This article by Nikita Johri aims to enlist and discuss the Rights of Women under Hindu Law in the current era. This article focuses on the rights pertaining to maintenance and property.
We have been living in a male-dominated society, where women have been suppressed over time. Since ancient times their positions have deteriorated and the supremacy of the male prevailed. Therefore, there were just a handful of laws in the past governing women’s right, that raised a lot many questions regarding the equality of genders in society, which was very well stated by the framers of the Constitution of India. And thus, various reforms took place over time in order to empower women with several rights as of those offered to men and also securing their position in society.
India being a secular country, allows people to practice wide-ranging religions all over. But as seen from time and long, every religion has its own separate law related to common subject matters such as divorce, marriage, adoption, inheritance of property, maintenance etc. And among these laws, there are widespread provisions for women’s safety and rights. Sadly, not all women are aware of the rights offered to them by the makers of the law ensuring safety and equality to women nationwide.
II. Rights of Women under Hindu Law in different aspects
Maintenance can be defined as the amount payable from husband to wife if she is not capable to upkeep herself with the basic necessities such as food, clothing, residence, medical treatment etc. She can claim it from her husband for herself or their children as well if she does not earn sufficient enough or does not earn at all. There are different laws governing this right to maintenance such as Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (HMA), Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 (HAMA) and Criminal Procedural Code, 1973.
Section 24 of the HMA, 1955 talks about Maintenance pendente lite (maintenance pending litigation), under which a husband or wife does not have the income to support the necessary expenses of the proceedings in court, the court can order the respondent to pay to the petitioner the expenses of the proceedings, the amount would be reasonable depending on the income of the petitioner and respondent. The payment must be within 60 days of service of notice. The maintenance pendente lite can be also given in a proceeding which is there to declare the marriage null and void.
It is important to note that a valid marriage is not an essential requirement for maintenance under section 24. Now, this section is applicable during the period of litigation but once the decree is obtained, it is attached with maintenance/alimony.
Section 25 of the HMA, 1955 talks about permanent alimony and maintenance. It is ordered by the court at the time of the decree or any time subsequent, that the respondent shall pay the applicant for her/his maintenance and support. A gross sum or a sum monthly/ periodically that should not be exceeding the life of the applicant.
The sum would be decided keeping in mind the income and property of respondent and petitioner. But such an order can be modified or rescinded if the party in whose favour the order is passed either gets married or has sexual intercourse out of wedlock.
A Hindu wife is also entitled to maintenance under section 18 of HAMA. In some cases, the wife is entitled to maintenance even if she doesn’t live with her husband if such separate living is justified under any of the following circumstances:
- Any other living wife of husband
- Concubine in the same house
- Any other cause
But at the same time, the wife would be ineligible for maintenance in some cases like if she is unchaste or converts her religion from Hinduism. Although the term ‘unchaste’ had been rather vague and had no clear meaning.
Case law: Neelam Malhotra v. Rajinder Malhotra
The court held that maintenance pendente lite though not provided for in section 18 can be granted by the court because a suit could take years to settle and until then not granting pendente lite maintenance would be against the spirit of section 18.
Also, there is a provision for widowed daughter-in-law under section 19 of the HAMA, wherein in case of death of husband her maintenance would be taken care of by her father-in-law.
But in the case of Animuthu v. Gandhiammal(1977), it was stated that the liability of the father-in-law would come to an end where the widow is remarried or she has obtained a share in the coparcenary properties while partitioning.
There have been several instances wherein women have been deprived of their rights in the property during inheritance or succession. But from the various reforms and developments, women have been given equal rights as those to men. The Hindu Succession Act 1956,, was previously in force regarding matters related to property succession/ inheritance. But the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 brought about the changes favouring equally the women of the society. After this amendment in 2005, daughters will have the same rights and liabilities as coparcener of a property as that of a son.
Even in Hindu families, the wife and children have an equal share in the property of the husband. If the husband dies, his widow will have an equal share in the property of her predeceased husband, as their children.
It is very important to understand that there are two ways of inheritance of property:
- If the father died after leaving a will, as to the devolving of the property (testamentary succession)
- If the father died without framing any will (intestate succession)
If it is a case of testamentary succession, then even if the father transferred all of his property to his son, that would be final and no objections can be raised.
However, if it is the case of intestate succession, the property is divided equally among all his children irrespective of their gender.
Case law:- Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma 
The apex court, in this case, held that, if a father died intestate before the amendment date, their daughters also have equal rights over the property. It stated that the right to equality is conferred upon them by section 6 of the Act, and thus the daughters cannot be deprived of it. Therefore, this law has a retrospective effect.
This landmark judgment is widely appreciated because ‘the amendment date’ was one of the major issues to conquer the gender equality movement.
So, as we have seen from the above discussion, women have brought about many changes by challenging the system which has not been offered to them in the past. Women represent major half of the world’s population and until they are given equal opportunities and rights, the entire society of a nation like India will perform below their actual potentials. Without a doubt, there has been a significant change in this arena because of the landmark judgments and amendments put forth by the lawmakers of our country.
But even now we can see, regardless of all the measures taken up by the law enforcers to ensure women’s rights and safety, some areas of the country are still unaware of the power rendered to them by the laws currently enforced to serve and protect the women of the nation. It’s about time that awareness regarding the same should be made country-wide because without proper awareness the motive of the lawmakers would be defeated.
 Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, No. 25, Acts of Parliament, 1955(India)
 Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, No. 78, Acts of Parliament, 1956
 Neelam Malhotra v. Rajinder Malhotra, AIR 1994 Delhi 234.
 Animuthu v. Gandhiammal, AIR 1977 Mad 372.
 Hindu Succession Act, 1956, No. 30, Acts of Parliament, 1956.
 Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, No. 39, Acts of Parliament, 2005.
 Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma, 2020, SCC