Earlier women did not have any rights in the property and they were at the mercy of the male members of the family. Joint Hindu Family, unique institution, acted as refugee home of many women and widows and with the disappearance of the Joint Hindu Family, the plight of women worsened.
Successive governments have enacted various laws aiming at improving / conferring property rights to women. Hindu Women’s Rights to the Property Act, 1937, deals with the rights of Hindu widow, on her husband dying without making any will. In such cases, the widow or widows are entitled to the share of the property as that of a son. But, her interest in the property, Hindu Women Estate, is limited interest.
Karnataka Hindu Law Women’s Rights Act, 1933, confers limited rights in the property to any women. This limited right is called limited estate, where women do not have right to disposal of the property by sale or by will. Women had full estate rights i.e. absolute power including that of disposal by sale / will in Stridhana property. Stridhana includes ornaments, apparel, gifts received and property acquired by her savings.
The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, brought out revolutionary changes in the property rights of women. Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act confers absolute rights to a female in any property possessed by female Hindu. The rights are of full nature including unfettered rights of disposal of property.
Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act covers both movable and immovable property acquired by inheritance, devise, partition, in lieu of maintenance, arrears of maintenance, gift, property acquired by her own skill, purchase, prescription, or in any other manner and also includes Stridhana held by her before the commence of this act. This absolute right operates retrospectively, since Section 14 refers to the properties acquired before or after the commencement of the act.
Another area which was improved upon was the Co parcener’s property. Co-parcener’s property is a Hindu undivided family property. The members of Hindu Undivided property are called co-parceners who are related to the head of the family and attain the right in the property by birth. The Co parceners include relatives within four degrees including Kartha. Earlier females were not members of co-parceners hence were denied succession to the ancestral property. Many States such as Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala etc. amended the Hindu Succession Act 1956.
Amendment to Hindu Succession Act in Karnataka came into effect on 30-07-1994. This act gives equal status to women as that of a Male. She becomes a member of Co parcenary by birth in the same manner as that of a son.
On partition of the co-parcenary property women is entitled to equal share as that of a son. The property so acquired is capable of being disposed by her through will or any other testamentary disposition.
In certain cases the ancestral house may be the co-parcenary property. Such houses are generally, wholly occupied by the members of the Joint Hindu Family. In such cases, the female member cannot force a partition of such ancestral house unless other male members in occupation of the house opt for partition. But, the unmarried daughter, a married daughter deserted or separated from her husband or a widow is entitled to a right of residence therein.