Laws Protecting the Rights of Widows

Law
03-Feb-2023
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When a woman's spouse passes away in a patriarchal nation like India, she is forced to live as a recluse since she is seen as a burden on the entire family. This is frequently observed when the woman is a member of an underprivileged and oppressed group. They are required to adhere to strict social customs and rituals, and they must distinguish themselves from people from many other cultures.

Many widows in India are unaware of their rights, including those related to property, coparcenary, inheritance, etc. Many adjustments have been made to the current rules, even though the rights recommended in Hindu law books in various frameworks, such as Mitakshara and Dayabhaga, seem more unfavorable for women. Hindu Women's Right To Property Act of 1937, Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act of 2005, Hindu Succession Act of 1956, and others are a few examples. 

Thus, the aforementioned Sections have actively promoted the advancement of women's rights, particularly the property rights of widows. In addition to the Hindu Succession Act of 1956, several additional Acts have attracted attention for strengthening the position of women about property rights. In addition, severe guidelines have been established, such as Section 24 of The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, to keep those who are not deserving from taking advantage of their property rights.

When we carefully examine the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 and all of its amendments, including those made in 2005, it is clear that significant and noteworthy changes have been made, which have ultimately changed the situation of a widow about coparcenary rights, legacy, and property rights.

Overview of the Rights

The legislation about the legitimate rights of widows can be separated into two categories: that which is relevant to Muslims, Christians, Parsis, and Jews, and that which applies to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs. The Hindu Succession Act of 1956 is used to determine how the assets of a person who passes away without leaving a will are distributed in the categories of Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Sikh.

The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act governs Muslims, while the Indian Succession Act, of 1925 governs Christians, Parsis, and Jews.

Widow Rights in India

Here are all the laws that protect the rights of widows in India:

Rights to Property After Remarriage:

Hindu widows were permitted to remarry under a statute that was put into effect during the British era. Even though it was a landmark ruling, it prevented widows who had remarried from receiving their share of their husband's property.

According to Section 2 of the Hindu Widows Remarriage Act, 1856, all rights and interests a widow may have in her deceased spouse's property must end once she marries again, and any other people qualified to inherit the property upon her death or the widow's surviving beneficiaries will take precedence over her. The Hindu Widows Remarriage Act of 1856 has since been revoked, nevertheless. By the guidelines of the Hindu Succession Act of 1956, widows who choose to remarry do have a claim to the property of their late spouse.

Right of Inheritance:

In India, the basic framework for inheritance varies based on religion rather than the type of assets.

The succession and inheritance laws for Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, and Hindus are governed by the Hindu Succession Act, of 1956. The aforementioned Act applies to both men and women equally and makes no distinction between moveable and immovable property.

The Act is applicable in cases of intestate succession when there is no will, and to anyone who has converted to Hinduism. When there is already a will in place or when there is testamentary succession, the Act does not apply.

Ancestral and self-acquired properties are the two main categories. The right to a share in ancestral property emerges through birth and is obtained up to four generations of male ancestry. Contrarily, the self-acquired property is that which a person has purchased with his or her funds or with money obtained through a portion of an ancestor's assets. The Hindu parent continues to enjoy unrestricted discretion to will his self-obtained property to whomever he pleases.

When a man dies without leaving a will, his property is distributed to his heirs according to four categories: Class I, Class II, Agnates, and Cognates, with a preference for Class I heirs. The property passes to the heirs of Class II if there are no successors of Class I. If neither Class I nor II heirs exist, the property passes first to agnates and then to cognates.

The delegation of the coparcenary property of a Hindu man who passes away following the passage of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, is governed by Section 6 of that law. The delegation of self-obtained property by Hindu men is covered by Section 8 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.

Like other entitled and living beneficiaries, a wife is entitled to an equivalent share of her spouse's assets. The wife has the full option to purchase her late husband's entire estate if there are no other sharers. All heirs, including the deceased person's wife, receive property according to Section 10 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.

The wife's religion does not prevent her from buying if the husband is a Christian. If a spouse leaves both a widow and a lineal heir, the widow will be entitled to one-third of the estate, while the other two-thirds will belong to the lineal heir.

Right of Adoption:

A Hindu woman has the opportunity to adopt a child under Section 8 of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956. A Hindu woman who is not of unsound mind, who is a major, who is single, or even if she is married, whose marriage has been dissolved, whose spouse is deceased, who has fully renounced the world, who has ceased to practice Hinduism, or who is of unsound mind by a court of competent jurisdiction, is allowed to adopt either a son or a daughter, according to the section.

