Ruling on HUF, a boost for women

The Delhi High Court’s ruling that a woman can be the karta of a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) is a natural culmination of a series of rulings from higher courts which have asserted the equal role of women in society.

The status of women has always been inferior to that of men in society. The discrimination against them has only been real in social life, in the roles given to them in institutions and in the laws that govern individual and social behaviour. It has taken many decades to correct some major biases in the body of laws through either legislation or interpretation of laws by courts. The Delhi High Court’s ruling is one such interpretation which has given women a legal right which is legitimately theirs but had been denied to them.

The Hindu Succession Act was amended in 2005 to give equal rights to women in ancestral property by making them coparceners. The Act deals with intestate succession among Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. But the amendment did not lead to women being given the position of the karta of an HUF. Till now, only men have been allowed to hold this position. Since women were given property rights, they should have been allowed to function as kartas also. The karta of an HUF is the manager of its property. The person who holds this position is the custodian of family finances and controls them. The karta can spend and borrow money and has a lot of discretionary powers in the management of property and finances. The position has normally gone to the eldest male coparcener. When women have a right to property they should have got this position too. The court noted that the law does not stipulate restriction of the position to men.

So far, the practice was for an HUF to be dissolved if there was no male coparcener to take over after the death of the karta. Women have sometimes been made the karta till a male child member of the family becomes an adult. All this can be avoided now. But there are some issues which still need to be clarified. According to the ruling, a married woman can also be the karta as marriage does not change her legal rights. But it is not clear if her child-ren will have the same rights. There is also some doubt as to whether a woman can start an HUF. While these may be clarified through legislation or by courts, the ruling has come as a boost for women’s rights.

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