Are The Equal Rights To Daughters Under The Indian Inheritance Laws Being Misused?

While it’s appreciable and a great move that the Indian Inheritance laws have recognised daughters as equal right holders over their parental properties, from my personal observation, it’s yet a dictum, subject to many unaddressed pros and cons, that is being arbitrarily misapplied by many families, in favour of their daughters, much against their daughter-in-laws and sometimes against their own daughters too.

Under the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, differential rights were conferred upon sons and daughters. While sons had complete rights over their father’s property, daughters enjoyed this right only until they got married. After marriage, she was supposed to be a part of the husband’s family. Resultantly, should the daughter be into any unfortunate situation in her married home, she would have nothing to fall back on, if her maternal family refused to support her.

Society began learning it’s lessons out of these situations and started evolving. As a solution, more and more daughters were begun to be educated, pushed into employments and made to stand on their own feet. A job well done!! But did this put an end to the abuse? Not really. It began working the other way around.

Many of the groom family began nurturing expectations of a working girl (which is not wrong). But what followed was that a working girl, in many cases, was expected to “contribute” post marriage into the family pool. If the husband is not doing well, she was expected to “support”. If the husband is jobless, she must take over his responsibilities and “manage and run the family on his behalf” as that is also a part of her duty, besides the usual household responsibilities. And where it is India, is the family restricted to husband and children alone? Of course not!!! It would but naturally encompass his parents as well and where luck favours, his unmarried brothers and sisters too. Many times, she must do all this to ‘prove’ that she is as much a part of or one with that family.

And what does the lady get back in return? – ‘Oh what is so great about that? It is but her duty.’

Well, if your guy really loves you and appreciates all that you are doing, it does feels somewhat paid off, though not in the financial terms or in terms of the physical pain that the woman undergoes. Sometimes, in some families, in-laws unabashedly find it okay to demand a financial contribution from the new daughter-in-law and at times, the married daughter-in-law voluntarily keeps expending her personal finances on her marital home (without saving anything for herself of course) under the belief that she is doing everything for her family and finally the day arises when the parental property (if there’s any) has to be distributed and the married daughters (married and gone long ago, have done virtually nothing for their maternal home, though being extremely well-placed) wake up and come claiming their shares. What stance does the poor daughter-in -law have other than being a sacrificial lamb at the altar? Do they consider returning all that she has done for everyone while in the common pool, before proceeding to distribute the rest among themselves?

Well, the equal rights, officially conferred upon the daughters (whether married or unmarried) through amendment to the Hindu Succession Act, in the year 2005, over their father’s HUF, that were earlier limited to sons, is being openly misused it seems, in many families and is proving to be the root cause of a silent tyranny for some of the caring, benevolent daughter-in-laws in the society. Where the law concedes equal rights upon the daughters, it concurrently grants the same duties, liabilities and disabilities that were earlier limited to sons but, there appear to be also some of those daughters who only want to reap the benefits of the provision, while quietly manipulating and dissociating themselves from the concerned responsibilities.

Case 1:

Prachi worked as a paediatric nurse in the NICU of a local nursing home. A very efficient and caring lady, her job involved taking care of the new-born babies brought into the neo-natal care unit due to health issues. Night shifts three days a week was compulsory in the hospital. Besides that, for an extra income she did private duty assignments almost every day, which usually came through the hospital. These would involve a 12 hour job in the patients’ homes. Many a times, the private assignments and her official duty remained back-to-back and she, resultantly ended up working 24 hours at-a-stretch, while getting to catch up with only small, disjointed naps whenever the babies slept.

Her husband was jobless for many years, plus had difficulties sticking to an employment. She had many mouths to feed that included her husband, father-in-law, mother-in-law and a school going son. The entire financial and domestic responsibility rested on her shoulders, her parents also being occasionally dependent on her. Most of her income from the double-duty was spent away in family expenses.

