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Breaking Silence - Christian Women's Inheritance Rights Under Indian Succession Act, 1925

Breaking Silence - Christian Women’s Inheritance Rights under Indian Succession Act, 1925
Archana Mishra*
Diversity prevails in law of succession among Indian Christians. Christian constitute the third
major population in India after Hindu and Muslim but still has been not able to act as influential
group either socially or politically to draw sufficient attention of the Legislature to their problems in
personal law particularly in field of succession. Majority of Christians are governed by the Indian
Succession Act, 1925 (ISA, 1925) in matters of succession. The ISA, 1925 guided by patriarchal
mindset allows unfairness to women in intestate succession. The irony is that the law framed more
than one and a half century ago discriminating women in succession rights continues even today.
The share of Christian widow fluctuates with the presence or absence of lineal descendants, she gets
rights over entire property only in absence of distant kindred of the deceased husband extending
upto great great uncle or great uncle’s son, widowed daughter-in-law has no right in her father-in-
laws property. Mother has been relegated to lower position as she inherits only in absence of father
and even when she inherits she gets rights with the deceased’s brother and sister. There appears no
justifiable reason to continue with such provisions which do not give equal rights to women. The
present study deals with the drawbacks in the ISA, 1925 with respect to inheritance rights of
Christian women, the transition of law for granting her such rights with the reports of Law
Commission of India and the proposed amendments in the existing legal framework to ensure them
such rights based on principle of rationality and fairness.
Historical aspect of ISA, 1925
Before 1865 in matters of succession considerable uncertainty prevailed as to law applicable to
persons other than Hindus and Muslims. Hindus and Muslims were governed by their respective
personal laws but position of Indian Christians, Parsis, Europeans domiciled in India, Eurasians,
Jews, Armenians and others, were obscure. In general English law was applied to Presidency towns
but the position as regards the Moffussil was not very clear as court sometimes applied law of the
country of the parties or the customs observed by them which were not entirely free from doubt
The need was therefore to have a consolidated Indian law relating to succession exempting Hindus
* Archana Mishra, LL.B, LL.M (Delhi) is a Faculty member at Jindal Global Law School, OP Jindal Global
University, Sonepat, Haryana, India
M.P. Jain, Outlines of Indian Legal and Constitutional History , Lexisnexis, India, ed.2006, p. 470
and Muslims. The Third Law Commission led to the enactment of Indian Succession Act, 1865
(ISA, 1865). The Act of 1865 based on English law, was enacted with the intention of applying it to
different communities of India who did not have their own law in matters of succession, be it
testamentary or intestate. The object was to consolidate the large number of laws which were in
existence and not to unify them. Intestate succession of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs or
Jainas and testamentary succession regulating Muslims were to be governed by their personal laws
therefore they were expressly kept out of its purview. Consequently its application with regard to
intestate and testamentary succession was limited only to some Christians, Parsis, Europeans
domiciled in India, Eurasians, Jews, Armenians and others. ISA, 1865 was consolidated by Indian
Succession Act, 1925 (ISA, 1925). In the process of consolidating, two clear schemes in matter of
intestate succession were adopted one dealing with succession rights of persons like Indian
Christians, Jews and those married under Special Marriage Act, 1955 and one for succession rights
to Parsis
. Considering the population sizes of the religious community to be governed by the Act
the first scheme largely affects intestate succession for Christian community.
General provisions under ISA, 1925 relating to intestate succession are based on the law of
England, the notable features of which are (1) that there is no discrimination based on sex among
the heirs (2) that there is no discrimination between persons related by full blood and those related
by half blood and (3) relations by adoption are not recognized
. Both movable and immovable
property could be inherited under ISA, 1925 by kindred. Kindred under the Act contemplates only
relation by blood through lawful wedlock, therefore the terms ‘wife’, ‘husband’ or ‘lineal
descendants’ refer to legitimate relationships only
. It lays uniform rule for devolution of property
for both male and female dying intestate. The husband surviving his wife has the same rights in
respect of her property, if she dies intestate, as the widow has in respect of her husband’s property,
if he dies intestate. The shares inherited by the heirs, are always absolute and freely alienable,
therefore even what a women inherits is her absolute property. Under Hindu law, before Hindu
Succession Act, 1956 women were generally given limited rights in immovable property
Towards Equality”, Report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India, Ministry of Education &
Social Welfare Department of Social Welfare, Government of India, December 1974
B. Sivaramayya, “The Indian Succession Act, 1925”, in K. D. Gangrade (ed.), Social legislation in India,
p. 89 Vol. II , Concept Publishing Company Pvt. Ltd.., New Delhi, ed.1978 (reprinted 2011)
Emma Agnes Smith v Thomal Massey (1906) ILR 30 Bom 500; Sarah Ezra In Re AIR 1931 Cal 560
In immovable property which woman received by way of inheritance or partition or any other mode under
Mitaskhara school of Hindu law, she generally enjoyed limited rights of enjoyment during her lifetime
without power of alienation which on her death passed on the heirs of the last owner of the property.
rights being only in stridhan
and under Muslim law she was made one of many sharers whose
share varied with the presence or absence of child. Granting women absolute rights in property in
the year 1865 when the society being patriarchal was driven by personal laws being favourable for
men and biased against women, indeed shows considerable progression. At the same time the Act
has left some void which is discriminatory towards women.
I. Applicability of Indian Succession Act, 1925 to Christians
Neither the ISA, 1865, nor the Act of 1925 was to apply to all Christians in the whole of India. The
adjective “Indian” had to be used since certain rules applicable to Christians coming from outside
India were not to apply to Indian Christian defined under the Act
. As State Government is
empowered to exempt any race, sect or tribe or any part of such race, sect or tribe from the
application of the Act, it notified the exemption of Native Christians in the province of Coorg,
tribals of North-East including Khasis and Jaintias in Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills, and Mundas and
Orans in Bihar and Orissa. Certain classes of the Roman Catholic Christians of the Latin rite and
certain Protestant Christians living in Karunagappally, Quilon, Chirayinkil, Trivandrum,
Neyyattinkara are also not governed by the Indian Succession Act 1925
. Christians in Goa, Daman
and Diu are governed by Portuguese Civil Code, 1867 while those in Pondicherry are governed by
customary Hindu law, ISA, 1925 and French Civil Code, 1804. Thus the analysis with respect to
applicability of law to Indian Christian shows great diversity. It is only when Indian Christians are
not subject to any of the above customary or statutory laws; they are governed by the general
scheme of inheritance laid down under the ISA, 1925. Christian population is scattered all over
India but it comprises of major population of Kerala where it is heterogeneous community in
matters relating to property rights. In view of majority of Christian population living in Kerala the
applicability of ISA, 1925 to Christians of Kerala has its own significance.
Means ‘woman’s property’ which under classical Hindu law included property gifted to a woman by her
parents or other relations, or at her marriage ceremonies, her self-acquired property. She had absolute
ownership rights with rights of alienation over such property.
