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Legal Meaning of Property Possessed by a Female Hindu

Moreover “possessed” in Section 14 meant right to possess and not actual physical possession. Where a property comes into the possession of a female Hindu under certain will and she gets only the life interest in it for her maintenance the court has held that it will convert into absolute estate.

In the case of Badri Prasad v. Kanso Devi, a Hindu inherited certain property under the Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act, 1937 from her husband after his death. Later on there was partition in the family and a settlement about the division of shares was reached by arbitration. The widow received a share in the property and remained in its possession at the date of the commencement of this Act.

The Court held that such property became her absolute property within the meaning of Section 14(1). It was further observed that the term “possessed” includes cases of simple possession as well as constructive possession, where a person has been illegally dispossessed of any property.

In Maitgal Singh v. Rattno the Court reiterated the above view and said that the section covers all cases of property owned by a female Hindu although she may not be in actual physical or constructive possession of that property, provided of course that she has not parted with her rights and is entitled to getting possession of the property.

In this case a widow inherited certain land and came into its possession on the death of her husband in 1917. Her possession continued till 1954 when she was wrongfully dispossessed and consequently she filed a suit in March 1956 and died in 1958. It was held that she must be regarded to have possessed the property on the date of the enforcement of the Act in 1956 for the purposes of this section and as such become full owner of it.

In such a case the female owner would be regarded as being “possessed” of the property if the trespasser has not perfected his title by adverse possession before the Act came into force. Since she died in 1958, her legal representative must be deemed to have succeeded to those rights.

The female Hindu must be alive and be in possession of the property on the date of the commencement of the Act for getting the benefit of the section. If she had died before the Act came into existence or had ceased to be in possession of that property, the provisions of section would not be attracted. Where she had sold away the property before the Act and thereby divested herself of that property, Section 14(1) would not help.

Thus only such property becomes absolute which has been in her possession at the date of the commencement of the Act. In Mahesh Chanda Shama v. Raj Kumari Sharma house was bequeathed to wife of testator for life. There was a compromise between wife of testator and her son. Wife gave up her right to house except first floor of house. Meanwhile Hindu Succession Act came into force. II was held that the wife became absolute owner of only of the first floor of house and not the whole house.

Where the widow acquires life interest in some property in lieu of maintenance and she gets limited ownership in it, such property also becomes her absolute property within the meaning of Section 14(1) notwithstanding her limited interest in it. Where a provision is made for the maintenance of a female Hindu by giving a life interest in property for the purposes of residence, that provision is made in lieu of a pre-existing right to maintenance and the female Hindu acquires far more than a vestige of title which is deemed sufficient to attract Section 14(1).

In Maugal Mai v. Suit. Punni Devi, the Supreme Court reversing the decision of Rajasthan High Court held that where a widowed daughter-in-law through an arbitration was given a residential home for life only in lieu of her right to maintenance and she remained in possession of the said property on the day of the enforcement of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, her limited interest blossomed into full ownership rights. If she has sold away a part of that property after the Act came into force, the sale would be upheld as she became entitled to sell it.

In Bhagwan Dattatraya v. Viswa Nath Pandari Nath, a widow inherited certain property and sold it away before the commencement of the Act. The sale was challenged by the reversioners and held invalid by the court. After this declaration by the court, holding the sale invalid, she purchased the property and sold It away again. It was challenged by the reversioners again.

The Court held that in spite of its previous declaration, as the property came in her possession after the enforcement of the Act, it became her absolute property and therefore the reversioners could not challenge the alienation thereafter, as the widow had become absolute owner of the property and enjoyed full right of dealing with it.

In Maged Singh v. Kehar Singh and others, the Court observed that a widow’s inheriting certain property right is only limited for benefit of reversioners. She can transfer property by way of will after the commencement of the Act. The husband of widow died issueless. In the absence of any other heir and reversionary right in his estate it could not be claimed by anyone. Widow would become absolute owner of estate of her husband and as such she was entitled to transfer of property by way of will.

Recently, in Dayal and others v. Bhaiyalal and others, the Court held that right to maintenance of Hindu family, a pre-existing right, was existed under shatric Hindu Law even if 1937 Act does not apply. If widow is in possession of property of her husband and she having acquired right in suit property by way of succession, she becomes absolute owner after coming into force of Hindu Succession Act. Because word “acquired” used in Section 14 of Hindu Succession Act includes right acquired by succession and alienation of property by widow is valid.

