The question before the court in Sujata Sharma v. Manu Gupta, 2015 SCC OnLine Del 14424 was whether a daughter (eldest living coparcener) can be a ‘karta’ of a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF), or not ?
As a brief backgrounder, the case concerned a property dispute between siblings with the plaintiff claiming to be a Karta, on account of being the eldest living coparcener, and placing reliance on the 2005 amendments in the Hindu Succession Act [for short ‘HSA’], in particular – Section 6 of the HSA.
Against this, It was argued on behalf of the defendants that the right of being a ‘Karta’ flows from customary Mitakshara Law and Hindu Texts. So even though a daughter has been made a coparcener by virtue of 2005 amendments in the Hindu Succession Act, the same only recognized the rights of a female member equal to those of a male member, however, that by itself is not sufficient to also give her the right to be a ‘Karta’ or ‘any right in management of HUF property’ as the office of ‘Karta’ is still governed by Hindu Texts and remains a patriarchal prerogative.
It was argued that Section 4 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 which overrides all customs & texts contrary to the provisions of the act, has to be read in the context in which it has been enacted i.e only those customary rights have been overridden for which there is a specific provision in the Act and Section 6 does not specifically refer to the expression ‘Karta’ of an HUF and that this right, therefore, has to be determined by reference to the Hindu texts.
On behalf of the plaintiff, it was argued that the 2005 amendments in the Hindu Succession Act were carried out with a view to remove various obstacles/disabilities on Hindu Women vis-à-vis succession to property. Reliance was placed on Mulla on Hindu Laws, where it is observed that :-
“By virtue of the new provision, a daughter of a coparcener in a joint Hindu family governed by the Mitakshara Law now becomes a coparcener in her own right and thus enjoys rights equal to those hitherto enjoyed by a son of a coparcener. The implications of this fundamental change are wide. Since a daughter now stands on an equal footing with a son of a coparcener, she is now invested with all the rights, including the right to seek partition of the coparcenary property. Where under the old law, since a female could not act as Karta of the joint family, as a result of the new provision, she could also become Karta of the joint Hindu family”
Reliance was also placed on 174th report of the Law Commission of India, to canvass the point that “women are equal in all respects of modern day life, and there is no reason they should be deprived of the right and privilege of managing HUF as their Karta”.
In the facts of the case, the plaintiff was found to be the eldest coparcener and by law held to be entitled to be karta of the HUF.
The findings of the Court were articulated in the following words :
“What emerges from the above discussion, is that the impediment which prevented a female member of a HUF from becoming its Karta was that she did not possess the necessary qualification of coparcenership. Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act is a socially beneficial legislation; it gives equal rights of inheritance to Hindu males and females. Its objective is to recognise the rights of female Hindus as coparceners and to enhance their right to equality apropos succession. Therefore, Courts would be extremely vigilant apropos any endeavour to curtail or fetter the statutory guarantee of enhancement of their rights. Now that this disqualification has been removed by the 2005 Amendment, there is no reason why Hindu women should be denied the position of a Karta. If a male member of an HUF, by virtue of his being the first born eldest, can be a Karta, so can a female member. The Court finds no restriction in the law preventing the eldest female coparcener of an HUF, from being its Karta. The plaintiff’s father’s right in the HUF did not dissipate but was inherited by her. Nor did her marriage alter the right to inherit the coparcenary to which she succeeded after her father’s demise in terms of Section 6. The said provision only emphasises the statutory rights of females”
Ed. Note :
The decision is often confused, but should be clearly contrasted with the decision of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Shreya Vidyarthi versus Ashok Vidyarthi & Ors (2015 SCC OnLine SC 1324, wherein certain observations in this regard were made. The decision is often misunderstood to argue that a Hindu Woman can never be a Karta and the office of ‘Karta’ is exclusively a male prerogative.
This is clearly a misreading of the law. What needs to be noted is the context of the judgment in Shreya. The case in Shreya (supra) concerned right of a ‘widow’ to act as a ‘Karta’ in the HUF of her deceased husband. To be clear, the court in Shreya Vidyarthi (supra) held that : “a Hindu widow is not a coparcener in the HUF of her husband and, therefore, cannot act as Karta of the HUF after the death of her husband. Therefore
, where the male adult coparcener has died and there is no male coparcener surviving or where the sole male coparcener is a minor — Held, HUF does not come to an end — Further, held, in such a case mother of the male coparcener can act as the legal guardian of the minor and also look after his role as the Karta in her capacity as his (minor’s) legal guardian”
What needs to be remembered that : the office of ‘Karta’ under the Mitakshara law rests on consanguinity and coparcenaryship, since the daughters have been made equal coparceners in their paternal families, there is no reason as to why they should not be ‘Kartas’. In contrast to this, a widow is never a coparcener in the HUF of her deceased husband, therefore, no question of her being a ‘Karta’.