110th Report of Law Commission of India on the Indian Succession Act, 1925 (February 1985), p. 20. The
Law Commission was of the view that some link or association with India is of the essence of the concept
of Indian Christians and in absence of better word it was not possible to change the definition in clause
Dr. Sebastian Champappilly, Christian Law of Succession in India, Southern Law Publishers, Kerala, India
ed. 1997
(i) Applicability of ISA, 1925 to Christians in Kerala
State of Kerala was formed under the State Reorganization Act, 1956 by integrating the
Travancore- Cochin State and certain parts of Malabar. Before the reorganization in 1956, rights
over property were based on customs which varied with denominations and region. Uncertainty in
determination of property rights led to passing of Travancore Christian Succession Act (Regulation
II of 1092) in 1916 for State of Travancore and Cochin Christian Succession Act (Regulation VI of
1097) in 1921 State of Cochin. Malabar area was to be governed by Indian Succession Act, 1865,
which was later amended by the Indian Succession Act, 1925. Indian Succession Act, 1925 was not
made applicable to Travancore because power of legislation over Travancore had never been
conceded to the British. Parliament enacted the Indian Independence Act, 1947 under which
existing laws were to continue and Travancore was declared to be independent for which
Travancore Interim Constitution was framed which did not affect the continuance of marriage and
succession laws among the Christians. Later Travancore and Cochin were merged with India and on
passing of Constitution of India, all laws in force in the territory of Travancore-Cochin became
subject to the Constitution of India under which it became Part B State. Then Part B States (Laws)
Act, 1951 (Central Act III of 1951) was enacted for the purpose of providing for the extension
certain enactments mentioned in the Schedule including ISA, 1925 to Part B States and also for
repealing the corresponding Acts and Ordinances then in force in the Part B States
. Travancore-
Cochin among others were Part B states. When the Kerala State was formed by merging
Travancore- Cochin State and certain parts of Malabar, specific provisions were made to save the
"existing laws" and the "law in force” by Section 119 of the States Re-organisation Act, 1956.
Section 3 of Part B States (Laws) Act, 1951 - Extension and amendment of certain Acts and Ordinances. The
Acts and Ordinances specified in the schedule shall be amended in the manner and to the extent therein
specified, and the territorial extent of each of the said Acts and Ordinance shall, as from the appointed day
and in so far as any of the said Acts or Ordinances or any of the provisions contained therein relates to
matters with respect to which Parliament has power to make Jaws, be as stated in the extent clause thereof
as so amended.
Section 6 of Part B States (Laws) Act, 1951 provided that if immediately before the appointed day (which
was 1st April, 1951), there is in force in any Part B State any law corresponding to any of the Acts or
Ordinances now extended to that State, that law shall, save as otherwise expressly provided in this Act, stand
Consequently three legislations prevailed in the three different regions - Travancore, Cochin and
Malabar - guiding the succession rights of Christians in the State
(a) Property Rights to Christian Women in Travancore and Cochin
The Legislatures of Travancore and Cochin codified the law of succession in accordance with the
customs prevailing in the Christian Communities namely Travancore Christian Succession Act,
1916 and Cochin Christian Succession Act, 1921. The native Christians of both these places
generally followed the customary Hindu law in matters of succession which was highly patriarchal.
There had been some perversities regarding the right to inheritance under these Acts. Women were
assigned an inferior status which being discriminatory wounded women’s equality. Males had
absolute power to dispose of his property and there was no restriction on his testamentary capacity.
They always inherited the property even if they were belonging to remote degree of consanguinity.
Christian women were excluded from inheritance. Therefore when these Acts were enacted they
followed the Hindu customs of giving no property rights to women. Under Travancore Christian
Succession Act, 1916 if a man died without making a will, all his property went to his sons, to the
exclusion of his daughters. A Christian widow had only an alienable life-estate in her half share of
the immovable property of her deceased husband
and mother also had only life interest in the
property. Widow did not even have the right to represent the estate of her husband
. Further the life
estate that a Christian widow took in her husband’s property was terminable by her death or
. Even if such right was terminable at death or remarriage it did not in any way curtail
her right of claiming a share and having a separate allotment of the properties and enjoying them
She had no right to alienate the property as such although it was opened to her to transfer her life
. Such transference of which right also came to an end with her death or remarriage and the
son who had the vested interest in such property had the right to set aside such life interest
Sindhu Thulaseedharan, “Christian Women and Property Rights in Kerela Gender Equality in Practice”,
A Project under the Kerala Research Program (KRPLLD) , Centre for Development Studies(CDS),
Trivandrum available at viewed on 5/12/2014
Under Section 24 of Travancore Christian Succession Act, 1916, a widow who became entitled over any
immovable property under Section 16 or 17 had only a life interest. On the termination of such life-
interest, the property was to be distributed among the heirs of the original intestate as if the holder of the
life - estate had not survived him.
Neelakanta Pillai v. Abraham 1963 KLT 271
Sebastian George v. Narayan Pillai 1962 KLT 649
Joseph v Jeseph Annamma,1979 KLT 322
Neelakanta Pillai v. Abraham1963 KLT 271
alienation by mother within 3 years of attaining majority under Article 44 of the Limitation Act. A
daughter was not entitled to succeed to the property of the intestate in the same share as the son but
that was entitled to one-fourth the value of the share of the son or Rs. 5,000 whichever was less and
even to this amount she was not entitled on intestacy, if streedhanam was provided or promised to
her by the intestate or in the life time of the intestate, either by his wife or husband or after the death
of such wife or husband, by his or her heirs
. This streedhanam meant and includes any money
ornaments, any property, moveable or immoveable given to a female which could have been
maximum upto Rs 5,000/- only. In the Cochin area, under the Cochin Act, the daughter was also a
sharer but entitled only to one-third of the share of a son’s, but she was excluded by the other male
heirs, if she had been given streedhanam
. Under the Travancore Act, streedhanam meant and
included any money or ornaments, or in lieu of money or ornaments, any property, moveable or
immovable, given or promised to be given to a female or, on her behalf, to her husband or to his
parent or guardian by her father or mother, or after the death of either or both of them, by any one
who claimed under such father or mother, in satisfaction of her claim against the estate of the father
or mother
. The maximum amount which a daughter could claim as streedhanam , which had no
reference at all to marriage, was Rs. 5,000/-. Under the Cochin Act, streedhanam meant any
property given to a women, or in trust for her to her husband, his parent or guardian, in connection
with her marriage, and in fulfillment of a term of the marriage treaty in that behalf
.The denial of
women’s rights to property rested on ‘fears’ of domestic disharmony and ruin arising from frequent
litigation and fragmentation of property
The Legislative Assembly of State of Kerala introduced “Christian Succession Acts (Repeal) Bill,
1958 to repeal the Travancore Christian Succession Act, 1916 and the Cochin Christian Succession
Act, 1921. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill of 1958 introduced by Justice V.R.
Krishna Iyer read “it is considered necessary to have a uniform law to govern the intestate
succession among Christians for the whole of the State and for that purpose to repeal the
Travancore Christian Succession Act and the Cochin Christian Succession Act. The Bill is intended
Section 28 of Travancore Christian Succession Act, 1916.
Section 20 (b) of Cochin Christian Succession Act, 1921
Section 5 of Travancore Christian Succession Act 1916
Section 3 of Cochin Christian Succession Act 1921
Mridul Eapen and Praveena Kodoth, “Family structure, women's education and work: Re-examining the
high status of women in Kerala”, Working Papers from Centre for Development Studies, Trivendrum,
India, available at
viewed on 5/12/2014
for this purpose". The Bill sought to make ISA, 1925 govern succession among all Christians in
Kerala but lapsed, it did bring to light the necessity to bring uniform law for whole of the State of
Kerela by repealing the discriminatory succession laws prevalent in some parts of Kerala.
(b) Judicial Responses to challenges to Travancore Christian Succession Act, 1916 and Cochin
Christian Succession Act, 1921
The discriminatory provisions under the Act of 1916 were challenged for the first time before the
Travancore-Cochin High Court in Kurien Augusty v. Devassy Aley
. The High Court while
answering the question whether with reference to the language contained in Section 29 (2)
of the
Indian Succession Act, 1925, the Travancore Christian Succession Regulation II of 1092 must be
deemed to have been adopted by reference, upheld the validity of Travancore-Christian Succession
Regulation II of 1092 holding that this Act would come within the expression "any other law for the
time being in force" mentioned in Section 29 (2) of the ISA, 1925 and therefore it formed part of
the ISA, 1925 itself and consequently it was not repealed by Section 6 of the Central Act III of
1951. It further held that ISA, 1925 was not intended to interfere with the personal law of
communities which have settled laws of their own as regards intestate succession and even if
Travancore formed part of the former British India, Part V, ISA, 1925 would not apply to Christians
in Travancore who were governed by the Travancore Christian Succession Act, 1916.
