Women in India have traditionally been denied equal property rights. This is due to a multitude of forces such as cultural beliefs, religious norms, and discriminatory laws. However, in recent years, there has been a growing movement to promote gender equality in property rights.
This paper attempts to provide a comprehensive review of the historic case of Vineeta Sharma vs Rakesh Sharma, focusing on the legal issues of women’s property rights in India, as well as the challenges and progress women have made in gaining equal rights in property ownership. It delves into the history of women’s property rights, the 2005 Amendment Act and its changes, and the background, facts, arguments, and effects of the case. It briefly describes the coparcenary and Hindu Joint Family systems in India, as well as their discriminatory tendency towards women and discusses the historical precedents that have influenced women’s property rights. The paper concludes with the current status, remaining challenges, and the importance of having equitable property rights to foster gender equality and social justice in India.
Women have fought for equality since the dawn of time. This kind of discrimination can be seen not only from social norms and attitudes of people but also from legal systems that govern the people. In light of these discriminatory legal frameworks, women have suffered unequal treatment. When it comes to the realm of family law, women faced challenges with matters such as inheritance, right to property, and marriage. Such practices resulted in a patriarchal system in which women were restricted to subordinate roles within families, perpetuating gender inequalities in various aspects of their lives.
Inequality is something that is deeply woven into the cultural fabric of India and in recent years, the legal system has made significant progress by enacting gender-inclusive laws and amendments to protect women and their rights. The case of Vineeta Sharma vs Rakesh Sharmawas one such much-needed change.
History of Vineeta Sharma vs Rakesh Sharma
Throughout the history of ancient India, traces of gender discriminatory laws can be found in texts such as Manusmriti, and various other customs which form an integral part of the evolution of law-making. While these texts have enormous historical and cultural significance, they have been criticized for endorsing and perpetuating gender biases with various negative effects.
The Indian constitution being 73 years old, has enacted various provisions to ensure fundamental rights for its citizens as well as equality for all genders by enacting provisions such as Article 14 and Article 15. Furthermore, it also allows the state to make laws for protecting women, granting positive discrimination. Despite these provisions, there are multiple instances where laws are discriminatory towards women. One such is the inheritance of ancestral property, in which property is inherited only by male heirs, depriving women of their inheritance rights. Property ownership- a basic right of every individual, was not granted to women. While men and their male lineal descendants owned estates and properties as coparceners, women were only granted life interest and maintenance rights.
The Hindu Law of Inheritance Act of 1929 was the first legal step towards integrating women in inheritance, granting inheritance rights to three categories of female heirs: a son’s daughter, a granddaughter, and a sister. Following that, the Hindu Women’s Rights to Property Act of 1937 was passed, granting women the right to own property. Despite these developments, daughters still lacked adequate inheritance rights, underscoring the need for additional measures to achieve true gender equity.
During the colonial era, the British government introduced the Hindu Succession Act in 1956, which attempted to provide equal inheritance rights for men and women, in spite of this, it still had some limitations. There was a distinction between ancestral and self-acquired property, with women having limited rights in the former, granting only men the inheritance rights to ancestral property.
The 2005 Amendment
The 2005 amendment was made with a motive to remove gender discriminatory provisions that were prevalent throughout in the Hindu Succession Act, of 1956. It was an outcome of the findings in the 174th law commission report which raised many matters regarding the provisions being discriminatory to women. It was recognized that for generations in India, men had been the architects of the law, creating laws for their benefit and contributing to inequality for women. As a result, men grew to be greater in authority and self-sufficient, whereas women became more dependent on men and subservient.
The amended Act in 2005 had its main objective of guaranteeing equitable treatment of women with other male members of the family and promoting their property rights, which were previously not granted to them. Earlier, Hindu women’s property rights varied depending on various conditions such as marital status, desertion, widowhood, or motherhood. The type of property, whether inherited or self-acquired, and whether it was a stridhan, were all taken into consideration. However, the inclusion of daughters as coparceners, allowing them equal rights to joint family property irrespective of their marital status, was a significant change brought about by the amendment.
The replacement of section 6 of the Act was the most significant change made, whereby daughters were given the same rights and liabilities as sons, making them coparceners by birth to properties in the joint family. Earlier, women could only possess Stridhan, which were gifts from relatives and in which she held absolute ownership. However, she had limited rights to the gifts she received from strangers or obtained through self-exertion and could not transfer them without her husband’s consent.
Background of Vineeta Sharma vs Rakesh Sharma
The case of Vineeta Sharma Vs Rakesh Sharmarevolved around the coparcenary rights of daughters in a Joint Hindu Family. The amendment made to Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act in 1956, on September 9, 2005, provided daughters with equal rights as sons by, granting them similar coparcenary rights. However, the main issue at hand was whether daughters born prior to the amendment, specifically in 2005, would be eligible for coparcenary rights, and whether the survival of the father at the time of the amendment was a prerequisite for the application of the amended provisions.
In the case of Prakash v. Phulavati, the court deliberated on the nature of the amendment and the requirement for the father to be alive on 9th September 2005. It was held that the amendment had a prospective effect, meaning that both the daughter and the father must be alive at the time of the commencement of the Act in 2005 for the daughter to be recognized as a coparcener. In other words, the daughter would only be entitled to her rights in the property if the coparcener (father) passed away after the enactment of the Amendment Act in 2005.
On the contrary, the appellants in Danamma Suman Surpur and Anr v. Amar argued that they should be entitled to a share of the family property despite being born before the Act’s commencement. The court determined that the amendment allowing daughters equal rights in coparcenary property would apply to all daughters, regardless of when their father died. This meant that daughters born before the amendment in 2005 may still claim their share of ancestral property.
