1st February, 2016 : At a time when women are fighting for their right to enter temples, the Delhi high court has ruled in a landmark verdict that the eldest woman member of a Hindu undivided family can be its karta (manager of the family and its properties).
Extending the meaning of Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, which brings women on a par with men with regard to inheritance in a Hindu undivided family (Huf), Justice Najmi Waziri said the rights of a female family member cannot be curtailed when it comes to management of the property.
“It is a rather odd proposition that while females can have equal rights to inheritance in an Huf property, this right can nonetheless be curtailed when it comes to management of the same. The clear language of Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act does not stipulate any such restriction,” the high court said in its verdict dated December 22, 2015, which was made public last week.
The verdict came on a suit filed by the eldest daughter of a north Delhi business family, seeking entitlement as the karta on death of her father and three uncles. Ordinarily, a first-born male among the co-parceners of the Huf property is – by virtue of birth – entitled to be its karta.
The karta has superior powers over other family members in matters concerning management of properties and other family affairs. The title is usually given to the senior-most male member of an Huf.
Justice Waziri noted that female members of Hufs were earlier prevented from becoming its karta because they did not possess the necessary qualification of co-parcenership. However, with the amendment in the Hindu Succession Act-2005, equal rights of inheritance have been given to Hindu males and females.
“The impediment, which prevented a female Huf member from becoming its karta, was that she did not possess the necessary qualification of co-parcenership... Now that this disqualification has been removed by the 2005 amendment, there is no reason why Hindu women should be denied the position of a karta,” Justice Waziri observed.
Relatives opposing the daughter’s claim had argued that Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act defines a woman’s rights only with regard to the inheritance of property, not its management. They argued that the undefined rights will have to be gleaned from ancient customs as well as ancient Hindu texts – which do not specifically confer such a right on women.
“If the male member of an Huf, by virtue of being the first-born and the oldest, can be a karta, so can a female member. The court finds no restriction in the law preventing the eldest female co-parcener of an Huf from being its karta,” the court said, declaring the petitioner as the manager of the family business.