Gender dynamics in inheritance is a socio-legal issue in many parts of the world, especially in India. Land and other immovable property constitute the biggest proportion of wealth, and denial women equal rights in inheritance of immovable property depends the gender divide and discrimination. Many countries have reformed their laws to provide gender equity. But such reforms often remain only in paper, or are fraught with ambiguities and complications. For

Traditional Hindu law did not allow women to inherit property, with a few exceptions. The Hindu Women Rights to Property Act, 1937 set right the gender disparity in a very limited way.

The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, codified the succession of property amongst Hindus, and addressed the issue of gender dynamics. But the act did not resolve the issue completely, and raised many ambiguous situations. The 2005 amendment to the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 did not resolve the ambiguities completely. In Vineet Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma & Ors., (2018), the Supreme Court set right most of the ambiguities, paying way for gender equality in inheritance rights among Hindus in India. The Uttarkhand ordinance of 2021 that confers women’s co-ownership rights on the husband’s ancestral property offers a fresh hope to resolve the gender disparity in inheritance.

The situation in the Christian community is almost similar, where the society use the canon laws and the inherently biased Travancore Syrian Christian Succession Act, 1916, discriminated against women. The bias was validated in Mathoo Philip v. Mathoo Ouseph (1937). But a later case law, Mary Roy v State of Kerala (1960) set right the ambiguity, with the court decreeingcourt further decreed that there could be no discrimination between sons and daughters in inheritance.  Following this judgment, Section 37 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925 that mandates equal distribution of the intestate property among the children, regardless of gender, became applicable to Christians in India. Gender reforms have not touched the Islamic community. The sharia law, where women have the right to inherit property, but at a lesser ratio compared to men, still applies.

Inheritance Rights and Gender Dynamics in Indian Context

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