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Delhi High Court has declared that the right of a woman to serve as the Karta of a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) is unrestricted by both legislative provisions and traditional Hindu law.

The bench comprising Justice Suresh Kumar Kait and Justice Neena Bansal Krishna noted that “societal perceptions” cannot be a reason to deny the rights expressly conferred by the Legislature.

The bench stated, “To say that a woman can be a coparcener but not a Karta, would be giving an interpretation which would not only be anomalous but also against the stated Object of introduction of Amendment [in the Hindu Succession Act, in 2005].”

Commencing the judgment with a citation from Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, the bench noted a reluctance in acknowledging women as Kartas, despite being endowed with equal coparcenary rights as men.

The bench added, “Men and women historically were born equal. However, over a period of time, with the advancement of civilization and hierarchical division of society, women have been pigeonholed according to gender roles which progressed into an act of prelation that has relegated them to a secondary position in society.”

“Similarly, the Amendment of 2005 to the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 which has conferred coparcenary rights to the women, equivalent to that of men, is a quintessence of another reform in law relating to women empowerment. However, the unwavering certitude in marginalisation of women, so deeply entrenched in Society, is perceived to be imperilled by the prospect of a woman taking the position of Karta in an HUF, a role that was traditionally assumed by men,” the bench added.

The bench concluded that the precise wording of Section 6 of the 2005 Amendment Act unmistakably indicates that while the Preamble may specifically mention inheritance, granting “same” rights encompasses all the rights inherent to a coparcener, including a woman’s entitlement to serve as a Karta.

The court asserted that suggesting a scenario where a woman can be a coparcener but not a Karta of HUF would involve an interpretation that is not only inconsistent but also runs counter to the stated objective behind the introduction of the Amendment.

The High Court bench noted that though a Hindu Undivided Family cannot have two kartas. the duty of management can be performed by another Coparcener in given circumstances.

Moreover, the court noted that the involvement of a female coparcener as the Karta does not alter the rights of the members within the coparcenary. The court further stated that coparceners retain their original entitlements and interests without any infringement on their rights in any way.

The Court added, “If there arises any scepticism about the skills, efficiency, sincerity or ability of female Coparceners to act as the Karta or being influenced by her in-laws, the other Coparceners have adequate remedies to seek for a partition or impeach any wrongful alienation of property made by the Karta.”

The court also dismissed the contention that the woman Karta’s husband would have indirect control over the activities of HUF of her family.

Terming it a “parochial mindset”, the court stated that even the legislature had diligently attempted to oust such a mindset through Section 14 of the Act of 1956 to allow women with the “long overdue right to be the absolute owner of her property”.

The bench observed, “If a woman is proscribed from becoming a Karta in view of this reasoning as cited by the appellant, it will only render the legislative endeavour to give rights in immovable properties to women through Section 14 of the Act,1956 as a mere mirage. Ergo, a woman who has absolute ownership in a property cannot be denied a right to manage it on the warped reasoning that she may get influenced by her in-laws. Thus, societal apprehension and reluctance can never truncate legislative enactments to do away with patriarchal discrimination.”

The High Court bench dismissed the plea challenging single judge order who held that there is no restriction in law preventing the eldest female co-parcener of an HUF from being its Karta.

The court also designated Sujata Sharma as the Karta of the Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) named “D.R. Gupta & Sons HUF”.


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