Hindu Succession Act

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Indian inheritance law & Women in India - if a childless widow dies intestate, everything that belongs to her goes to her in¬ laws, and that includes all the wealth she acquired in her lifetime through her own efforts. However, if a widower dies in a similar fashion, his property will go only to his parents and family; but, most definitely, not to his wife's parents.

Why the double standard? Well, that is just how it is. This is just one of the many in-built illogical biases in property laws in India and many other countries. For instance, Tanzanian property laws do not allow married women to' transact property without their husbands' permission. Husbands, of course, are not required to seek spousal consent. Take almost any part of the world, any section of society or any population group, juggle statistics any which way you want, the conclusions are the same ¬ women are discriminated against when it comes to wealth and property. Women comprise more than 50 per cent of the world's population but they own less than 1 per cent of the world's wealth, says the United Nations. Women do two¬ thirds of the world's work but earn only 10 per cent of the income.

There is no dearth of figures to show the raw deal women get when it comes to ownership of property and wealth. And there is no dearth of platitudes and good intentions expressed by the world's tallest leaders and most influential international institutions and organisations.

"Investing in women and girls has a multiplier effect on productivity and sustained economic growth. Investing in women is not only the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do," Ban Ki Moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations, had said. The World Bank too calls investing in women "smart economics" because research shows economic growth for women has a valuable multiplier effect. Women are more likely to share their economic gains with their families and communities at large.

Moreover, women's equal rights to land, housing and property are also human rights, recognized in various international human rights instruments. Yet, laws and social customs, and most crucially practices, continue to be skewed against women getting their fair share of wealth.

In India, during the debate on the Hindu Code Bill in Parliament, a majority of the legislators, all men, took a stand against daughters inheriting property from their natal families. Thus, the Hindu Succession Act (HSA) of 1956 did not allow women the right to ancestral property. It was amended as late as 2005 to give daughters equal rights.

In India, there are three sources of land-ownership for women - land transferred from the government, from the market, and through family inheritance. However, inheritance is the most significant because 87 percent of land is privately owned and hence the amendment is of great importance.

The HSA applies to Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains, but the Christians have their own code and the Muslims have theirs. Then there are the tribal communities of various states whose property rights are governed by their customs and norms. To complicate the issue even further states are allowed to enact their own succession laws. A woman's property rights vary depending on her religion, her marital status, the state she comes from and her tribal identity.

All these variations mean that there is no single set of laws that governs the rights of an Indian woman to property. However what unifies all these various laws is their immunity from constitutional protection against bias and inequality.

. "The amendment to give women equal rights in family property was significant especially as it covers over 80 per cent of the population. Many women have filed cases seeking their share under this amended law and such cases are being heard in courts across the country. However, the number is still small because most women hesitate to ask for their share in property they are afraid of spoiling their relationship...
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