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Sabrang
Hindu Personal Law
Has Hindu personal law truly been reformed?
The BJP, among others, has frequently promoted an understanding, through its well oiled propaganda machine (RSS) that Hindu personal law, post the 1950s, has already been codified and amended and is therefore no longer in need of further reform. The presumption that follows is that  in putting in place a uniform civil code, the personal laws of different communities should be altered so as to more closely resemble the already reformed structure of Hindu personal law.

This presumption does not, however, hold up under closer scrutiny. Dr BR Ambedkar famously resigned as Law Minister on this issue and it was only in 1955-56 that parts of it were pushed through by India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru as the Hindu Marriage Act, the Hindu Succession Act, the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act and the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act. Arguably many of the more egalitarian and liberal customary provisions available for women were lost when this codification took place.

Besides, there are features of Muslim Personal Law that are more equitous for women than Hindu Personal Law – the Muslim marriage as contract protects women better in case of divorce than the Hindu marriage as sacrament; the Muslim law of inheritance protects women’s rights better than Hindu law, and the right of mehr, which gives Muslim marriage the status of a civil contract, is the exclusive property of the wife. The provision that a third of a Muslim man’s property needs by right to be available for his first wife, is not a right available to Hindu women. Hindu men continue to refuse to surrender their ‘inalienable’ right to make a will over their entire property.
 
What rights does the Hindu Succession Act give Hindu women?
 
  • Under the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, the female heirs (of Class 1) do have a right to reside in a portion of the family home. But the right to claim partition is given exclusively to male heirs.
  • For men, class I heirs are defined as the mother, wife and children of the deceased, or representatives of the same.
  • A Hindu mother cannot, under the act, claim guardianship unless the father is dead or otherwise disqualified.
  • In 2005, the act was amended to allow women the right to inherit ancestral property. Subsequent succession remains, however, an unequal proposition.
  • For women, however, property is inherited by the heirs of the husband, if the property is inherited from the husband and by the heirs of the father if it is inherited from the father.
  • In the case of self—acquired property, property is inherited by the husband’s heirs in the absence of the husband or children and goes to the woman’s parents only in the absence of heirs.
How does Hindu Personal law deal with non-Hindus?
 
  • Under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the post-marriage conversion by either spouse furnishes to the other a ground for divorce. In other words, change of religion is treated under this Act as an unpardonable matrimonial offence. But this right to divorce is given only to the spouse who continues to remain a Hindu.
  • Under the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, children born to a Hindu after she/he has adopted another religion and the descendents of such children are disqualified from inheriting the property of a Hindu relative.
  • The Hindu Succession Act of 1956 disallows a non-Hindu wife from claiming maintenance from a Hindu husband post separation and grants the right to demand a separation of property exclusively to males.
  • Under the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956, if either parent renounced Hinduism, the person who has committed this “offence” is automatically deprived of the right to remain the natural guardian of a minor child. There exists a gender bias too: the Hindu mother cannot act as guardian of her child unless the father is dead or otherwise disqualified.
  • Presently, adoption is a legal right available only to Hindus. This leads to extremely discriminatory conditions to the non-Hindu partner. Under the same Act, the natural father of a Hindu child can give or take in adoption without, in law, caring how his non-Hindu wife reacts to it. But the wife can veto his action only if she is a Hindu. Most significantly, only a Hindu child can be adopted and the right to adopt a son is denied to any person who has a Hindu son, grandson or great-grandson.
  • In the case of maintenance too, similar gender and communal biases exist: a non-Hindu wife cannot claim maintenance from her Hindu husband (either while living with him or separately). But a Hindu wife enjoys the right to live separately from her husband on grounds of his conversion without forsaking the right to be maintained by him.

In Focus

Sunday

03

Jan

Pan-India

Saturday

05

Dec

05 pm onwards

Rise in Rage!

North Gate, JNU campus

Thursday

26

Nov

10 am onwards

Delhi Chalo

Pan India

Theme

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Campaigns

Sunday

03

Jan

Pan-India

Saturday

05

Dec

05 pm onwards

Rise in Rage!

North Gate, JNU campus

Thursday

26

Nov

10 am onwards

Delhi Chalo

Pan India

Videos

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Adivasis and local residents, opposed to the newly proposed hydel power project in the remote Ajodhya Hills in West Bengal, are heightening their prolonged protests against these projects. Watch this sabrangindia exclusive to hear what Adivasi Activists, local residents, forest dwellers and environmentalists have to say.

Dalit Bahujan Adivasi

Why are Adivasis protesting against power projects in Ajodhya Hills?

Adivasis and local residents, opposed to the newly proposed hydel power project in the remote Ajodhya Hills in West Bengal, are heightening their prolonged protests against these projects. Watch this sabrangindia exclusive to hear what Adivasi Activists, local residents, forest dwellers and environmentalists have to say.

IN FACT

Analysis

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Taliban in Afghanistan: A look back

Communalism Combat had taken a deep dive into the lives of people of Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. Here we reproduce some of our archives documenting the plight of hapless Afghanis, especially women, who suffered the most under the hardline regime.
2020

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In the year devastated by the Covid 19 Pandemic, India witnessed apathy against some of its most marginalised people and vilification of dissenters by powerful state and non state actors. As 2020 draws to a close, and hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers continue their protest in the bitter North Indian cold. Read how Indians resisted all attempts to snatch away fundamental and constitutional freedoms.
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A spate of provocative speeches, that amount to hate speech in law and should be prosecuted allowed blood letting to spill on the streets of north east Delhi in February-March 2020

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