The status and position of widows changed following the passage of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956. Before, widows were not permitted to adopt children without the explicit permission and approval of their deceased spouse, or in a few rare instances, without the permission of their Sapindus. However, the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, of 1956 has eliminated all of these barriers that prevent a widow from adopting. In the same vein, women used to only adopt for their husbands in the past, but these days women adopt for themselves. She is now referred to as the child's adoptive mother in her own right. By doing this, the relation back theory is expressly rejected.

Adoption is not recognized by Muslim or Christian personal law. If a Muslim or Christian casually adopts a child, he is permitted to treat the child as his own and give the child his property through a gift. Still, neither Muslim nor Christian personal law will regard the child as an heir deserving of succession. Adoption is listed as one of the methods for recovering children by all Indians in Section 41 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2000, as revised in 2006. This provision is secular legislation.

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Right of Maintenance:

The rights of widows are protected by additional laws. For instance, a widow is qualified to claim her part of the property of her deceased spouse under section 8 of The Hindu Succession Act 1956. After the demise of her spouse, the agreement considerably preserves her status and financial stability.

If the widowed daughter-in-law is unable to support herself through her earnings or other property or, in the absence of any property of her own, is unable to obtain support from the estate of her spouse, parents, or children, Section 19 of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act 1956 discusses the maintenance of the widowed daughter-in-law after her husband passes away by her father-in-law.

The term "widow" has been defined as "dependent" under Section 21 (iii) of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act of 1956 insofar as she doesn't remarry. The legitimate beneficiaries of the deceased person are obligated by section 22 to support the dependent if they have not received any portion of the deceased person's property. Each person who is sharing the property is responsible.

The amount of maintenance to be paid is one of the most important issues to be resolved because a deficiency in and of itself is unjustifiable. The total amount is entirely up to the judge's discretion. Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act of 1956, Section 23, lists several factors that can be taken into consideration, including the dependent's background, relationship to the deceased, reasonable wants, current health, provisions in the will, the deceased's net estate's value, any outstanding debts, the number of dependents who are eligible for maintenance, etc. The flexibility of this clause, which helps the court determine the appropriate level of maintenance, makes its relevance clear.

According to Muslim law, support is given for the continuation of a marriage, its dissolution, support for a Muslim divorced woman till she remarries, or if the wife is living apart due to her husband's cruelty and non-payment of dower. However, the wife is not qualified to file for support as a widow.

According to Christian law, the widow is entitled to receive one-third of the husband's estate, with the remaining portion going to the children equally.

Coparcener Rights:

According to Hindu Succession Laws, a coparcener is a "Joint Heir" who shares the legal right to inherit money, property, and titles in a Hindu undivided family (HUF). In other words, they have the right to request the property division. Notably, none of the HUF members may be coparceners even though all coparceners are HUF members. A daughter continues to be a coparcener even after marriage, and after her death, her children inherit her share.

According to the Hindu Succession Act of 1956, any person born into a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) is qualified to be a coparcener by birth. Both sons and daughters are regarded as coparceners with the same legal rights and obligations towards their ancestors' property.

The Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act, 1937:

The widow of a deceased coparcener of a Mithakshara undivided family would have a similar intrigue under the Hindu Women's Right to Properties Act of 1937 as her husband did while he was still alive. The undivided interests of a coparcener upon his death were conveyed by survivorship to the following coparceners before the Act of 1937. The Act of 1937, however, brought about a change in the situation. The Hindu Women's Right to Property Act, 1937's Section 3(3), outlined the widow's legal entitlement to property partition. She will thereafter be able to claim a partition in the same way as a male owner.

Even though the Indian Constitution guarantees gender equality, as evidenced by the 1956 Hindu Succession Act, it is not implemented regarding Hindu women's right to inherit property. Later, Mitakshara's intestate succession restriction was repealed by the Amendment of 2005, which helped Hindu women achieve parity with men in terms of status.

Regarding the right to inherit property, it has liberated women from the male-dominated past. In 1986, 1989, 1994, and 1994, respectively, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu each implemented the changes. In 1975, Kerala abolished joint family property both within and outside.

The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005:

Later, the daughter has also designated a coparcener thanks to the prudence of Section 6(1) of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005. The main idea behind this section is that if no female beneficiary or male beneficiary is claiming through a female heir, the standard of survivorship is unaffected in any way. If there is a female beneficiary or male beneficiary, however, the intrigue will be resolved by this Act either through testamentary succession under Section 30 of the Act or through intestate progression under Section 8.

Conclusion

In India, widows are motivated by the desire to achieve a reasonable standard of living. Particularly in the beginning, widows had experienced great suffering; in fact, being a widow had come to be stigmatized. Widows still have the same issues while visiting any rural location today, even though as the globe develops, so do people's thinking.

They do face several problems, but the majority of them can be solved by taking care of the costs on their own, finding work, engaging in farming and agricultural activities, educating the children, fighting for their rights, setting up an independent household, developing a social network by joining local women's organizations, etc.