Another important pronouncement came in the case of V. Tulsamma v. B. Sheshareddi. In this case, the appellant claimed maintenance out of the joint family properties in the hands of the respondents who was her deceased husband’s brother. The claim was decreed in favour of the appellant and in the execution of the decree for maintenance, a compromise was arrived at between the parties allotting the properties in question to the appellant for her maintenance and giving her limited interest in such properties.

It was held that since in the present case the properties in question were acquired by the appellant under the compromise in lieu of’ satisfaction of her right of maintenance, it was sub-section (1) and not sub-section (2) of Section 14 which would be applicable and hence the appellant must be deemed to have become full owner of the properties notwithstanding that the compromise prescribed a limited interest for her in the properties. The court observed:

“Sub-section (1) of Section 14 is large in its amplitude and covers every kind of acquisition of property by a female Hindu including acquisition in lieu of maintenance and where such property was possessed by her at the date of the commencement of the Act or was subsequently acquired and possessed, she would become full owner of the property.”

Sub-section (2) is more in the nature of a proviso or exception to sub-section (1). It being an exception to a provision which is calculated to achieve a social purpose by bringing about change in the social and economic position of a woman in Hindu society, must be construed strictly so as to impinge as little as possible on the broad sweep of the ameliorative provision contained in sub-section (1). It cannot be interpreted in a manner which would rob sub-section (1) of its efficacy and deprive a Hindu female of the protection sought to be given to her by sub-section (1).

Sub-section (2) must, therefore, be read in the context of sub-section (1) so as to leave as large a scope for operation as possible to sub-section (1) and so read, it must be confined to case where property is acquired by a female Hindu for the first time as a grant without any pre existing right, under a gift, will, instrument, decree or order or award, the terms of which prescribe a restricted estate in the property.

Where, however, property is acquired by a female Hindu at a partition or in lieu of right of maintenance, it is in virtue of a pre-existing right and such an acquisition would not be within the scope and ambit of sub-section (2) even if the instrument, decree, order or award allotting the property prescribes a restricted estate in the property.

Where a widow of a deceased coparcener was in possession of part of joint Hindu family properties allotted to her for life in lieu of maintenance without any power of alienation and she dies in possession of that property after the Act came into force, it became her absolute property under Section 14(1) as soon the . Act came into force and not under Section 14(2).

Any property coming in possession of a female Hindu on account of partition in joint-Hindu family, becomes her absolute property irrespective of the fact that she acquired only limited right in the property before the commencement of the Act. Where the office of Shibait was transferred by the Shibait through a will to his wife before the Act came into being but the right to alienate the same was not given to her, it was held by the court that the office of shebait like a movable property vested in the wife absolutely after the Act.

In Vijaya Pal Singh v. Deputy Director of Consolidation, the Supreme Court reiterated that the limited estate of the widow, if it was in her possession on the day when the Hindu Succession Act came into force, would be enlarged into absolute right.

The court reversing the judgment of Allahabad High Court held that where it was established that husband of the widow was separated from his brothers and was in possession of his share of property and after his death in the year 1910, his widow’s name was mutated and continued in the record of rights, her limited estate would be enlarged into absolute right by operation of Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act as she was in possession when the Act came into force, and when she died intestate, her only daughter would become as absolute owner as class I heir and would be entitled to the extent of share of property which her father held.

According to Madhya Pradesh High Court, where a widow was in possession of suit property as per mutation entries made in 1920, i.e., before 1956 when Hindu Succession Act came into force, her possession in terms of Explanation to Section 14(1) would be deemed as possession in exercise of her pre-existing right to maintenance on the death of her husband.

How she came into possession viz., as per mutation entries is not material because it makes no difference whether the property is acquired by inheritance, or devise or at partition or in lieu of maintenance, or in any manner whatsoever. By operation of law, therefore, she became “full owner of the suit property” and she could make valid alienation thereof.

But this expansion is not intended to apply to a case of mere possession without title. Even mere physical possession of the property without the right of ownership will not attract the provisions of this section. Thus where a widow succeeds to the property of her deceased husband after his death and sometimes later validly gifts away the same to her daughter and after the death of the daughter takes possession of the property, her possession is that of a trespasser and continues to be so when the Hindu Succession Act later on comes into force and even thereafter till her death.

She cannot be held to have acquired under the Act because before any property can be said to be “possessed” by the Hindu woman, two things are necessary—(a) she must have had a right to the possession of that property and (b) she must have been in possession of that property either actually or constructively. In V. V. Subha Rao v. Chatlappali Seetharamanthanta Rangnyakama, widow had obtained the properties from her husband prior to Act in recognition of her pre-existing right to maintenance.

