"Law Upheld, Justice Denied"

[This judgement does not seem to have received much attention from the media. The Law has been upheld, but the judgement seems discriminatory to me. I would like to know the opinions of fellow bloggers on this.

I have written in this post what little I have found on the Internet. If anyone has additional information, I would appreciate any links available.]

In the first ever judgement on this matter, the Supreme Court has laid down the rights of relatives on the property of a childless Hindu widow who has died intestate.

Intestate means without leaving a will. If she has made a will, of course, she may leave her property to whomever she chooses.

Narayani Devi was married for only three months when her husband died in 1955. She moved back in with her parents when her in-laws turned her out of her matrimonial house. She never visited her in-laws after that. She pursued further studies, got a job and made a new life for herself.

She died intestate in 1996 ‘leaving behind huge sums in various bank accounts, besides a substantial provident fund.’

Over half a century and a protracted court battle later, her in-laws have won the right to her wealth as Narayani Devi died without leaving a will.

After Narayani’s death, her mother Ramkishori sought the grant of a succession certificate under section 372 of the Indian Succession Act.”

But Narayani Devi’s late husband’s brothers Radhacharan and others also filed a similar application. Later, her mother, Ramkishori, died and her brother, Om Prakash replaced her as the applicant.

Section 15 of the Act reads as under:15 – General rules of succession in the case of female Hindus. –

(1) The property of a female Hindu dying intestate shall devolve according to the rules set out in section 16.– (a) firstly, upon the sons and daughters (including the children of any pre-deceased son or daughter) and the husband; (b) secondly, upon the heirs of the husband; (c) thirdly, upon the mother and father; (d) fourthly, upon the heirs of the father; and (e) lastly, upon the heirs of the mother.”

This was cited by Narayanidevi’s in-laws to substantiate their claim.

(2) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub- section (1),– (a) any property inherited by a female Hindu from her father or mother shall devolve, in the absence of any son or daughter of the deceased (including the children of any pre-deceased son or daughter) not upon the other heirs referred to in sub-section (1) in the order specified therein, but upon the heirs of the father; and (b) any property inherited by a female Hindu from her husband or from her father-in-law shall devolve, in the absence of any son or daughter of the deceased (including the children of any pre- deceased son or daughter) not upon the other heirs referred to in sub-section (1) in the order specified therein, but upon the heirs of the husband.”

This was cited by her own relatives.

There was no doubt that Narayani had herself acquired all the wealth and it was neither inherited from her parents or her in-laws, a bench of justice SB Sinha and justice Mukundakam Sharma observed.

If the property had been acquire by her from her parents,- it would have reverted back to them on her death.

It it had been acquired from her in-laws,- it would have reverted back to her in-laws.

The Supreme Court said that the law is silent on the subject of self-acquired property of a woman.

But section 15(1) does not make any distinction between self-acquired property and inherited property.

Since Narayani Devi died intestate, section 15(1) would apply, the court ruled.

Which means that her husband’s family had earlier claim on her property than her own family.

If a childless widower had died intestate his property would have gone to his family, not his in-laws.

But if a childless widow dies, her property goes not to her family, but to her in-laws.

Justifying its ‘law is blind’ approach , Justice Sinha, writing the judgment for the bench, said: ‘‘It is now a well settled principle of law that sentiments or sympathy alone would not be a guiding factor in determining the rights of the parties which are otherwise clear and unambiguous.’’

Why does this seem a travesty of Justice?

(There seems to be some problem with the DNA online newspaper link- but I have quoted from the print edition, which I have with me, in this post.
The other link- to the TOI is working.)

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29 thoughts on “"Law Upheld, Justice Denied"”

  1. Yes, it is a travesty of Justice…I’m no lwayer but as I see it, the law is lacking because it doesn’t specify what happens if the wealth is acquired by a widow…The judgement was passed as per the existing laws so I don’t know if the Supreme Court can be blamed…The laws need to be changed…No matter what people say, we still live in a patriarchal society and laws always favour the man…

