New Delhi: The eldest female member of a family can be its “Karta”, the Delhi high court has ruled in a landmark verdict. A unique position carved out by Hindu customs and ancient texts, “Karta” denotes managership of a joint family and is traditionally inherited by men.
“If a male member of a Hindu Undivided Family (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 law preventing the eldest female co-parcenor of an HUF, from being its Karta,” Justice Najmi Waziri said in a judgment made public earlier this week.
The Karta occupies a position superior to that of other members and has full authority to manage property, rituals or other crucial affairs of the family. These include taking decisions on sale and purchase of family assets, mutation of property etc.
The ruling came on a suit filed by the eldest daughter of a business family in north Delhi staking claim to be its Karta on the passing of her father and three uncles. She was challenging her cousin brother.
The family consisted of four brothers, with the surviving eldest shouldering the responsibility of Karta. Trouble began when the brothers passed away. The eldest son of a younger brother declared himself to be the next Karta, but was challenged by the daughter of the eldest brother who is also the seniormost member of the family.
The term co-parcenor refers to rights derived in Hindu law to be the joint legal heir of assets in a family. Traditional Hindu view, based on treatises such as Dharmshastra and Mitakshara school of law, recognises only male inheritors to ancestral property. Amendments to the Hindu Succession Act in 2005 introduced section 6 that levelled the playing field for women.
The court termed it “rather odd” that following the amendments, “while females would have equal rights of inheritance in an HUF property, this right could nonetheless be curtailed when it comes to the management of the same”. Section 6 of Hindu Succession Act, it pointed out, did not place any restriction on women becoming the Karta.
The HC ruling is important because it takes the 2005 reform in the Act to its logical conclusion. While the amendment restricted itself to providing women equal inheritance rights, the verdict now allows them to manage property and rituals of a joint family.