STRIDHAN AND CASE COMMENT ON “PRATIBHA RANI V. SURAJ KUMAR”
– Dipti Jhawar1
Over a long period of time, Gender Inequality and differences existed in almost all societies of the world and hence the problem regarding inequality in India is not a recent development. In India, this concept showed its color from the later Vedic period and till now it is a debatable issue. Similarly, where the proprietary position of woman in any system of law represents the feelings and thought in any community, the position of Hindu woman shows the correct criterion of the culture of the Hindu race.
This paper concern about the Stridhan and determine the position of the Hindu woman’s property. It states the meaning of Stridhan, which is a gift given to the Hindu woman before and after her marriage. This implythat property over which a woman has an absolute ownership and this has been held in Pratibha Rani v Suraj Rani case.
This research paper includes the case comment on the above case which states that “a person who denies a woman her dowry-property or Stridhan as explained above is guilty of the offence of criminal breach of trust u/s 405/406 of the IPC”. The offence of criminal breach of trust is capital with imprisonment up to 3 years or fine or both. It is a cognizable, compoundable (up to Rs.250 only) and a non-bailable. It also states the different sources of Stridhan. It focuses on changing of the position of property of Hindu woman from joint ownership to the absolute ownership. Further it is concluded that there are legal provisions which are beneficial but are not enough to secure until and unless the society co-operates and complements these laws with an egalitarian attitude towards women.
Gender inequalities throughout the world are among all the most all-pervasive forms ofequality. Gender equality apprehensions each and every member of the society and forms the basis of a just society and hence the subject of ‘gender justice’ is of huge magnitude and mammoth consequence engulfing and all-embracing and limitless canvas.
In the midnight of August 15, 1947, when India woke to “life and freedom”, most of its 170 million women hardly knew what the “tryst with Destiny” was all about. Victims of poverty, ignorance and oppressive social institutions, hardly knew their destiny and who controlled it.2 The proprietaryposition of woman in any system of law represents the thought and the feelings of the community.
Hence the proprietary status which a woman occupied in Hindu law was not only an index of Hindu civilization but also correct criterion of the culture of the Hindu race.3 The position assigned by the Shastras to the widow and even to the women in general, both in her family and society, was in form of dependence and submission- “Day and night” says Manu; “must women be held by their shields in a state of dependence; even in legal and innocent regenerations, being too much addicted to them, they must be kept by their guards under their own territory.”
It was believed that the dependent and subservient status of women was because of the fact that they were incompetent to perform sacrifices and to read Vedas. Because of her dependent status her right of having property was also treated with dislike or disfavor as there was general reluctance displayed by the ancient Rishis to allow females to hold property. The primary obligation of a person holding property was to perform religious rites and ceremonies and a person was considered as a sort of trustee for the performance of those rites and ceremonies.
Since the females were declared by the Smritis to be incompetent to perform religious ceremonies (Manu, Chap. IX. Verse 10). Therefore, her right to. property was very nominal and whatever little she used to get, that too was hedged with limitations. For instance, her husband could exercise his veto even over certain kinds of Stridhan. So, the question of having absolute ownership in the true sense of the term (which includes right of alienation) did not arise with regard to the property which did not form her Stridhan. She had only the right to have and enjoy, that property for her sustenance and maintenance during her lifetime and this type of right in property was known as “Woman’s Estate”.
According to Manu “Adhyagni (whatever has been given at the time of nuptial fire), Adhyavahanika (whatever has been given at the time of departure of wife), Dattamprite karmani (given out of love and affection) and given by the Father, Mother or the brother”, all these are six types of gifts which come under the term Stridhan.4 One of the most extensive social evil that has beset our modern society is the ‘dowry system’. This evil has now taken the lives of many teenagers while many endure to suffer because of it like slow toxic throughout their lives. Even though we have to great degree succeeded in creating consciousness, the country in which we live has extensive ethnic, linguistic, national diversities. It is, therefore, significant that the task to eliminate these harms is carried forward at the individual level in a large way.
However, there is one more aspect which we need to comprehend and that includes the right to benefit ‘Streedhan’. We must be cautious that even if dowry is deprived of, the bride does not drop her right to ‘Streedhan’ and in places where she has established the ‘Streedhan, her husband does not engage it as his own money. There is a rudimentary change between ‘Streedhan’ and ‘dowry’.
It is relevant to mention here that under the excuse of a dowry-less marriage, male-controlled parents often deprive their girl progenies of equal rights to property. The parents should give the daughter’s share of stuffin her name willingly to ensure monetary security for an independent life, once she leaves her parent home for good. In many well-off families, dowry has become a tool to deny daughters of their equitable share with a car, some gold and some equipment while the lion’s share with land, houses, and bank balances etc. are kept whollyfor the advantage of sons.5
SOURCE OF STRIDHAN
Properties acquired from the following sources fall under the expression Stridhan:
a) Gift received from relatives.
b) Gifts and bequests from strangers during maidenhood.
c) Property obtained in partition.
d) Property got in lieu of maintenance.
e) Property acquired by inheritance.
f) Property acquired through technical skill and art.
g) Property acquired by compromise.
h) Property acquired by adverse possession.
i) Property purchased with the earnings of the Stridhan or with savings of income from Stridhan.
j) Property acquired lawfully from sources other than those mentioned above.