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  2. Yes, it clearly is. A couple of layman questions.The whole thing revolves around everyone , pretending that relations between Nirmala Devi and her in-laws were fine, because everything, in her absence is conjecture. And absence of any tangible proof of wrong doing on the in laws side is interpreted as they being normal heirs . 1. For several situations such as “people lost”, “remaining unfound”, and “couples staying separate” , etc , various periods like 7 years etc are specified by the IPC, after which some kind of planned or default action kicks in. The question is does the court accept the fact that Nirmala Devi was “thrown out”, and how many years of separation from in laws house is required to confirm that . 2. In a country like India where marriage has to equally do with two families as with individuals, in a sociological sense, turning out a widow from her marital home, and avoiding any further communication , to me qualifies as domestic violence, if you interpret “domestic ” in the larger sense. The Protection Of Women From Domestic Violence Act, 2005, Section 21 says : Section 21 (Chapter 21) Right to reside in a shared household.17. Right to reside in a shared household.-(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, every woman in a domestic relationship shall have the right to reside in the shared household, whether or not she has any right, title or beneficial interest in the same.(2) The aggrieved person shall not be evicted or excluded from the shared household or any part of it by the respondent save in accordance with the procedure established by law.Even if you accept that this act is new, does not any provision exist whereby women, can take advantage of it, now that the problem has been recognized as such? Does that need another black and white amendment, or is there a possibility of a smart judge interpreting things in an enlightened way in this case ? No one is asking for sentiments or sympathy. The law may be blind. But unlike the days when the constitution and IPC was written, today certain types of blindnesses have corrective actions. What was needed in this case is enlightened interpretation of women related acts. (Someone thrown out after 2005 from her marital house gets redress, and someone, who got thrown out before 2005, makes the crime a non-crime ?Having said all this, it is surprising that a career woman like Nirmala Devi should not have had nominees, and/or joint names on most of her assets. I think it depends on the lawyer. Remember the case of the Birla Bahu in Calcutta, whose estate didnt got to the Birlas despite court fights etc, and went to her advisor , Lodha ? Sometimes i fell that law is not only blind, it is stupid.

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  3. That is so unfair!! It was definitely discriminatory.. And I am surprised that our laws have not been updated to reflect the fact that women could have self acquired property.. Till date it is assuming that property of a woman is inherited! It is time that these laws are changed.. To me there are 2 huge issues1. A woman’s self acquired property is not even considered.2. The in-laws have the first right to a woman’s property – isn’t that archaic? I mean, today it should be the person’s relatives first and then the in-laws.. Wonder when our laws will reflect all this…And no mention of this in the media – clearly with more interesting stuff happenning – who has the time for such issues ?

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  4. Sraboney- I’m no lawyer, either, but as I see it the judgement seems to be perfectly valid as per the existing law.I think such cases probably were not very common- childless widows who have accquired considerable property out of their own earnings. So a judicial interpretation may not have been needed earlier.Nowadays we see that if a woman becomes a widow at a young age, she is generally encouraged to study and later have a career.As you say- the laws need to be changed.

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  5. ugich konitari- Yes, turning a woman out of her marital home is violation of her rights- thank you for the relevant sections from the Domestic Violence Act. As you have mentioned, maybe it would not have retrospective effect.”Having said all this, it is surprising that a career woman like Nirmala Devi should not have had nominees, and/or joint names on most of her assets.”- Yes that is surprising.

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  6. Smitha- Yes, I agree that the laws should be updated to reflect the fact that a woman may have self-acquired property.My personal opinion is that even if a childless widow were on good terms with her in-laws, the first claim should be of her own (parents and siblings) family in the case of her dying intestate. This would put the provisions on the same level as those for childless widowers.

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  7. I am not sure if the judge could have decided otherwise.Regardless of the fact that the lady on being widowed was thrown out of the house, she had not remarried and therefore her relations with her late husband’s family remains intact.It is indeed amazing that the late husband’s relatives kept a tab on this lady’s wealth and appeared as heirs on her death…Was that co-incidence or something else….

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  8. The law was probably made when everything that a woman had was given to her either her family or her husband’s. Independently working and earning women who acquired property themselves were perhaps did not exist.The law should be modified considering the changes that have taken place. In the instant case, however, the lady needs to bear a part of the blame for not writing a will. She could not have been so dumb. Is it possible also that she deliberately did not write a will for very good reasons that we can only speculate, knowing fully well what would happen?

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  9. i am assuming that she was married under the hindu marriage act — even if she actually would have not registered in court – this act may have been the reference point in court and that is why her parents or family did not get any wealth of hers. – Ethically speaking this is wrong, but the court went by the law ( ie if i am interpreting it correctly than it is correct )that means that the law needs to be amended ASAP.indian laws need serious amendments — in my opinion special marriage act gives woman better rights than man in court considering the fact that woman are not treated equally.

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  10. I read it online last night but what I couldn’t get is if she was too old then how did her assets go to her inlaws? Are her inlaws still alive? In any case many of our laws needs a huge overhaul. There are many instances where people don’t care to write will.

