Court Dispute About Sivaji Ganesan’s Will… Are Equal Property Rights For Daughters Merely On Paper?

The inheritance battle in the family of late actor Sivaji Ganesan as his daughters are contesting his "will" as fabricated brings to the fore the question of equal rights for daughters.

The property dispute between Sivaji Ganesan’s sons and daughters has been grabbing the headlines for a fortnight now. The case is sub-judice, so I will not give any opinions on it, but this case has brought a stark social reality to the fore.

This case involves disputed property worth 270 crores and the people involved in the dispute come from a famous family, so it has all of the media’s attention and our curiosity. But if you were to pause and look around you, you would find families aplenty where you could see the same story being replicated.

The 2005 amendment to the Hindu Succession Act was considered a historic event and rightly so. It was a giant stride towards empowering women. However, more than a decade and a half later social reality is starkly different and the struggle for guaranteeing equal rights for women continues.

What are the rights of women under the Hindu Succession Act

The Hindu Succession Act, of 1956 gave women the right to complete ownership over the property they possessed.

Before this legislation came into force women only had the absolute right over any property that had been gifted to them by their husbands, parents, or family members. This property was known as Saudayika property.

Any property that they received from non-relatives was termed as Non-Saudayika property and they needed their husband’s consent for disposing of the same. Also any property that a woman did not have the right to dispose off of any property inherited through her relatives, and such property would pass on to her legal heirs after her death..

Thus, the Hindu Succession Act was a major reform – it gave women complete ownership to women over the property they possessed irrespective of the means of how they had come to own the property. It also removed the restrictions and obligations of seeking the husband’s consent for selling their property.

But the Legislation did not grant women the right to an equal share in ancestral property, or if the parent died without making a will about self-earned property – it would then go to the male heir. This was a limitation that strengthened the social bias against daughters and the obsession with the “Ghar ka Chirag.”

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2005 Amendment to the Hindu Succession Act

The 2005 amendment to the Hindu Succession Act was a major reform aimed at making the act gender equal.

This amendment ensured that daughters had an equal right, same as sons, to inherit ancestral property, and have the same rights and liabilities in such property as the sons.

The amendment also ensured that women could become a Karta of the family, demand an equal share in the partition of ancestral property, and also add their self-acquired property to the joint family property.

These rights were granted to women irrespective of their being married or unmarried.

The Supreme Court of India in 2020 held that the amendment would be effective retroactively, i.e., a daughter would be given a share in the coparcenary property even if the father had died before 2005.

But what is social reality?

A few years ago, a colleague at my then workplace filed a case against her brothers, seeking a share in the family property.

I remember the conversation between other women at the office who were shocked and appalled at her decision. Their reaction seemed strange to me; why were they so worked up about someone exercising their right?

One of the women exclaimed “Is money more important than your brothers? She might win the case, and get a share in the property, but her relationship with her brothers will be finished. Is money more important than family?”

I was left wondering why are women even expected her to make this choice.

The one reasoning instantly given is that “a daughter gets a lot at her wedding from her parents, so she should stop being greedy and try usurping her brothers’ property.”

This is a completely flawed explanation.

Even to this day in most homes, sons are provided with far more opportunities than daughters when it comes to education or equipping themselves professionally. The end goal for the daughter remains marriage and whether or not it’s a happy marriage they are forced to continue with it.

In such a case why should a daughter refrain from seeking a share in the property? If she was “given a lot” in the form of gifts at her wedding, so does a brother get a lot in the form of opportunities, educational expenses, and business capital. Then why are daughters expected to refrain from seeking their shares, or termed selfish and greedy for seeking their rightful share in their family property?

Let’s recognise her rights

Girls from a young age in our society are taught to be ideal, adjust, and always ready to place everyone before them. All of these expectations are dumped on the heads of women, and even celebrated as ‘great symbols of womanhood’. The result is women feeling guilt in raising their voices or seeking their rights.

It’s time to raise our voices. Be equally responsible for your parents as your male sibling, no, you don’t need anybody’s permission for that. Be strong and clear and voice your right. Remember a woman seeking her rights is not taking anyone else’s away.

The case initiated by Sivaji Ganesan’s daughters is just not about the huge sums involved, it is also about women voicing their rights, and seeking what is rightfully theirs.

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About the Author

Parvadavardini Sethuraman

A dreamer by passion and an Advocate by profession. Mother to an ever energetic and curious little princess. I long to see the day when Gender equality is a reality in the world. read more...

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