The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Twin thrusts against gender bias

New Delhi, Dec. 20: The Union government today introduced a bill in Parliament to give daughters equal inheritance rights as sons but women already married before the amendment comes into force will not be covered by this no-discrimination clause.

Parliament is unlikely to find time to amend the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, until sometime next year. The bill, introduced in the Rajya Sabha today, may only be taken up for consideration in the budget session. It will have to be passed by the Lok Sabha and the amendment notified in the official gazette after the President gives his assent.

The 1956 act had codified the law relating to intestate (without having made a will) succession among Hindus and laid down a uniform and comprehensive system of inheritance governed by the Mitakshara and Dayabhaga laws. But the act excluded daughters from inheriting property governed by Mitakshara law in a joint Hindu family.

The succession act thus contributed to discrimination against women and led to their fundamental right of equality as guaranteed by the Constitution negated.

State legislatures in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra have rectified this discrimination in the inheritance law but Hindu women in other states are still governed by the 1956 provisions.

Sons and grandsons who have to split property with female heirs have been relieved of the obligation to repay their father's debts contracted after the amendment comes into force.

Under the existing law, the courts could recognise the right to proceed against a son for recovery of debt due from his father on the ground that it was his 'pious obligation' to discharge the debt. Once the amendment comes into force, the courts will be barred from recognising this 'obligation'. Instead, the daughter will be subject to the same liabilities and disabilities as the son.

Law minister H.R. Bharadwaj introduced another bill in the Rajya Sabha today which provides authorities more teeth to curb child marriages, making them a cognisable offence. The Prevention of Child Marriage Bill, 2004 provides for declaring the marriage void on an application by the boy or the girl but protects the rights of the girl in such an eventuality by making it mandatory for the court to stipulate maintenance to be paid to the minor girl until she remarries.

The legislation also provides for the appointment of a child marriage prevention officer for each state and empowers district courts to add, modify or revoke any order relating to maintenance of the female petitioner and her residence and custody or maintenance of children. The district court will also have the jurisdiction to decide on the future of any children born during the marriage.

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