The house where she lived belonged to her mother-in-law that was willed to her husband while gifting another one to their only daughter. Many years down the line, one day, Prachi’s husband simply left her for another woman in the neighbourhood. The family was shocked and though her in-laws were downright in their opposition to what he did, they could not do anything much except be with her in this time of grief. All her mother-in-law could do was instantly revoke the will. Prachi’s reconciliation attempts with her husband failed. With no course left, she requested her parents-in-law to at least leave the house for her, considering that she had shouldered roughly 20 years of their financial responsibility.

The family, though not against the idea, was reluctant over the possibility that Prachi might remarry and two years passed away with the family ‘only contemplating’ the transfer of the said property in favour of at least their grandson, when the mother-in-law unexpectedly passed away. Now, Prachi was in a bigger dilemma. She requested the father-in-law at least to make sure that the property was transferred in her son’s name, if not hers. The father-in-law agreed and even went to the extent of readying the will documents (to be executed once the property gets transferred in his name from his wife’s) when, en route to the lawyer’s office, he received a call from his married daughter (who was already in receipt of her share and has never had any part in the family liabilities or responsibilities whatsoever) and withdrew his decision just because his daughter laid a condition that she should be made a beneficiary in the will. Besides, he was unsure about how his son would feel if he gave away the house to his daughter -in-law and grandson. He informed Prachi that he needs some time to think over the entire issue and left for his native place Later on she got to know from her relatives that he has left on a permanent basis and has no intention to come back.

Prachi lives in the same house even today with her son but doesn’t know for how long. She has spent away all her hard-earned money on this family and with her age catching up, has become distressed and sick. Her husband has made it very clear that he does not want to come back to her. In this situation, what should be the legal recourse available to Prachi? Would her future and old age depend upon the whims of her in-laws? What if the father-in-law died likewise intestate, in which case, the property would automatically devolve to the legal heirs i.e. the son and the daughter and Prachi could be immediately asked to leave the house. Wasn’t her sister-in-law’s interference unfair in this case?

Personally, I feel the parents-in-law were shameless to have made the woman go through so many hardships, use her personal earnings and then dump her without any security using a possible remarriage as the ruse. When their son can remarry, why should not the daughter-in-law move on? And what about all the physical pain and financial sacrifices she underwent for them all these years or even the expenses incurred by her parents in her marriage? So basically, are we supposed to learn some lessons like:

(1) Never trust your husband or in-laws with your earnings or be kind to them.

(2) Never go overboard in being dutiful to them. Their personal welfare is none of a daughter-in-law’s business.

(3) If their son is not earning anything, a daughter-in-law is not entitled to feed them.

If this is the kind of price one must pay for being good or kind-hearted, then wouldn’t it be better to follow the lessons we learn out of it?

Case 2:

Pranay’s father suddenly died when he was in his teens, without leaving behind any will. He has a mom and younger sister. Their father had left them financially well. Both children got educated and eventually married. However, in the case of Pranay his mother and sister controlled and manipulated most of the decisions he took. Somehow he was unable to see through that he was being misled. When he was not married he was prevented from buying a house of his own since his widowed mom feared that the daughter-in-law may get into the habit of living without her. Pranay wanted to buy a house, taking advantage of the low market prices, but being a dutiful son he decided to put his mother’s insecurities to rest. At the time of fixation of his marriage, Pranay’s family convinced the girl’s family that the house where they lived would be eventually passed on to him. The girl married him in good faith and began adjusting to various situations in the household. Couple of years down into marriage, his mother told them to separate, his wife could not fathom why? So he was now forced to look for his own house, at a time, when the prices were sky rocketing and finally he managed to buy one. Eventually, when he got a job abroad, his mother decided to join him and his wife, even where sponsoring a parent meant an enormous expense, virtually eating out their possible savings. Time passed and they had children. Somehow, under one pretext or another, the mother always made it a point to never leave him alone. Pranay’s wife understood her mother-in-law’s internal insecurities and adjusted herself. Having lived together for all these years, the mother, sick and aged now and not in a position to handle anything, has willed everything to Pranay, while exacting a promise from her son and daughter-in-law that she will always live with them and is doing so happily. But yet his sister’s clearance is needed as far as the transfer of house property goes, since she is a Class I legal heir i.e. the father passed away intestate, leaving all of them as equal share-holders in the property. The sister, who is extremely well off has never involved herself, in anyway, where responsibilities were concerned. Besides, when she was offered her share, she has made it abundantly clear that she does she not want anything beyond all that has been already given to her and neither will she be able to handle her mom’s responsibility anytime. But yet she is reluctant to release the clearance and holds it in abeyance under various excuses. Also she is unwilling to discuss the reasons.