The issue of application of ISA, 1925 for Syrian Christians again came before the Single Judge of
Madras High Court in Solomon v. Muthiah
wherein the court upheld the application of ISA, 1925
for Syrian Christians by expressing that “the provisions of Part V are of universal application
except in so far as that application has been excluded by Sub-section (1) or any other law for the
time being in force. The mere fact that there is a custom relating to intestate succession or there is
some other law dealing with intestate succession will not lead to the exclusion of the applicability of
the provisions of Part V of the Indian Succession Act, 1925. From the very nature of the case, a
custom cannot exclude the applicability of the provisions of a particular statute. But a statute can
do it. So long as an existing statute has not excluded the applicability of Part V of the Indian
Succession Act, 1925, the provisions of the said Part V will apply”.
1956 KLT 559; J. Duncan M. Derret in "The Personal Law of Syrian Christians in Tamil Nadu" 1975 KLT
(Jour) at p. 3 has acclaimed the decision in Kurian Augusty as laying down the correct proposition of law.
Section 29(2) of ISA, 1925 reads: Save as provided in Sub-section (1) or by any other law for the time
being in force, the provisions of this Part shall constitute the law of India in all cases of intestacy."
(1974) 1MLJ 53
The oscillation of applicability of either Travancore Act or ISA, 1925 continued for Indian
Christians in D. Chelliah Nadar and Anr. v. G. Lalita Bai and Anr.
wherein the Division Bench of
same High Court negated the view taken in Soloman’s case and upheld the validity of Travancore
Act for Indian Christians by holding that Section 6 of the part B States (Laws) Act does not require
the law to be identical, but only requires that it should correspond to the Central Act. It further held
that though the Central Act as well as the Travancore Regulation related to the same subject,
namely, intestate succession, and covered identical fields and to that extent is corresponding law, it
will not be corresponding law for the purpose of Section 6, as the ISA, 1925 does not cover
Travancore Christians governed by the Travancore Regulation. The position of law settled by
decisions of Travancore-Cochin High Court and the Division Bench of the Madras High Court was
to the effect that the ISA, 1925 was not applicable to the Travancore-Cochin Christians. This issue
was then finally settled by Supreme Court in Mary Roy v. State of Kerala
. In Mary Roy’s case
writ petitions were filed to challenge the constitutional validity of Travancore Christian Succession
Act, 1916 on the basis that sections 24, 28 and 29 of the Act were unconstitutional and void as
being violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. It was also to determine whether after the coming
into force of the Part B States (Laws) Act 1951, the Travancore Act continued to govern intestate
succession of the Indian Christian Community in the territories originally forming part of the
erstwhile state of Travancore or was it governed by ISA, 1925. While answering for the second
issue it expressly overruled Kurien Augusty case and held D. Chelliah Nadar case not to represent
good law. While restoring the judgment of Solomon’s case it made very clear that the ISA, 1925
was extended to Part B State of Travancore-Cochin by virtue of Section 3 of Part B State (Laws)
Act, 1951 and if therefore, there was in force in part B State of Travancore-Cochin any law
corresponding to the Indian Succession Act, 1925 immediately prior to 1st April, 1951, such law
would stand wholly repealed. Since Travancore Act which was admittedly in force in Part B State
of Travancore-Cochin immediately prior to 1st April, 1951, was a law corresponding to Chapter II
of Part V of the ISA, 1925 and this law must consequently be held to have been repealed in its
entirety on the extension of the provisions of Chapter II of Part V to the ISA, 1925 to the territories
of the former State of Travancore. If that be so, the continuance of the Travancore Christian
Succession Act, 1092 could not possibly be regarded as saved by Section 29 Sub-section (2) of the
ISA, 1925. The court struck down the discriminatory provisions on technical ground but it
AIR1978 Mad 66
Mary Roy v. State of Kerala AIR 1986 SC 1011
restrained itself from examining the provision under the constitutional mandate of equality and non-
discrimination on ground of sex under Articles 14, 15 of the Constitution
. It took the view
Travancore Act stood repealed from April 1, 1951 and the law applicable to intestate succession
among Christians of Travancore area of the State of Kerala is the Indian Succession Act, 1925 to be
given effect from April 1, 1951. Following the decision of the Supreme Court in Mary Roy, the
High Court of Kerala ruled that the Cochin Christian Succession Act, 1921 also stood repealed by
the Part B States (Laws) Act, 1951
. Prior to the decision in Mary Roy’s, the ISA, 1925 applied
only to 34% of India's Christian but the decision in Mary Roy brought another 30% of India's
Christian population within the ambit of the Indian Succession Act, 1925
Mary Roy case and its aftermath:
The case only decided the limited question as to the applicability of ISA, 1925 to Part B States but
it did not go directly into the issue of discrimination in property rights between males and females
as violative of right of equality under the Constitution or as to the declaration that male and female
heirs are equally entitled to or are co-sharers to the property of their intestate parents. But extending
the application of ISA uniformly to Part B States it has done away with all the discriminatory
provisions present under the impugned Acts. Daughters could now inherit as son, receive share
equivalent to son so question of streedhanam does not arise, women now have absolute rights in
property with all rights of alienation. There are other implications as well. When the Supreme Court
declared in 1986 that law of that land was ISA, 1925 and not the Travancore and Cochin Acts, the
property transactions done according to the provisions of the 1916 and 1921 Acts of Travancore
and Cochin respectively in matters of intestate succession became illegal
. There were no
provisions for probating of wills under Travancore and Cochin Acts but under Indian Succession
before the Indian Succession (Amendment) Act, 2002 it was mandatory for Indian Christians
to get their wills probated therefore any family settlement based on Wills that were not probated
Flavia Agnes, Family Law and Constitutional Claims, Oxford University Press, ed. 2011
V.M. Mathew v. Eliswa. 1988(1) KLT 310 (DB); Joseph v. Mary 1988(2) KLT 27 (DB)
C.A. Sebastian, “Gender Discrimination in the Law of Divorce and Succession among Christians”
available at (viewed on 16/12/2014)
Sebastian Champappilly, “Christian Law of Succession and Mary Roy's case”, (1994) 4 SCC (Jour) 9
Section 213 of Indian Succession Act,1925. After Indian Succession (Amendment) Act, 2002 even Indian
Christians are included within the exemption with Hindus and Muslims who are exempted to obtain
probate of Will. Before the amendment only Hindus and Muslims were exempted from obtaining probate
of Will but Indian Christians were mandatorily required to obtain probate of will.
had suddenly become invalid in view of application of s. 213 with effect from 1.4.1951
. In case of
intestate succession all partitions already made in accordance with the Tranvancore Act became
invalid and daughter who under the Tranvancore Act had no share in the property of her parents
now got right to claim her share and thus reopen all partitions and family arrangements. The
decision also has led to rise in frequency of father allotting all property to his sons via testamentary
disposition during his life-time so that no share goes to his daughter after his death to avoid division
of his property to more smaller units. The daughters are compelled to sign documents declaring that
their claim have been settled. The need is to make changes in the ISA, 1925 for placing limit on the
right of testamentary disposition of property.
