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Explained: How the Supreme Court has interpreted inheritance of daughters

The Supreme Court has ruled that the property of a man who has died without executing a will and is survived only by a daughter will devolve upon the daughter and not others such as his brother. What was the case? How did SC come to this conclusion?

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: January 24, 2022 8:12:22 am
The Supreme Court of India

The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the property of a man who had died without executing a will and is survived only by a daughter will devolve upon the daughter and not others such as his brother.

The case involved a dispute over the property of one Marappa Gounder who died in 1949 leaving behind a daughter Kupayee Ammal who also died issueless in 1967. Marappa Gounder had a brother Ramasamy Gounder who was survived by a son Gurunatha Gounder and four daughters. One of the four daughters, Thangammal, had instituted the suit seeking one-fifth share in the property of Marappa Gounder.

What were the rival claims?

As per Thangamma’s argument, Kupayee Ammal inherited Marappa Gounder’s property and after she died issueless, it came to Sundara Gounder and through him to Ramasamy Gounder. Thangammal contended that she being one of the heirs of Ramasamy Gounder was entitled to one-fifth of the share.

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Gurunath’s children opposed this saying that when Marappa Gounder died in 1949, his daughter Kupayee Ammal was not having any right to inherit his property. The only heir available then was Guranatha Gounder and from him, the property had come to them, the children claimed.

What did the trial court and Madras High Court say?

The trial court after scrutinising the evidence brought on record by the parties came to the conclusion Marappa Gounder had died prior to the enforcement of Hindu Succession Act, 1956 and, therefore, Thangammal and her other sisters were not the heirs as on the date of his death and was not entitled to partition of 1/5th share in the suit properties. The court dismissed Thangammal’s suit on March 1, 1994. The High Court dismissed the appeal against the trial court order on January 21, 2009.

Questions before the Supreme Court?

Whether a sole daughter could inherit her father’s separate property dying intestate? And if so, what would be the order of succession after the death of such daughter?

What did the Supreme Court conclude?

A two-judge bench of Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari which went into ancient Hindu commentaries on inheritance as well as previous decisions by courts, said “from the above discussions, it is abundantly clear that a daughter was in fact capable of inheriting the father’s separate estate…From the… discussions, it is clear that ancient text as also the Smritis, the Commentaries written by various renowned learned persons and even judicial pronouncements have recognised the rights of several female heirs, the wives and the daughter’s being the foremost of them”.

It said “right of a widow or daughter to inherit the self-acquired property or share received in partition of a coparcenary property of a Hindu male dying intestate is well recognised not only under the old customary Hindu Law”, and added “if a property of a male Hindu dying intestate is a self-acquired property or obtained in partition of a co-parcenery or a family property, the same would devolve by inheritance and not by survivorship, and a daughter of such a male Hindu would be entitled to inherit such property in preference to other collaterals”.

The court also said that if a female Hindu dies intestate without leaving any issue, then the property inherited by her from her father or mother would go to the heirs of her father whereas the property inherited from her husband or father-in-law would go to the heirs of the husband. In case a female Hindu dies leaving behind her husband or any issue, then Section 15(1)(a) of the Hindu Succession Act will come into operation and the properties left behind including the properties which she inherited from her parents would devolve simultaneously upon her husband and her issues.

Applying this to the facts of the case, the court said the succession of the suit properties opened in 1967 upon death of Kupayee Ammal and therefore, the 1956 Act shall apply. Thereby Ramasamy Gounder’s daughter’s being Class-I heirs of their father too shall also be heirs and entitled to 1/5th Share in each of the suit properties.

How did the court reach the conclusion?

Tracing the sources of customary Hindu law on inheritance, the court discussed Mitakshara law and looked into among others to ‘Vyavastha Chandrika’, a digest of Hindu Law by Shyama Charan Sarkar Vidya Bhushan which quoted ‘Vrihaspati’ as saying ‘the wife is pronounced successor to the wealth of her husband; in her default, the daughter. As a son, so does the daughter of a man proceed from his several limbs. How then, should any other person (b) take her father’s wealth?”.

The SC also noted that the book quoted Manu as saying “the son of a man is even as himself, and the daughter is equal to the son. How then can any other inherit his property, notwithstanding the survival of her, who is, as it were, himself.”

The top court also examined privy council judgments.

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