Introduction – Right to Inherit under Hindu Law
Under the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, daughters have been classified as a Class-1 heir and have the right to the property of an intestate father. However, prior to the enactment of the Hindu Succession Act, there were instances where the property of an intestate male was usurped by his brothers and other family members. In the case of Arunachala Gounder (Dead) Vs Ponnusamy,[i] the Supreme Court was posed with the question that if the property will devolve to other family members or the daughter.
Judgment by the Supreme Court
In order to answer the question, the Bench analysed the Customary Hindu Law and the earlier Judicial Pronouncements made by the Indian Courts. The court came to the conclusion that the earlier Judicial Pronouncements made by the Courts of India as well as the old Customary Hindu Law, both recognize the right of the daughter to inherit the self-acquired property of a Hindu Male dying intestate.[ii] The Court made the following observation,
“If a property of a male Hindu dying intestate is a self-acquired property or obtained in partition of a co-parcenery or a family property, the same would devolve by inheritance and not by survivorship, and a daughter of such a male Hindu would be entitled to inherit such property in preference to other collaterals.”
What are the implications of the decision?
The right of a daughter to inherit the property of an intestate father after his death has already been provided under the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. However, the position of the Court for cases before the enactment of the act was not clear. This clarifies that daughters have the first right to inherit the property as all the other Class-I heirs and the property does not devolve to Class-II heirs like brothers and other relatives of the father, if the daughter is still alive. This is another Landmark Judgment of the Supreme Court related to the rights of the daughters, after it provided daughters an equal share in the Ancestral Property retrospectively. It is a continuation of the positive interpretation of the Hindu Law related to succession by the Court with respect to the rights of women.
[i] 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 71