(c) Law Commission Recommendations
104th Report of Law Commission of Kerala on the Law of Intestate Succession Among
Christians in Kerala, 1968
Submitted under the chairmanship of T.R.Balakrishna Iyer, the Law Commission of Kerala in its
104th Report on Law of Intestate Succession Among Christians in Kerala, taking its clue from
Christian Succession Acts (Repeal) Bill, 1958 under which Kerala Government itself had realized
the need for uniform law for intestate succession among Christians, strongly supported for laying
down uniform rules of intestate succession for all Christians without exception. It was of the view
that continuance of different laws of succession over different regions in the State was not in
consonance of principle of equality under Article 14 and 15 of the Constitution. Laying down of
uniform law of intestate succession would have been a step towards the establishment of Uniform
Civil Code envisaged under Directive Principles of the Constitution. The Commission made the
following recommendations
1) Uniform law of intestate succession among Christians in Kerala be enacted, on the lines of Part
V of the Indian Succession Act, 1925 incorporating changes as regards the rights of the widow, and
the father and mother as indicated in its conclusion and also the provisions as to the disqualification
of a murderer, right of pre-emption, retention of Section 49 of the Central Act, excluding special
provisions as to disinheritance of a heir by record during the life time of the intestate and abolishing
limited interest; and
Supra 30
Supra 11
2) The joint family system among Tamil Christians of Chittur Taluk be abolished by replacing joint
tenancies by tenancies-in- common, the shares the members would be entitled to, being what they
would get if a partition would have taken place among them on that date.
The recommendations of the Report were not taken into consideration for any change in the
110th Report of Law Commission of India on Indian Succession Act, 1925
Unsettled position with regard to applicability of Indian Succession Act, 1925 to Indian Christians
of Travancore and Cochin area of the State of Kerala coupled with conflicting decisions of various
High Courts (before the Supreme Court judgment of Mary Roy’s case in 1986) led Law
Commission of India in 1985 under the chairmanship of Justice K. K. Mathew to submit its Report
of the Law Commission of India on Indian Succession Act, 1925. It mainly looked into same issues
which before the High Courts viz.,
(i)Whether, by virtue of Section 6 of the Part B states (Law) Act, 1950, the Travancore Christian
Succession Act, 1921 stood repealed with effect from 1st April, 1951, or whether that Act was
saved by the words “'save as provided in any other law for the time being in force” in Section 29 (2)
of ISA, 1925; and
(ii) Whether customary law of succession was saved by Section 29 (2) of ISA, 1925?
The Commission made the following recommendations:
(a) The Travancore Christian Succession Regulation of 1092 should be repealed by an express
provision. This course may be adopted, if as a matter of social policy, it was considered that
the Indian Succession Act should apply to the persons governed by the Travancore
If on the other hand, it is considered that as a matter of social policy, the provisions of the
Travancore Christian Succession Regulation should govern succession to the persons
concerned, then there should be inserted a provision in Section 29 of the Indian Succession
Act to the effect that the Travancore Regulation would apply to Christians governed by that
Regulation in respect of intestate succession:
(i) in the State of Kerala, and
(ii) the adjoining areas in the state of Tamil Nadu (in the district of Kanyakumari and
Shencottah taluk)
(b) Besides the above amendment, an explanation should be added to Section 29 (2) of the
Indian Succession Act, to the effect that 'law’ in this Section does not include custom.
(c) The recommendations made above in relation to the Travancore Act apply with necessary
adaptations, to the Cochin Christian Succession Act, also.
(d) If the Indian Succession Act becomes applicable to the persons in question, provisions made
for daughters by the father should be taken into account when the succession opens on
intestacy. It was therefore recommended that suitable provision should be made to the effect
that the share to be distributed to a daughter on intestacy, the amount or value of the
property so provided by the father during his life time should be deducted, provided that
following conditions are fulfilled:
(i) the making of such gift is evidenced in writing, whether or not the writing is stamped or
registered; and
(ii) the amount of the gift or provision or its value on each individual occasion is not less
than five hundred rupees.
The Government of India is yet to act upon the report.
The property rights given to Christian women under the Act was immense but the application of
ISA, 1925 had not reached many even among the limited number of Christians in India due to
narrow interpretation of s. 29 in Kurian Augusty case
but after the decision of Mary Roy’s the
position of women among Indian Christians have considerably improved. More improvement in the
status of Christian women can be brought by the changes in the ISA, 1925
(II) Inheritance Right of Christian Widow under ISA, 1925
Unlike other personal laws, widow of deceased husband under Christian law has been given the
main preference in devolution of property of spouse dying intestate. Property devolves on others
heirs only after share of property is first reserved for her which share varies with the presence or
absence of lineal descendant. Presence of lineal descendants of the spouse dying intestate decreases
her share whereas their absence leads to increase in her share. Though her share varies with
presence of different degree of kindred she is never denied any share. Christian widow of deceased
husband being placed highest in the order of succession tacitly recognizes her contribution in the
accumulation of property by the deceased. Before the Indian Succession (Amendment) Act, 2002
Supra 3
widow’s right to inheritance depended whether there was any pre-nuptial agreement with her
husband but after the Indian Succession (Amendment) Act, 2002 (IS(A) Act, 2002) the amount of
share a widow receives in her husband’s property depends on three possible situations:
- survival of lineal descendants of deceased i.e., child, children or remoter issues surviving
spouse takes 1/3 and rest is distributed among the lineal descendants
- Net value of property less than or greater than Rs 5,000/-- if the net value of the property
does not exceed Rs 5,000/- the whole of his property goes to his widow but where the net
value exceeds the sum of Rs 5,000/- she is entitled to Rs 5,000/- and charge upon the whole
property for Rs 5,000/- with interest at the rate of Rs 4% per annum from the date of death
of husband until payment
- Subject to (b), absence of lineal descendant - widow takes half of the property and the other
half goes to his kindred i.e., father, mother, brother, sister and their issues
- Absence of kindred the whole of the property belongs to the widow.
(i) Rights of widow under Pre-nuptial Settlement
The pace of Legislature in recognizing the injustice met to Christian women though has been slow
but at times the Legislature has taken initiatives to remove such injustices. Before passing of IS(A)
Act, 2002, the ISA, 1925 recognized pre-nuptial settlement
. ISA, 1925 following the English
doctrine of pre-nuptial settlement, for the first time in the history of India had introduced the
concept of pre-nuptial agreement for persons governed by the Act which also includes Christian
women. Such an ante-nuptial agreement between husband and wife excluded the widow from
claiming her share in the estate of her husband if he died intestate. Widow was disentitled from
inheritance in her husband’s property by such pre-nuptial contract.
Such provision rendered her destitute at the time when she became a widow so the need was to
remove such a provision. The issue was brought under Indian Succession (Amendment) Bill, 1994.
It proposed for deletion of pre-nuptial agreement provision from the statute as it was against the
interest of a widow. Though the 1994 Bill lapsed it was again brought before the Legislature by
Section. 33A of ISA, 1925
Explanation to Section S. 32 of ISA, 1925 which read as: 32. Devolution of such property.-The property
of an intestate devolves upon the wife or husband, or upon those who are of the kindred of the deceased, in
the order and according to the rules hereinafter contained in this Chapter.
Explanation.--A widow is not entitled to the provision hereby made for her if, by a valid contract made
before her marriage, she has been excluded from her distributive share of her husband's estate.”
