Property Rights Of Widows In India
Indian society has been evolving in terms of how widows are treated. In earlier times, they were subjected to discrimination in various spheres especially with regards to property inheritance, while what they really required was emotional and financial support to carry on with life’s journey ahead.
A few years ago, the Bombay High Court (HC) heard a case where the brother of a deceased man quoted the Section 2 of the Widow Remarriage Act 1856 and asserted that his sister-in-law who had remarried should not be allowed to inherit the property of her former husband. The court, however, ruled that a widow has the rights over her former husband's properties, even if she has remarried, as she would qualify as a Class I heir while the husband’s kin would be considered a Class II heir.
MakaaniQ shares more information:
A law that came into force under the British rule had legalised the remarriage of Hindu widows. Although it was a landmark decision but it deprived widows, who remarried, from acquiring their share in their husband’s properties.
According to Section 2 of the Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act, 1856, “All rights and interests which any widow may have in her deceased husband's property … shall upon her remarriage cease; and the next heirs of her deceased husband, or other person entitled to the property on her death, shall thereupon succeed to the same.”
However, this Act has been repealed. The Bombay High Court had ruled that the provisions of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 would prevail over the repealed Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act, 1856.
Provisions under the Hindu Succession law
The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 mentions the distribution of property among heirs in class I of the schedule. The first rule says that if a person dies without leaving a will (intestate) then his widow, or if there are more widows than one, all the widows together, shall take one share.
While the husband's kin are counted among the Class-II heirs, the Class-I heirs who share their rights with the widow of the intestate, include - son, daughter, mother, son of a predeceased son, daughter of predeceased son, widow of predeceased son, son of a predeceased daughter, daughter of predeceased daughter, son of predeceased so of predeceased son, daughter of predeceased son of a predeceased son, widow of predeceased son of a predeceased son.
It is to be noted that:
- Adopted children (sons or daughters) are also counted as heirs.
- Children born out of void or voidable marriages are considered to be legitimate by virtue of Section 16, and are entitled to succession.
- A widowed mother (who may be an adoptive mother) of the intestate also succeeds to her share along with other heirs by virtue of Section 14. Even if she is divorced or remarried, she is entitled to inherit from her son.
- However, if there is an adoptive mother, the natural mother has no right to succeed to the property of the intestate. A mother is also entitled to inherit the property of her illegitimate son by virtue of Section 3(I)(J).
- Certain widows re-marrying may not inherit as widows. Any heir, who is related to an intestate as the widow of a pre-deceased son or the widow of a brother shall not be entitled to succeed to the property of the intestate as such widow, if on the date the succession opens, she has re-married.