), No. 39, Acts of Parliament, 2005 (India).

[12] Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, § 6 (3), No. 39, Acts of Parliament, 2005 (India).

[13] Devesh Saxena, Case Analysis: Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma and Ors. (SC), S & D Legal Associates, https://www.sndlegalassociates.com/post/case-analysis-vineeta-sharma-v-rakesh-sharma-and-ors-sc, (last visited, Apr. 7, 2024).

[15] Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, § 6 (5), No. 39, Acts of Parliament, 2005 (India).

[16] Devesh Saxena, Case Analysis: Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma and Ors. (SC), S & D Legal Associates, https://www.sndlegalassociates.com/post/case-analysis-vineeta-sharma-v-rakesh-sharma-and-ors-sc, (last visited, Apr. 7, 2024).

[17] Amit Jain, Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma: Clearing the last hurdle towards gender equality in Hindu Property law, Bar and Bench, https://www.barandbench.com/columns/vineeta-sharma-v-rakesh-sharma-gender-equality-hindu-property-law (last visited, Apr. 6, 2024, 4:13 pm)

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