(Explanation has been omitted by IS(A) Act, 2002)
Indian Succession (Amendment) Bill, 2001. The then Law minister, Mr. Arun Jaitley while
defending the proposal for deletion of such a provision, observed that the object of pre-nuptial
agreement was the protection of those Englishmen, who came in large numbers to India before
independence, marry here but made sure that their Indian wives were not entitled to inheritance to
their British properties
. Since the provision was made for that purpose which was no more
relevant the Legislature agreed for removal of such provision. Accordingly the IS(A) Act, 2002
had done way with such explanation under the provision. After IS(A) Act, 2002 even if a widow
has made such an agreement before marriage she will not be deprived of her share in her husband’s
property. Since the Act majorly affects Christian in India such omission of provision which
curtailed the rights of Christian women restores the primacy to the rules of devolution
notwithstanding any pre-nuptial agreement with the husband. It relieves a Christian widow of the
bar to succeed distributive share of her husband’s estate even if there was a valid contract made to
that effect before her marriage. This act of Legislature is a welcome step in the direction of
strengthening the Christian widow’s right in property and doing away with the discrimination
against the Christian widows.
(ii) Rights of widow in presence of lineal descendants of husband
Taking stimulus from Muslim law of succession, the right of widow under the Act in her husband’s
property depends on the presence or absence of the lineal descendants of the deceased husband. In
presence of lineal descendants widow including Christian widow inherits only one-third estate and
the remaining two-third goes to the lineal descendants. When there is more than one child then the
share reserved for widow seems justified, for it gives her better share but when deceased husband
has left behind a widow and only one child, her share being reduced to one-third appears to be
unjustified as the single child gets the majority share of two-third and the widow is to be satisfied
with lesser share of one-third. Though the Hindu law
provides for equal distribution of shares
among sons, daughters, their issues, widows and mothers who are placed under Class I it answers
such instance by dividing equal share between widow and the single child in absence of mother
and other children or their issues.
Rajya Sabha, 194th Session, 3rd Dec., 2001 available at viewed on 18/9/2014
Hindu Succession Act, 1956, Ss. 9, 10
In some common law jurisdiction the anomaly has been rectified and the property is distributed
equally, the Act therefore should be amended to remove this unsatisfactory aspect of law
. Neither
the 110th Law Commission Report
nor did the recently submitted 247th Law Commission Report
on ISA, 1925
, which though has recommended plethora of changes in the ISA, 1925, has
envisaged such a situation and suggest accordingly. When other English statute can make changes
in their law by providing equal share to both widow and single child there appears to be no
justification for still continuing the primeval law under the Indian statute.
(iii) Rights of widow in absence of lineal descendants of husband
(a) Where the net value of the property is less than Rs 5,000/- the whole of deceased husband’s
property in absence of lineal descendants goes to his widow. But where the net value exceeds the
sum of Rs 5,000/- she is entitled to Rs 5,000/- and charge upon the whole property for Rs 5,000/-
with interest at the rate of Rs 4% per annum from the date of death of husband until payment. The
net value has to be ascertained by deducting from the gross value all debts, funeral and
administration expenses and all other lawful liabilities and charges to which the property is subject.
This right of surviving spouse is in addition and without prejudice to her interest and share in the
residue of the estate remaining after payment of the sum of Rs 5,000 with interest, and the residue
will be distributed in accordance with the provisions of the Act as it were the whole of the
intestate’s property.
Object of placing a condition where certain sum was mandatorily reserved for the widow was to
improve the condition of the widow when estate is small. Further it applies only in case of total
intestacy i.e., will apply only when there is complete failure by lapse of all beneficial interests
under a will with respect to all kinds of property be it movable or immovable. But even this benefit
of minimum guaranteed payment is denied to Indian Christians women, any child or grandchild of
any male person who is or was at the time an Indian Christian and any Hindu, Buddhist, or Jain,
succession to whose property is governed by ISA, 1925. Thus it applies basically to Europeans
domiciled in India, Parsis, Eurasians, Jews, Armenians and others. When the Act was enforced in
the year 1925 it was basically to protect the rights of widows of Europeans domiciled in India,
Eurasians, Jews, Armenians and others. The object was to guarantee added property rights basically
Supra 3
Supra 7
247th Report of Law Commission of India on Proposed reforms in sections 41-48 of Indian Succession
Act, 1925 (September 2014) submitted to the Government of India on 12th September 2014
to Christian widows of Europeans domiciled in India only and not to extend the benefit to Indian
Christian widows or Hindus living in India. For widows falling under such exceptional group she is
not to be given additional share but is to be just allotted half share in absence of lineal descendants
of the deceased husband.
With the fall of value of rupee the 110th Report recommended for amendment in the provision. In its
Working Paper it had suggested for increase upto Rs 20,000/- but on further considerations the
Commission was of the view that the amount mentioned of Rs 5,000/- be increased to Rs 35,000/-
and rate of interest be increased from 4% to 9%. The Law Commission had tried to draw the
attention of the Legislature for change in the guaranteed sum given to the widow considering the
plunging cost of rupee. The Government introduced Indian Succession (Amendment) Bill 1994 by
proposing to extend the benefit to Indian Christians and to raise the minimum amount owing to
spirally inflationary conditions but no step has been taken in this respect to make it a concrete law.
Such provision of added benefit was placed during that time when Europeans domiciled in India
were in abundance to essentially benefit those Europeans widows domiciled in India. Continuing of
such provision even after decades of independence when such residents are none or negligible and
negating those beneficial rights to Indian Christian widows need introspection. Though it is
creditable that the framers of the ISA, 1925 thought of supporting the widow by granting her
mandatory sum, such issue not even being touched under other personal laws, denial of such
benefits to Indian Christian widows for whom Act was primarily framed frustrates the very purpose
of continuing the provision in present period. As it is a beneficial provision for uplifting the
financial and social position of women primarily Christian widows it would be better if this benefit
is extended to Indian Christians widows by removing the exception clause under the provision.
Since this proviso seeks to give better rights to a widow without lineal descendants, the denial of
the benefit to the above mentioned groups cannot be justified on the grounds of policy
therefore the exceptions are illogical and should be deleted
. Further the amount of Rs 5,000/-
mentioned in the year 1926 continues even after 88 years of the insertion of such provision. Despite
attention of Legislature being diverted to the archaic provisions, Legislature has yet to take a call on
extending the benefit to Indian Christians and increasing the mandatory sum to be given to widows.
Supra 2
Supra 3
(b) Subject to the condition discussed above if husband has left no lineal descendants i.e., child,
children or remote issue of such child but has left persons who are kindred to him viz., father,
mother, brother, sister or their issue then the widow’s share is one half of the estate and remaining
one-half goes to the father of the deceased if alive or, failing him, to the mother or the brothers and
sisters. The deceased’s father, mother, brothers and sisters inherit only when there are no lineal
descendants surviving him/her. When apart from widow the issues of brothers or sisters are present
and none else, even then widow is entitled to half the property and remaining half goes to those
distant kindred.
The Act only recongnises relationship by consanguinity therefore lineal descendants from lawful
wedlock only have right in the property. Lineal consanguinity is that which subsists between
person, of whom one is descended in a direct line from the other e.g., father, grandfather in
ascending line or son, grandson in descending line and collateral consanguinity subsists between
persons who are descended from same ancestor
. Relation by affinity, except wife/husband is
excluded from the list of heirs under ISA, 1925. No rights are reserved for relations brought in
family by marriage, therefore no shares are reserved for widow of pre-deceased son or widow of
pre-deceased son of a pre-deceased son. The widowed daughter-in-law is denied any rights in her
father-in-law/mother-in-law’s property but the child born to her or conceived by her has share in his
grandfather’s/grandmother’s property. That right is denied to the widowed daughter-in-law who has
given birth to such child.
It may have been logical for ISA, 1865 originally intended for Europeans to exclude relation by
marriage. Under law of England such exclusion does not result in much hardship because of the
prevalence of marriage settlements, the higher social status of women, the larger opportunities
available to women to engage in professions and the greater frequency of widow remarriages but in
Indian conditions a different approach is necessary
. When the Act was framed in 1865 for
application in India the intention was to deny any right to Indian widow of any European domiciled
in India in the property of English father/mother domiciled in England. The Act primarily focused
on such widows to deny them the rights but lost sight that it also applied to Indian Christians,
Parsis, Armenians, Jews etc., domiciled in India where the condition is not suitable to deny property
rights to widowed daughter-in-law.
