Madras High Court says Hindu Succession Act gives tribal women equal share in ancestral property
The Madras High Court has upheld the order passed by a trial court in October, 2017 in connection with a property matter, stating that as per the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, women belonging to tribal communities in Tamil Nadu were entitled to equal share in their family or ancestral property, at par with their male coparceners.
The Single-Judge Bench of Justice S.M. Subramaniam passed the order last month on a suit filed by a mother-daughter duo belonging to a notified tribe in Tamil Nadu seeking share in their family property.
Male relatives of the women had challenged the trial court order before the Madras High Court, initially claiming that the contested property was part of a settlement agreement as per which the two women were not entitled to receive a share.
However, the Counsel appearing for the appellants contended that the women were expressly excluded from the application of the provisions of the Hindu Succession Act.
The Counsel for the appellants argued that Section 2(2) of the Act stipulated that its provisions could be applied to members of any scheduled tribe only if a Central government notification provided for the same.
The lawyer appearing for the women argued that the community that the women belonged to did not have any prevalent customs governing the issue of one’s share in property and, therefore, the Hindu Succession Act would be applicable in the present case.
The Bench ruled that in case the customs or practices of a notified tribe prevented women from having equal rights, even then such customs could not override the law and public policy.
It said the purpose of Section 2(2) of the Act was not to bar women from claiming a share in family property, but it paved way for the Central government to notify the tribal communities, which have already moved forward and whose primitive customs and practices were not prevailing among the community for inheritance.
When it came to women belonging to the Scheduled Tribes, the Legislature did not have any intention of furthering any inequality or unconstitutionality in the matter of inheritance, noted the Single-Judge Bench.
It said in the present case, the parties to the suit belonged to notified tribes and therefore, the Court had to examine whether the concerned tribe had any established custom that provided for applying the clause of exclusion contemplated under Section 2(2) of the Hindu Succession Act.
It said in the absence of any such custom, the Court had to apply provisions of the Act and there existed no other reason to deprive the women from getting an equal share in the property.
The High Court further directed the Tamil Nadu government to take requisite steps for issuing of appropriate notification through the Central government under Section 2(2) of the Hindu Succession Act 1956, in order to protect the equal property rights of the tribal women in the state.
The appellants were represented by Advocate C Jagadish, while Advocate K. Siva Subram appeared for the women (Respondent parties).
(Case title: Saravanan vs Semmayee)