Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Friday, November 29, 2013

Inheritance in India

IndiaA study conducted by the U.N. revealed that just eight years after India amended the Hindu Succession Act that gives equal inheritance rights to agricultural land to sons and daughters, a dowry is still considered 'adequate' compensation for inheritance. Even though the law did not accomplish its goal, the study shows the positive impact similar laws have had. Andhra Pradesh, a state in India, has had a similar law for 20 years longer than Bihar and Madya Pradesh, and has experienced four times the rate of female inheritance. Additionally, the rate of female inheritance has increased substantially in Andhra Pradesh.

See Just One In 10 Women Inherits Land, The Hindu, Nov. 28, 2013.


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UK stopped Indian women's traditional inheritance and imposed UK laws where women had to take their fathers' names and had little right to property, even their own wages/inherited houses. (e.g. as seen in Jane Austen novels). UK abolished matriarchy, prevalent over South India and among all tribals, as 'unnatural'.

Traditional stree dhan had ensured property rights for Hindu women for centuries. Islam too had some safeguards for women. This was abolished by UK's colonizers who declared only a male could inherit and so having a male child became vital/essential for an Indian family simply to hold on to its ancestral property and stop the British govt or a distant male cousin from taking it. This way UK could take land, even kingdoms e.g. Jhansi 'lapsed'.

British colonial law insisted women take their father's name and change that name after marriage and become part of the husband's property, to enable easier takeover of farms/ land and for simpler tax collection. Dowry Murders by Dr. Oldenburg has related some research. Indian law has had gender equality mostly since '47 and this has been amended as needed.

(Note Jane Austin's works where 5 daughters had no right to their home but even a distant male cousin did. One girl had to marry him so all could continue living there.)

Posted by: bharati | Dec 1, 2013 8:11:30 AM

Bharati is factually incorrect on streedhan and mehr. Historically parents gifted the bride-to-be personal property upon marriage, as her security, not her inheritance. There was no equal division of property amongst siblings. The practice degenerated into the dowry system whereby parents are compelled to provide greedy in-laws gold, funds and land to marry off their daughters. The result: dowry deaths, mass aborting of female fetuses. The Indian parliament, post-British India, enacted The Hindu Succession Act and the Anti Dowry Act to combat the dowry evil with limited results.
Mehr is the Muslim practice of the husband-to-be giving a contractually agreed amount or dower to his bride. In Islam, marriage is a contract. In Hinduism, as in Christianity it is a sacrament. Mehr is divided into two portions, immediate, which is paid upon marriage, and deferred, and in event of divorce. A woman will agree to forgo the deferred mehr as a condition to obtain a divorce. In Islam, the wife cannot divorce without the husband’s consent. See The Personal Laws of Divorce in India with a comment on Chaudry v Chaudry, 11 Women's Rts. L. Rep. [iii] (1989)

Posted by: vinaya saijwani | Dec 4, 2013 2:20:07 AM

The Rig Veda clearly states boy and girl children should receive the same amount. That 'there was no equal division of property amongst siblings' is ultimately dependent in each case on a parent's wish, not law or tradition. Women inherited property and even kingdoms regularly and it was not considered inappropriate or noteworthy. Matriarchal inheritance was called 'unnatural' by UK

Posted by: bharati | Dec 11, 2013 9:05:29 PM

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