Section 25 of ISA, 1925
Supra 3
After decades of passing of the Act and the object no longer being served it would be appropriate
for the Legislature to bring in changes in the Act by including even the widowed daughter-in-law to
be the heir. As Hindu law, apart from recognizing relation by consanguinity recognizes relation by
affinity, widow of pre-deceased son or widow of pre-deceased son of a predeceased son inherits
property of the intestate. She loses her right to inherit only when she gets remarried before property
devolves on her in the capacity of widowed daughter-in-law. Similarly the ISA, 1925 could be
amended to include relation by affinity and grant property rights to widowed daughter-in-law. It
may also be amended to reserve such right when she gets remarried in the lifetime of the father-in-
law/mother-in-law whose property she would have inherited if she would not have remarried. The
need for change of law is far greater as ISA, 1925 is also applicable to succession of persons who
solemnize their marriage under SMA
(c) Widow is entitled to entire property only when none of the distant relatives extending upto the
great grandfather’s father or great grandson, great great uncle or brother’s grandson, second cousin
or grandson of cousin german is present. The complete rights of the widow over property of
deceased husband are thus depended on the presence or absence of any kindred mentioned in the
Schedule of the Act. Presence of any kindred under the schedule reduces her share to half and the
other half is reserved for that distant kindred of the deceased. Property is reserved for that distant
kindred of the deceased whom the deceased may not have even met during his lifetime. During
such time when the dimensions of family is narrowing day by day, variation in share of widow
being dependent on the presence or absence of the distant kindred or the property being reserved for
that distant kindred whom the deceased may not have even met during his lifetime does not appear
to be justifiable.
In order to be in more consonance with present day sentiments, the 110th Law Commission Report
stirred by Intestate’s Estates Act, 1952
of England suggested for appropriate change. Under
Intestate’s Estates Act, 1952 on the death of husband intestate, his whole estate passes to the widow
if he leaves no surviving issue, parents, brother or sister of the whole blood or issue of such brother
or sister. The 110th Report suggested that where the intestate dies leaving his widow and kindred
Supra 3
Supra 7
Section 46, Intestates’ Estates Act, 1952
but no lineal descendants, the widow take the whole of the property
. Consequently the issue was
brought by Indian Succession (Amendment) Bill, 1994 which also suggested for giving full rights
to widow in the property of her deceased husband if husband dies without making a will and
without leaving children and parents. It also suggested that in such situation there was no need to
share the assets with the remote kindred of the deceased. The suggested change has not seen light of
the day by being brought up as amendment in ISA, 1925.
Under Hindu law the widow is made the Class I heir along with the mother, children and issues of
predeceased children of the deceased husband. The share of widow only varies with the number of
claimants present under Class I. The claimant under Class I are all lineal descendants of the
deceased along with mother. Even father belongs to Class II along with brothers and sisters of the
deceased. If no other scheduled heir is present under Class I widow inherits the entire property of
the deceased husband. Her share is not even dependent on the presence of father or brother or sister
of the deceased. Varying of her share in the presence of distant kindred of the deceased is out of
question under Hindu law. Rights in property to Muslim widow though have been granted but her
share is not equal to the share received by lineal descendants. She is a sharer and her share is fixed
under Quran. She either inherits one-fourth in absence of lineal descendants and one-eighth in their
presence. The presence of other sharers or residuaries does not affect her allotted share. If there are
other sharers, allotted shares are given to them and rest passes on to the residuaries. After allotting
of specific shares to different sharers if share is left but no residuaries are left, by doctrine of radd
the property returns back to all the sharers except the spouse. Distant kindred under Muslim law
inherits only when there are no residuaries unlike ISA, 1925 where they inherit together with the
widow in absence of lineal descendant, father, mother, brother and sister or their issues. It is under
muslim law that when there are no other sharers except the spouse and the share after being allotted
to him/her is left without there being any residuary or distant kindred, the left over share by
doctrine of radd returns to the spouse thereby resulting in devolution of entire property on him/her.
Women before advent of Prophet Mohammed was considered to be property herself with no vested
inheritance rights which state of affairs was changed by Prophet by making inheritance rules just
and equitable. Women are given inheritance rights but her share is to be one half of the
corresponding male relations share thus there exists sex-linked discrimination. ISA, 1925 lays down
Supra 7
uniform rules of succession for both males and females and does not discriminate heirs on the basis
of sex. The philosophy of Muslim law and that of ISA, 1925 are quite different thus ISA, 1925
relying on Muslim law for granting entire rights in property to widow only on the condition that
none of the kindred relatives of the deceased husband is present appears to be erroneous. The Act
may be amended to restrict the variation of widow’s share only in presence of lineal descendants,
father and mother.
(III) Inheritance Right of Christian Mother under ISA, 1925
Status granted to mother under ISA, 1925 for getting inheritance right in property is unfair. The Act
discriminates between father and mother in devolution of property. The opportunity of other near
relatives to the deceased to inherit arises only in absence of lineal descendants. In absence of lineal
descendants, one-half share of the property is reserved for the widow and the other half devolves on
father, if living. In his absence it passes to mother, brothers and sisters and issues of predeceased
brother or sister
. Mother is deprived of the share in presence of father. Even when she inherits, she
is to share the property with brothers and sister or their issue. Since no amount of share is fixed for
mother it varies with the presence or absence of siblings of the deceased. Increase in the number of
brothers or sisters further decreases her share. It is only when brother, sister or their issues do not
survive that she inherits the entire other half of the property.
Under ISA, 1925 which affects mainly Christians in India firstly, there is clear discrimination
between father and mother without any justifiable reason and secondly mother’s share is made to
depend on the presence of siblings of the deceased unlike Hindu law where mother’s share varies
on the presence of deceased’s own children. The provision excluding one parent completely in
presence of other parent appears to be illogical. To exclude the mother in presence of the father
ignores the role that the mother plays in the upbringing and settlement of the child from the
beginning to the attainment of maturity.
Giving mother a secondary treatment reflects the attitude
that mother does not need property but only needs to be looked after and protected when the
practical reality is that mother in majority of the cases is financially dependent while father is
economically secure. Again no reason can justify placing mother and brothers/sisters of deceased
Section 44 of ISA, 1925
Poonam Pradhan Saxena, “Succession Laws & Gender Justice” in Archana Parasar, Amit Dhanda, Redefining Family Law in India, p. 289 (Routledge, New Delhi, 2008)
on the same platform. These provision is not in conformity with current thinking as to the status of
Under law of England
both mother and father takes equally even in presence of brothers and
sisters of the intestate. If only one of them survives he or she takes the whole share. Under Hindu
law mother inherits as Class I heir of male dying intestate. Her importance can be judged from the
fact that she is the only ascendant given the right under Hindu law to inherit as Class I heir, rest all
other Class I heirs, fifteen in number, are the descendants of the deceased related to him by
consanguinity or affinity. It is only when none of the sixteen heirs as mentioned in scheduled Class
I, the property devolves on Class II. Father has been placed in Class II though being the first
among the Class II heir to inherit the property. Thus under Hindu law only mother inherits in
presence of father in property of male dying intestate. Mother she has been placed in Class I heir to
recognise her sanctity and also on the logic that she would be in more need for property than the
father of the deceased. Mother’s share varies only with the presence of number of lineal
descendants and is not depended upon the presence or absence of the brother/sister of the deceased.