So the question is, when a married daughter wants no part in the responsibilities or benefits, is it fair they still hold rights enough to keep matters lingering for their siblings, at their whims and fancies? Law needs to provide a clear framework, for a speedy recourse, to avoid deterrents caused by the unreasonable conduct of any one sibling.

There is a downside of this law, for the daughters too.

Case 3:

Sanvi was a very hard-working and ambitious girl right since a young age and aspired to be an MBA. Her parents (and also as advised by their relatives) did not believe in spending money in a daughter’s education (over a son) and therefore funded her only a diploma. ‘We are providing you with a support that we ourselves never received. Consider yourself lucky at that’, was the derisive reply she always received while her brother was supported in most of his failures and on top of that, funded for an MBA too.

Sanvi finished her studies and began doing well at her job, at which, her relatives began insisting that daughters also have equal responsibilities towards parents (especially since they have ‘educated’ her) and so she is entitled to contribute towards their maintenance expenses. So her mother made it a point to ensure that a five percent of her monthly salary was passed on to them.

Couple of years later, her brother ditched and left their parents alone in their old age, at the insistence of his wife and Sanvi, already married, had to step in to take care of them. She has been supporting them since many years now and wants to take a work break to focus on her children but the financial responsibility of her parents prevents her from taking decisions, independent of her parents, while the parents are still in a dilemma on how to divide their properties between their son and daughter, without hurting any of them. On one hand there is Sanvi who is doing everything for them and on the other hand is their son, who is not even willing to look at them. If the parents sell and convert their property into cash investments, they need not depend on Sanvi at all. But they are scared about offending their son and whenever she raises the issue, they would often answer her back saying what is the use our taking the efforts to educate you, if you only wanted to stay at home? At times, it gets irksome but sans any solution and law does not provide any. They being aged, can she give up on them?

Some pertinent questions borne out of the various situations, the above law has given rise to and riding today in the fore-front for many people are:

  • (a) Whether this doctrine of ‘equal rights to daughters’ is being sightlessly executed in an irrational manner, without really looking at who is at the helm of the responsibilities involved and in full blindness to the circumstances underneath? What is the legal recourse under these situations?
  • (b) How can one prove the level of responsibilities that one has undertaken and performed for one’s parents or in laws, before being silently made to accept the outcome at the time of distribution?
  • (c) Aren’t the parent or in laws as much responsible to safeguard the future of those children who have stayed dutiful during their lifetime, be it a son, daughter or a daughter in law (and their descendants) and have sacrificed their present (and probably some part of their future too) while caring for the elders?
  • (d) If a legal heir conducts himself unreasonably and is not available and is also unlikely to be available to take a decision, what is the recourse available to the other legal heirs, should they want to execute a sale of the property with clear title?
  • (e) How many uneducated women are aware of the legislative provisions meant for their protection and security? Is it possible to create a widespread awareness of the issues prevalent in the society and make sure that each and every woman is educated on their basic rights? Wouldn’t it be better if this begins from the school level itself, such as by including a mandatory subject on ‘Women’s rights and responsibilities’ in the curriculum, besides the ‘Community living’, so that a process to inculcate an awareness in the society gets initiated?

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