STRIDHAN AND ITS SUCCESSION UNDER HINDU SUCCESSION ACT, 1956
The Hindu SuccessionAct, 1956 has revoked the law connecting to Stridhan which occurred prior to the combination of Section 14 in the Act. Section 14 provided that every material which was in possession of a Hindu female at the time of the enforcement of the Act, whether developed prior to or following to the Act, became her absolute property.
On the death of a Hindu female without a will, her Stridhan devolved according to the rules contained in Section 15 and 16, but in no case according to the old law. Section 15 lays down that when a female who is Hindu, dies intestate parting her Stridhan, it would give upon the following groups of heirs rendering to the rules as long as in Section 16 of the Act:
a) Firstly, upon sons and daughters (including the children ofa predeceased son or daughter) and husband;
b) Secondly, upon the inheritors of husband;
c) Thirdly, upon father and mother;
d) fourthly, upon the heirs of father;
e) fifthly, upon the heirs of mother;
STRIDHAN ACCORDING TO JUDICIAL DECISIONS
In Rashmi Kumar v. Mahesh Kumar Bhada6 the Supreme Court held that when the wife dispenses her Streedhan property with the authority over that property to her husband or any additional member of the family and the spouse or such other member of the family deceitfully misappropriates or alters to his own use that property, or willfully suffers and other person to do so, he compels criminal breach of trust.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court in Vinod Kumar Sethi v. Punjab State7 has given an important decision with respect to Stridhan. According to this High Court whatever has been received by a bride in marriage or whatever has been gifted to her falls under Stridhan. The court divided the gifts and dowry given to her under three heads. First, those items which are given to the bride for her exclusive use; secondly, those which are to be used by her and her husband jointly and thirdly, those which, are to be used by her husband and in laws.
Over the first category she has the exclusive right and she is the exclusive owner thereof; over those coming under the second category the court’s view was that by saying that both the spouses have the right to use it will not extinguish the right of ownership of the wife even then. In case the marriage breaks or the marriage is dissolved then too the wife has the right to get back those items and she can keep, them in her exclusive possession. Thus, according to the above decision all such gifts and presentations which fall under the first two categories are termed as Stridhan.
In a later case namely, Pratibha Rani vs. Suraj Kumar8 the Supreme Court disagreed with the above view ofthe Punjab and Haryana High Court and held that whatever gifts, presentations and dowry Articles are given to a woman in marriage, would be regarded as her absolute property. The sheer fact that she is existing with her husband and using the present items together does not make any difference and affect her right of absolute ownership over them. The view of Punjab and Haryana High Court that the dowry goods become joint property of the husband as well as of the wife and both of them implementation equal right and control over them is incorrect. The court observed, it cannot be said that once a woman enters her marital home she completely loses her limited Stridhan by the same being treated as a joint property of the spouses.
RIGHTS OF WOMEN OVER STRIDHAN
Unmarried status – Any female who is Hindu can place of the Stridhan willingly. However, if she is minor, minority renders the incompetency to the right of discarding.
Married status: The right of discarding of the Stridhan varies with the nature of the Stridhan. As the Stridhan has been divided into saudayika and asaudayika Stridhan. During marriage the saudayika Stridhan could be separate freely by her, whereas asaudayika Stridhan could be withdrawn by her with the accord of her husband only This rule is subject to the situation that where husband and wife live together. In other situation, where both have left, asaudayika Stridhan can be disposed of by the wife even without the consent of her husband.9 In calamities or for religious purpose or if the wife has taken the Stridhan, then its return or repayment depended upon the wishes of the husband.10
During widowhood. – At the time of widowhood, the woman has a complete and unrestricted right of separation of property, nevertheless of the fact whether it has been developed earlier or after the death of the husband.11
PRATIBHA RANI V. SURAJ KUMAR CASE
Citations: 1985 AIR 628, 1985 SCR (3) 191
Bench: Fazalali, Syed Murtaza
Date of judgment: 12/03/1985
There was the complainant Mrs. Pratibha Rani who filed a case against her husband and her in-laws in the Court of CJM of Ludhiana. She had been wedded according all Hindu customs and that throughout the time of her nuptial her husband’s family had wanted dowry from her parents as reflection for the marriage. This demanded was recognized and a dowry worth Rs. 60,000/- was given in form of jewelry. However, even afterward this the accused would maltreat the plaintiff and eventually isolated her.
Later on, when complainant ordered theArticles given, as a part of her ‘Stridhan’ the suspect refused to return it to her by declaring it to be her dowry. The lower court and also the Punjab & Haryana High Court discharged the appeal on the grounds that the case did not attract the Section 405 of IPC as the management over the Articles to the husband did not extent to assignment under the law. This reasoning was given by the High Court by mentioning to the case of Vinod Kumar Sethi v. State of Punjab.