Also she receives equivalent share as received by each child of deceased. Brother/sister being
placed in lower entry than father among scheduled Class II heirs are disentitled in presence of
father. Brother/sister is ousted from inheritance in presence of father who himself is disentitled in
presence of mother. Though Hindu law recognizes brother/sister as heir, they are not considered to
be equivalent to mother in getting the share rather her presence completely debars them from
inheriting. Muslim law also gives due importance to mother than to father. Father inherits as a
sharer in presence of child and in his absence takes as residuary. But mother irrespective of absence
of presence of child always takes as sharer with only variation in share in presence or absence of
such child. Brother/sister does inherit as sharer under Muslim law but they are disentitled from
getting any share in presence of child of the deceased. Thus the presence of child affects only
mother’s quantity of share but debars brothers and sisters from inheriting. The Portuguese Code,
1867 also gives equal right in the property of the deceased to both father and mother in absence of
descendants of the deceased. Presence of father and mother or either of them excludes the right of
brother and sister under this Code. If deceased is survived only by mother and his brothers and
sisters, mother takes the entire property. The Code also does not treat mother and brothers or sisters
of the deceased to be on the same platform as is being done under Indian Succession Act, 1925. The
Administration of Estates Act, 1925 s. 46
need is to address the unfairness meted to the Christian mother. The Indian Succession Amendment
Bill, 2004 had suggested for dividing equal shares between father and mother but the Bill lapsed.
After a decade initiative has been taken by Law Commission of India which has recently submitted
its recommendation for uplifting the position of Christian mothers
247th Law Commission of Indian Report on Indian Succession Act, 1925 affecting Rights of
Existing provisions mother’s right of inheritance under Indian Succession Act are archaic in nature
and foster an approach that solidify distinctions based on gender, thus prejudicial and unfair to
status of women and Christian mother of deceased intestate
. Bringing into light the wrong done to
the mother in devolution of the property, the Law Commission of India has suggested the
1) After allotment of one-half of the share to widow, mother to take equal share with father in
absence of lineal descendants of the deceased
2) On death of either of the parents of the deceased, the other parent to succeed the entire other
half left after allotting one-half to the widow.
3) In absence of father and mother, the one-half share left after allotting other one-half to
widow, to be distributed among brothers and sisters equally
4) In absence of parents, brothers and sisters, the share to be divided per-stripe among the
children of brothers and sisters of the deceased.
5) The property when is to be divided between the children of predeceased brother or pre-
deceased sister as distant kindred the property to be divided per stripe rather than per-capita
to bring uniformity with other provision.
With these changes the status of mother would be uplifted and would be given the same position as
being given in other personal laws. Biasness against female would, to an extent, be removed by
promoting mother to be equivalent to father in matters of inheritance. The unjustness of placing her
with deceased’s brothers and sisters would thereby be removed. These changes would go a long
way in bringing consonance with time and in addressing concerns of Christian and other
community governed by ISA, 1925.
Supra 41
Supra 41
(IV) Christian Women and Applicability of Section 213 of ISA, 1925
Before IS(A) Act, 2002 persons governed by ISA, 1925, which mainly included Christians, were
legally required to obtain probate when other communities were exempted to do so
. The Christian
widows were required to establish right to property of deceased. The 110th Law Commission
considered the applicability of s. 213 for Christians. The Commission considered the suggestion
received on the Working paper Letter of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India, dated 3rd
October, 1984 that since Hindus and Muslims get relief from the court on basis of a will but
Christians have to get a probate therefore Christians should be excluded from s. 213. The
Commission recommended for amendment of s. 213 to exclude Christians as well and for
consequential changes wherever necessary in other Sections of the Act. The Commission also took
note of uncertainty surrounding probate. Uncertainty is whether the provisions merely bar the
passing of decree or whether they bar the very institution of the suit to enforce the right claimed
under the will. The commission recommended for amendment of Section 213 to make it clear that
S. 213 of ISA, 1925 - Right as executor or legatee when established.-(1) No right as executor or legatee
can be established in any Court of Justice, unless a Court of competent jurisdiction in India has granted
probate of the will under which the right is claimed, or has granted letters of administration with the will
or with a copy of an authenticated copy of the will annexed.
(2) This section shall not apply in the case of wills made by Muhammadans [ or Indian Christians]*, and
shall only apply--
(i) in the case of wills made by any Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or Jaina where such wills are of the classes
specified in clauses (a) and (b) of section 57; and
(ii) in the case of wills made by any Parsi dying, after the commencement of the Indian Succession
(Amendment) Act, 1962, (16 of 1962.) where such wills are made within the local limits of the ordinary
original civil jurisdiction of the High Courts at Calcutta, Madras and Bombay, and where such wills are
made outside those limits, in so far as they relate to immovable property situate within those limits.
* added by IS(A)Act, 2002
S. 57 of ISA, 1925 - Application of certain provisions of Part to a class of wills made by Hindus, etc. -The
provisions of this Part which are set out in Schedule III shall, subject to the restrictions and modifications
specified therein, apply--
(a) to all wills and codicils made by any Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or Jaina, on or after the first day of
September, 1870, within the territories which at the said date were subject to the Lieutenant-Governor of
Bengal or within the local limits of the ordinary original civil jurisdiction of the High Courts of Judicature
at Madrasand Bombay; and
(b) to all such wills and codicils made outside those territories and limits so far as relates to immoveable
property situate within those territories or limits; and
(c) to all wills and codicils made by any Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or Jaina on or after the first day of January,
1927, to which those provisions are not applied by clauses (a) and (b):
Provided that marriage shall not revoke any such will or codicil.
where probate has not been obtained, the institution of suit should not be barred rather passing of
decree should be barred.
Despite such recommendation in 1985 for exempting Christians from the applicability of s. 213
there was no consequential change in law. Since entries “wills” and “succession” are in the
Concurrent List and states being free to pass amendments to the ISA, 1925, Kerala Legislature
passed the Indian Succession (Kerala Amendment) Act, 1996 (Kerala Amendment Act, 1996) to
exempt Christians of Kerala from the applicability of Section 213. The High Court of Kerala in
Kalari Thresslamma v. Kathidukkanamikhal Joseph
endorsed that Christians of Kerala did not
require probate, by virtue of IS(KA)Act, 1996. But the Kerala Amendment Act, 1996 did not give
immunity to wills executed by Christians of Kerala for property outside Kerala. Thus for wills
executed for property situated outside Kerala the Christians in Kerala still required probate or letters
of administration to establish rights in such property. It was a great relief to the Christians of Kerala
particularly Christian women to establish their right through probate.
Writ petitions were filed in Supreme Court to challenge the constitutional validity of section 213 on
the ground that the provision discriminated persons on the basis of religion as it subjected only
Christians to fulfil the requirement of obtaining probate of will when Muslims, Hindu, Buddhist,
Sikh, Jaina and Parsi had been expressly exempted
. Upholding the constitutional validity of the
provision the Apex court emphatically held that since it also applied to Parsis and to Hindus who
reside within the territories which on 1.9.1870 were subject to the Lt. Governor of Bengal or to
areas covered by original jurisdiction of the High Courts of Bombay and Madras and to all wills
made outside those territories and limits so far as they related to immovable property situated
within those territories and limits, it could not be said that the section was exclusively applicable
only to Christians and, therefore, discriminatory. Apex court refusal to declare the provision
constitutionally invalid was a severe blow to Christians particularly Christian women who against
all odd situation of being economically poor had to go through the tedious and costly affair for
obtaining probate.