On August 11, 2020, the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in the case of Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma. The three-judge bench, delivered the long-awaited decision, overturning previous verdicts by finally declaring that daughters will have inheritance rights by birth, equal to those of sons, from properties of fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, regardless of whether the father is alive or not on the date of enforcement of the Act.
Facts of Vineeta Sharma vs Rakesh Sharma
Vineetha Sharma, the appellant, had filed a suit claiming her share of ancestral property against her family members including her brother Rakesh Sharma. She argued that since their father, Mr. Dev Dutt Sharma had died intestate, she could have the right over the property among other heirs. However, what had brought confusion in this case was the fact that the father had died before the commencement of the Act, 9th September 2005. The High Court of Delhi held that the appellant could not claim the property under section 6 of the amended Hindu Succession Act.
Issue of the Case
- Whether the daughter can claim her coparcenary rights (according to the 2005 Amendment) after the death of her father?
- Whether the nature of the Act is retrospective, prospective or retroactive?
Arguments of Vineeta Sharma vs Rakesh Sharma
- Daughters being granted the right to be coparceners ensuring equality with sons, was a step towards rectifying the discrimination against daughters and protecting their fundamental rights. Since the Act was retroactive, daughters could exercise their coparcenary powers from its commencement.
- The law treats daughters as second-class citizens, denying them the same property rights as their male siblings. This discrimination has a number of negative consequences, including economic insecurity for women and their families, and a lack of control over their own lives.
- The explanation to Section 6(5) of the Act, which requires a partition deed to be registered in order to be effective, is merely directory and not obligatory. A directory provision is one that is not required for an act’s validity but ought to be complied with in order to ensure that the act is carried out properly and orderly.
Decision of this Case
The court overruled the Phulavati case, finding that coparcenary rights are not extinguished by the death of a coparcener. This means that a daughter can inherit ancestral property from her father, even if he died before the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 came into force. The court reasoned that coparcenary rights are inherent in a person by virtue of their birth into a Hindu joint family. These rights are not dependent on the continued existence of the joint family or the survival of any particular coparcener.
The court had examined various aspects of Hindu law while arriving at its judgement, especially on the Mithakshara school where they determined that unobstructed inheritance is acquired at birth, whereas obstructed inheritance is contingent upon the death of the property owner. In light of this understanding, the court emphasizes that the rights under Section 6 of the Act are conferred at birth and constitute unobstructed inheritance. As a result, it clarifies that the father’s survival on the date of the amendment is not a requirement for the provision to be applicable.
Furthermore, the court also held that the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 is retroactive. Meaning that the amended provisions of the Act apply to transactions that took place even before the Act came into force. In other words, the law applies to events that happened before the law was passed. Since the purpose of the amendment was to give daughters equal rights, it would be defeated if the amendment only applied to transactions that took place after the Act came into force. As a result of this ruling, daughters can now inherit ancestral property from their fathers, even if the property was acquired before the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 came into force.
Acquisition of self-acquired property by daughters
Although the Vineetha Sharma case was a monumental step towards the acquisition of property by daughters, it only conferred ancestral properties. The acquisition of self-acquired property was dealt with in the case of Arunachala Gounder V. Ponnuswamy 2022. This case also raised the question of the devolution of property in the event of the intestate death of a female.
In this case, Kulyapee Gounder, (the daughter), inherited property from her father and the court decided that upon her death, the property should be returned to her father’s heirs. The motive behind this decision of the judiciary and legislature is to ensure that property returns to its original source in the case of a female’s intestate death. The court ruled that daughters of a male Hindu who dies intestate have the right to inherit self-acquired property as well as property obtained through partition by the father.
Furthermore, the court decided that a daughter’s inheritance from her father or mother would be devolved on to her father’s heirs if she died intestate. However, any property inherited by the daughter from her husband or father-in-law would devolve to her husband’s heirs. This distinction ensures that property inheritance aligns to separate familial lineages.
The Indian Constitution emphasizes equality and justice values for all citizens, including women. In a patriarchal society, however, discriminatory laws continue to prevent women from exercising their legal property rights. The Vineetha Sharma case, which occurred 15 years after the amendment, finally recognized daughters as coparceners by birth. This underlines the ongoing struggle for gender equality, as well as the importance of continuing efforts to eradicate gender-based discrimination in property laws.
Despite these efforts, there is still a long way to go before women in India have full and equal property rights. To achieve real gender equality in property rights, continual efforts must be made to address societal attitudes, raise awareness, and advocate for legal reforms that assure equitable treatment for women in inheritance cases.
(2020) 9 SCC 1
Indian Constitution, Article 14
Indian Constitution, Article 15
The Hindu Law of Inheritance (Amendment) Act, 1929, No. 2, Acts of Parliament, 1929
The Hindu Women’s Rights to Property Act, 1937, No. 18, Acts of Parliament, 1937
The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, No. 30, Acts of Parliament, 1956
Property Rights of Women: Proposed Reforms Under the Hindu Law, 174th Law Commission Report
(2020) 9 SCC 1
 (2016) 1 SCC 549
 (2018) 4 ADJ406
(2020) 9 SCC
Proposal to amend Section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act 1956 in case a female dies intestate leaving herself acquired property with no heirs, 207th Law Commission Report
This article is written by Anthara Narayanan, BBA LLB (hons.) at Vellore Institute of Technology School of Law, Chennai.