The position of ‘Streedhan’ among the Hindus was interrogated while the other issues that were dealt in the case connected with the rights of a companion over the ‘Streedhan’. There was also additional question that was discussed in this case. It was concerning the legal partnership being formed between husband and wife due to the combined holding of the ‘Streedhan’ property. As such whether the refusal to return the ‘Streedhan’ property by a spouse on demand from his wife would amount to Criminal Breach of Trust u/s. 405?
The Defendant husband in the instant case may be called and put on trial in accord with the Criminal law as under Section 405 of IPC.
• Majority: It was held by the common that the location of Streedhan among the Hindus is very clear and un-ambiguous. In cases of ‘Streedhan’, the lady is to be preserved as the complete owner of her property. This property is for her use and fulfillment, and further, it was also extra that such a property can be skilled or willed away without the accord of the husband. The Apex Court further clarified that mere joint holding by a husband of the ‘Streedhan’ property did not establish any legal organization or co- ownership amid the husband and his wife. The court pronounced that a wife can file a civil suit under the S. 14 of Hindu SuccessionAct and under S. 27 of the Hindu Marriage Act, if the spouse declines to return the ‘Streedhan’ property of his wife.
As such the second issue was also responded that the husband has effectively no right over the property. The extreme use he can make of property is only in time of great pain or calamity in family linking someone’s health. Again, this so-called anxietygiven to the husband over the property of her wife is his private, and therefore no one else in the local of the husband can make use of the property.
It has also been recognized by the courts that the ‘Streedhan’ property of a woman will not be used to pay off debts taken by the spouse and that these belongings cannot be continued against in an execution of a husband. As such keeping in view the above- mentioned reasoning the Supreme Court opined that the refusal to return ‘Streedhan’ property would amount to criminal breach of trust. The court had accepted that civil law provides a remedy but the criminallaw gives a co-extensive remedyto the aggrieved party. According to the majority judgment, a pure and simple entrustment of the ‘Streedhan’ to the husband without creating any right in the husband excepting the safe keeping of the items of “Streedhan’ do not give him the right to use it to the detriment of the wife.
• Minority: This minority judgment was given by the J. Vardarajan. He was of the opinion that under the present scheme of laws there is no separate agreement and also there is an absence of concept of specific title. Therefore, it becomes hard to draw a clear outlining whether the property has been given to the husband for simple entrustment of fortification or it is for dominion.
As such it would be bare to attract the arduous penal provision when at the similar time there are bearable civil provisions to deal with such suitcases. Also, he preached that if a case of such nature is marched under a civil opportunity, there is still a scope left for settlement among the parties. However, the application of such strict criminal provision would uniform end that scope and would the lowest unit of society, the connection of Husband-Wife, would be destroyed.
• Analysis: At present the Pratibha Rani case is the only landmark judgment in respect to ‘Streedhan’ laws that define the applicability of Section 405 of IPC, in very detail and tranquility. As such it would be quite conceivable that various women related social establishments must be very pleased with this kind of case-law as now they can keep the heinous husbands at bay and our communally secure to the extent of their ‘Streedhan’ is worried. However, we need to also look at the minority judgment since it has showcased a feature of society which would be really pretentious and such indemnities have already ongoing to happen as we see two and half periods down the line after this judgment. In a criminal suit all such faiths are dashed and the family breaks up. Also, there is query of jointness and co-ownership. The issue is that when a woman takes her ‘Streedhan’ property in her spouse’s family and delivers the property to her husband would that obligation not be supposed to be covered under supposition of jointness of protection and thereby representative at possession of their single properties to the spouses together, i.e. by both of them composed.
Thus, a very essential element of offence U/S.405 would, therefore, be deficient on account of jointness of protection and controller of property. Accordingly, as long as the promise of the wedding exists or there is a probability of its renewal, the offence under s. 405 should not be amused to maintain pleasure in the family. If there is a custody in such situations, the reassurance will have a damaging effect. Thus, as earlier said the probabilities of reconciliation of between the parties will totally end.12
The Supreme Court in Prathibha Rani Vs Suraj Kumar (AIR 1985 SC 628) has observed that Stridhan property of a married woman, even if it is placed in the safekeeping of her husband or in-laws, they would be considered to be trustees and therefore are destined to return the same when commanded by her. Aperson who denies a woman her dowry-property or Stridhan as explained above is guilty of the offence of criminal breach of trust u/s 405/406 of the IPC. The offence of criminal breach of trust is capital with imprisonment up to 3 years or fine or both. It is a cognizable, compoundable (up to Rs.250 only) and a non-bailable.
Thus, the issue of Gender Justice has been gaining ground in many areas for some centuries. Though the old-fashioned view of gender injustice has been given quite a quietus and treated as an event of departed days, yet the malady still remains, sometimes ambushing with stingy horror giving a free play to the mediocre endowments of nature in man thereby making the whole concept a ridicule numbing the entire association built in last few decades. We all should realize that women are not just the object or product to be maintained and kept by the family for certain purpose. Women also have the right to be self-governing, she has the right to own house, landed property an any other property in her own name to do as she pleases with it. The present set up of the society is male-controlled, it favors man and all organizations like family, marriage likewise is built with its substance based upon.