Due to recommendation of Law Commission of India, persistent demands of Christian community,
Members of Parliament belonging to Christian community, Kerala Women’s Commission and
various other individuals and organisations, the Government of India was required to take
AIR 1998 Ker 116
Clarence Pais and Others v. Union of India AIR 2001 SC 1151
legislative action of exempting Christians from the purview of S. 213 of ISA, 1925. The
Government enacted Indian Succession (Amendment) Act, 2002 to insert the words “or Christians”
after the word “Mohammedans” in sub-section (2) of Section 213 of ISA, 1925 as had been done in
the Kerala Amendment Act, 1996. The IS(A)Act, 2002 obliged a significant section of country’s
citizen, namely, Christians. After the amendment the Christians are also not required to obtain
probate to get benefit under the Will. This has brought a great relief to Christian women who then
are saved from the perils of undergoing the tiresome process of obtaining probate from the court.
The government could further take proactive steps to secure the rights of Christian women. ISA,
1925 confers no restriction on the power of a person to make testamentary disposition of his
property. Muslim law imposes restriction on testamentary disposition by allowing a person to make
a will upto the extent of only one-third of his property thereby protecting the share of Muslim
widow in the estate of deceased husband and Hindu law guarantees maintenance of widows but
widows including Christian widows under ISA, 1925 are devoid of any such protection. There is
therefore, a need to incorporate some restrictions, on testation similar to that prevailing under
Muslim law to prevent a widow from being left destitute
(V) Conclusion and Suggestion
ISA, 1925 being the law of land in respect to intestate and testamentary succession needs to change
with change in time and society. Continuing with certain discriminatory archaic provisions goes
against the tenets of Constitution. Women’s right to inheritance plays a vital role in the socio-
economic and political empowerment but unfortunately they are often given unequal right to
inheritance due to deep-rooted patriarchal system
. Condition of women could further be improved
by giving her equal inheritance rights in the property. Amendment of ISA, 1925 by removal of
gender discriminatory provisions would go a long way in positively affecting women’s status
particularly Christian women as they make the major community governed by the Act. Following
changes in ISA, 125 could be incorporated to make ISA, 1925 gender just laws:
(i) Equal distribution between widow and a single child as been done under English law
Supra 2
“Women’s right of Inheritance” Study report of National Commission on the Status of Women available
at on 23/12/2014
(ii) The guaranteed sum along with the rate of interest reserved for widow must be increased
keeping plunging cost of Indian Rupee.
(iii) The guaranteed sum to widow must be extended even to Indian Christian widow to
benefit more number of widows.
(iv) Share ought to be reserved also for widowed daughter-in-law. When children born to her
from pre-deceased husband get right in their deceased grandfather’s property there
appears no justifiable reason to deny the right to one who is more needy and who has
given birth to these children. Such share could be withdrawn if she gets remarried during
the lifetime of the father-in-law.
(v) Widow’s right over entire property getting curtailed by presence of even distant kindred
needs relook. Heirs being only near relatives of the deceased husband must be
considered so important to truncate the rights of widow.
(vi) As has already been suggested by Law Commission
mother must be promoted and her
position be made equal to father. There is no reason to discriminate between father and
mother of the deceased and to allow mother to inherit along with brother/sister. In
presence of father both must divide the share equally and in absence of father she must
be given the right to take the complete share.
(vii) Limits must be placed on testamentary disposition of property as fathers now tend to
make will to give rights to son and take away the entire rights of women.
(viii) Women are emotionally compelled to relinquish her share in favour of other male heirs.
Relinquishment of women’s right to inheritance must be subjected to strict conditions,
limitations on such relinquishment and on Court’s intervention.
But some major questions remain - how many women are aware of their inheritance rights, how
many women can afford litigation in patriarchal set-up to claim their inheritance rights. The
changes in the law would fail unless women are educated about their rights in property. The need is
to make them aware of their rights in property. By being aware of their inheritance rights in
property and by asserting it they can afford themselves adequate financial security and prevent
destitution. Law as it is applied in India today shows a positive reform with regard to the position of
females and clearly shows that rules of personal law based on religion are not above reform in order
Supra 41
to bring them into conformity with social and legal change
. The Supreme Court decision in Mary
Roy is important legal milestone in the Indian women’s march to gender equality
. It is the
responsibility of the judges and the legislature in India to participate more actively in the
eradication of gender discrimination
. The Indian Succession Act needs toning up to be in tune
with the mores of the community placed at the threshold of the twenty-first century
. The social
goals envisaged in the Preamble, the guarantee of equality before law enshrined in Article 14, and
abolition of discrimination on ground of birth or sex assured in Article 15 of the Constitution calls
for immediate overhaul of the ISA, 1925 to uplift the position of Christian women in matters of
Christa Rautenbach, “Indian succession laws with special reference to the position of females: A model for
South Africa?” available at:; ssrn-id1915940
Amali Philips, “Stridhanam: Rethinking Dowry, Inheritance and Women’s Resistance among the Syrian
Christians of Kerala, Anthropologica, Vol. 45, No. 2 (2003), pp. 245-263
J. V.R. Krishna Iyer, ‘Woman and the law – a plea for gender justice’1984 IslamicCLQ 251
Supra 29
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Full-text available
India's history, its people and the phenomenon of various personal laws make it an ideal legal system to compare with the South African scenario. There is a generally applicable Indian law that applies to all Indians irrespective of their religion. In the personal law sphere, we find a system of concurrent personal laws that applies to members of the various communities in India. As part of this personal law system, we find an optional system of personal law, which is secular in nature. On the other hand, the religious communities of South Africa are served by a national law (state law), which purports to be secular in nature, and the customs and usages of religious communities (non-state law). South Africa is in the process of recognising Islamic marriages and it is, therefore, necessary to compare the South African situation with other jurisdictions grappling with similar issues. In this contribution the following is investigated: the meaning of "personal law" in India, the variety of personal law systems applicable in India and the circumstances surrounding the so-called Uniform Civil Code debate. Finally a conclusion as to the suitability of the India model for South African circumstances will be drawn.
The property experiences of Syrian Christian women in Kerala, India, viewed in the contexts of their kinship positions (as daughters, sisters, wives, mothers and widows) and spatial arrangements in natal, conjugal and affinal households, provide a more nuanced understanding of dowry and inheritance practices than the decontextulized generalizations offered by the dominant theoretical paradigms. Depending on their kinship positions, the mutuality of kinship with men, the diverging interests of natal, affinal and conjugal households, the relative strengths of patriarchal hegemony and counter-hegemony and the accessibility to the secular legal system, women respond to property disputes by acquiescing, accommodating, bargaining or overtly resisting. These experiences, while questioning some of the paradigmatic explanations of Indian dowry, add a new dimension to the growing literature on women's resistance and help establish a much needed linkage between the study of dowry and that of women's resistance. /// L'expérience de posséder quelque chose chez les femmes chrétiennes syriennes de Kerala, en Inde, vue dans le contexte de leur position dans le système de parenté (comme fille, soeur, épouse, mère et veuve) et de l'arrangement de l'espace dans les résidences conjugales et affinales, offre une compréhension plus nuancée de la dot et des pratiques d'héritage que les généralisations décontextualisées proposées par le paradigme dominant. Dépendant de leur position dans le système de parenté, la correspondance des relations de parenté avec les hommes, des intérêts différents des maisonnées affinale et conjugale, de la force relative de l'hégémonie et de la contre-hégémonie patriarcale, et de l'accès au système légal, les femmes réagissent aux disputes de propriété en acquiesçant, s'accommodant, négociant ou résistant ouvertement. Ces expériences qui remettent en question quelques unes des explications paradigmatiques de la dot en Inde, ajoutent de nouvelles dimensions à la documentation existante sur la résistance des femmes et contribue à établir un lien qui manquait entre l'étude la dot et celle de la résistance des femmes.
Woman and the law -a plea for gender justice
  • J V R Iyer
J. V.R. Krishna Iyer, 'Woman and the law -a plea for gender justice'1984 IslamicCLQ 251 64 Supra 29