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  11. This whole issue of property seems so vexed. may sound a little ‘idealistic’ here but whats all this clamour for…is this what life comes to…rakes me immensely !Now, those thoughts are of course, besides the point that is being discussed here. It seems to me, with my very limited appreciation of such stuff, that law needs to be ammended and kept in touch with the times.

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  12. Patriarchal society…and laws that are archaic :(we need a major overhaul in the legal deptt…or rather the existing laws need to be overhauled..I mean some of our laws are just plain absurd!in this case, this is clearly not ‘JUSTICE’but the judges gave the ruling as per existing laws… :((

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  13. Mavin- Yes, the judgement seems to be correct as per existing laws.As for Narayani Devi’s in-laws keeping a tab on her wealth- not much chance of it being a coincidence!Vinodji- I agree that the problem of inheritance of the property of a childless widow with self- acquired property must be a comparatively new issue for Hindu Law. It probably is not so common a problem, either.”Is it possible also that she deliberately did not write a will for very good reasons that we can only speculate, knowing fully well what would happen?”- This is something that had not occurred to me…Anrosh- From the news report is does seem that she was married under the Hindu Marriage Act, which means that the Hindu Succession laws would decide who inherited her property.I agree- the Inheritance law in this regard needs to be changed. There have been many improvements in favour of women, concerning inheritance lately. I wonder how this issue has not come up…

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  14. Solilo- I think the news report mentions that her brother-in-law filed the claim. But even if her parents-in-law or brothers-in-law were not living, their descendents could legally be entitled to the inheritance.Kavi- You are right- the question of property and inheritance is vexed. But of course, laws are needed which serve Justice.Abhi- Yes, some of our laws are certainly archaic, and need to be changed!

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  15. Very well reported.If you read my post”media (not)reporting,well this exactly is my complaint with the media.Such important laws and the implications trhereof is what we need from them .But they would rather waste time on discussing SRK’s vanity van and dresses of some of the political personalities.

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  16. BK Chowla- Actually I did read your post yesterday and enjoyed reading your analysis of how the media gets its priorities skewed. I tried to post a comment but could not- maybe there was some internet problem at the time.

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  17. I agree with supreme court of india .Ignorance of law is not excuse.the deserted wife has been given many rights by our law but she do not use them is her fault.she do not make will is her fault.After death of husband she has a right in a property of her husband and in lwas .she did not claimed is her fault.It is good that supreme court is not showing emotions and following rule of law.If rule of law is not followed then just think what people like Munnabhai will become leaders easily .This will become a good lesson for all educated females of India to make a will .not only females but males also ,our society is careless about laws this shows through voting percentage.

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  18. sm- Yes, I agree that the Spreme Court has given its judgement in accordance with the law. But if the law is discriminatory then it must be changed in order for justice to be done in future cases like this.Yes, perhaps she should have made a will, but the fact that she did not do so has no bearing whatsoever on whether this provision in the Hindu Succession Act is discriminatory or not.

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  19. Manju, the first thing that came to mind on reading this news item was, “I want to make a will” (not that I have so much of acquired property or even property, but still the thought came).

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  20. Shail- Same here!:)A will, or as Ugich Konitari has suggested-“nominees, and/or joint names on most of her assets”.BTW- Are you still in this area? If so, do e-mail me. I answered your comment about being here (couple of weeks ago)but I guess you haven’t been online again till now.

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  21. Interesting observations in your post and in the comments section here. Congratulations for having brought out a thought provoking post. What emerges is that several provisions of law providing the woman to take suitable action had been ignored perhaps due to lack of knowledge or interest. You may also observe here that with the death of her husband, she was made to leave her matrimonial home. I wonder why this fact was not taken note of, by the courts. Not wanting to seek legal action is one thing and not being a part of a family that had deserted her is quite another.

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  22. Shail has correctly pointed out the importance of making a will in the comments section. Most of us are so ignorant of simple basics in life. In fact even naming a nominee for your bank account is another important matter which gets ignored by well educated persons.

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  23. I am first time here, Manju. I had written a post on the same topic and Smitha quoted you. You have written the article in detail. Good to know more about this case.As so many commentors said here, we should take a lesson from this ruling and make a will and I am thinking of doing it as soon as I turn 60!Nice to know you, Manju.

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  24. Gopinathji- I agree, many of us do not think about making a will or otherwise ensuring the smooth transition of property, etc to the heirs. I know some families where it is thought to be ‘inauspicious’ to make a will.Sandhya- Welcome to this blog! Yes, we should certainly take a lesson from this case.Prerna- I agree, the law should certainly be changed.

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