In subsequent documents she had also acknowledged that what she obtained was a limited right with provision that property would revert to her son. In these circumstances the Court held that Section 14(2) and not Section 14(1) would be attracted and her right would not be enlarged into absolute estate.

In Haridatta v. Shivaram a Hindu woman got a portion of the joint property from her father-in-law by way of gift. Her husband challenged the validity of the gift in the Court. Later on there was a compromise between them and a portion of the property given in the gift was again given to her but she was given only life interest in such property.

She later on executed a will in 1963 with respect to that property in favour of someone else. The validity of will was again challenged. The Court held that after the compromise decree was passed, she became the absolute owner of the property. The will executed by her was valid as she had become absolute owner of the property.

In Gopal Singh v. Dile Ram, where in a suit for declaration that the gift of properties made before coming into force of the Act was invalid, a compromise decree was passed and it declared that the gift was invalid, the effect of that declaration was that the widow continued to be the limited owner of the properties after the decree until 1956 when Hindu Succession Act came into operation and by virtue of Section 14, it was held by the Supreme Court, her limited estate became absolute estate and, as such, the will of the properties made by the widow subsequent to the coming into force of the Act was a valid will.

Where a Hindu wife got land in lieu of maintenance from her husband and she enjoys the produce there from, her right became absolute by virtue of Section 14(1) of the Act. The Court observed that “Section 14 aimed at removing restrictions or limitations on the right of a female Hindu to enjoy, as a full owner, property possessed by her so long as her possession is traceable to a lawful origin, that is to say, if she has a vestige of title.

It makes no difference whether the property is acquired by inheritance or devise or at a partition or in lieu of maintenance or arrears of maintenance or by gift or by her own skill or exertion or by purchase or by prescription or in any other manner whatsoever. The expression expressly refers to property acquired in lieu of maintenance and the widow is not required to establish any further title before she can claim full ownership under Section 14(1) in respect of property given to her and possessed by her in lieu of maintenance.”

Where a property was given to a female Hindu in lieu of her maintenance by way of compromise and she was in possession and enjoyment thereof from date of compromise, provisions of Section 14(1) were attracted and not of Section 14(2). It was therefore held that she became absolute owner irrespective of several restrictive covenants accompanying grant.

In Smt. Beni Bai v. Raghuwir Prasad, will was executed by the husband and his son was to be the owner of the disputed house after the death of the testator. The widow of the testator was given only life interest in the said house in lieu of maintenance.

After death his widow entered into possession of house for lifetime. She was confirmed that her limited right in lieu of maintenance was in recognition of her pre-existing right. The said right transformed into an absolute right by virtue of Section 14(1) of Hindu Succession Act. Under such circumstances, then she became the absolute owner of the house and was fully competent to execute the gift deed in favour of her daughter. In this case die Supreme Court held that the gift deed executed by the widow is fully valid.

In Bai Vijia v. Thakarbhai Chelabhai, the court overruling Gujarat High Court had held that the widow’s right to maintenance though not an indefeasible right to property, was undoubtedly a “pre-existing” right. It is true that widow’s claim for maintenance does not ripen into a full fledged right to property, but nevertheless it is undoubtedly a right which in certain cases can amount to a right to property where it is charged.

It cannot be said that where a property is given to a widow in lieu of maintenance, it is given to her for the first time and not in lieu of a pre-existing right. The claim to maintenance, as also the right to claim property in order to maintain herself, is an inherent right conferred by the Hindu law and, therefore any property given to her in lieu of maintenance is merely in recognition of the claim or right which the widow possessed from before. It cannot be said that such a right has been conferred for the first time by virtue of the document concerned and before the existence of the document the widow had no vestige of a claim or right at all.

In V. Muthusami v. Angammal and others, a Hindu female has maintenance against properties of her husband where the father-in-law of the widow received property of her deceased husband and subsequently made settlement deed providing for maintenance to her, it could be said that settlement deed recognised her pre-existing right.

Therefore, Section 14(2) would be inapplicable to her case. But Section 14(1) would cover her case, because she claimed maintenance as of right against the property i.e., jus-ad-rem left behind by her deceased husband, the right of maintenance could be enforced by widow against the estate of her husband in the hands of her father-in-law, though she was not in actual physical possession of the land, she was in legal possession as she never parted with the right of maintenance and she could enforce such right in law.

A settlement in recognition of her right to be maintained from the properties of her husband, therefore, after coming into force of the Act, she became full owner over the suit land and as a full owner, she had power to execute the agreement for sale in favour of the plaintiff and others.