This article on ‘Position of Female as Karta of Hindu Joint Family’ has been written by Nishant Vimal, a 3rd-year student of Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad. The author discusses the position of a female as Karta of the Hindu Joint Family.
Concept of Karta in a Hindu Joint Family
Karta is the senior most male member of the Hindu Joint Family and is the person who is the manager of all the properties of the Hindu Joint Family and takes care of all the other members. He has the maximum power in a Hindu joint Family and no one else has that authority.
- Power to manage a family business: Karta heads the family business and takes all the necessary decisions to ensure the growth of profits.
- Power to control all income and expenditure: Karta receives all the income earned by the members of the Hindu Joint Family and he allows the funds to all the members as per their need and takes the decision as to when the HJF needs to spend the money.
- Power to take all decisions for Hindu Joint Family: Karta has the most power in the HJF, hence takes care of all family affairs and takes decisions regarding the same.
- Power to represent the Hindu Joint Family in suits: Any suit in which HJF is a party, Karta will represent the HJF. HJF cannot be a party itself as it is not a legal entity as held in the case of Chotelal v. Jhandelal. (1)
- Power to refer any matter to arbitration: Any conflict or dispute involving a member of HJF or the HJF as a whole, Karta has the power to refer that matter to arbitration and it is binding on all the members.
- Power to compromise: Karta has the power to settle any matter of property, any family debts or etc. if it is done with bona fide intention.
- Power to acknowledge and contract debts: Karta has the power to take loans and pay off loans of a debt of a particular member of the Hindu Joint Family. However, if he takes a loan for the benefit of the family business, the duty to repay the loan comes on all the members of the HJF.
- Power to enter into a contract: Karta has the power to enter into a contract in which the Hindu Joint Family is involved. He will represent the HJF in the contract.
- Power to alienate: Karta has the power to alienate any of the Hindu Joint Family property if he has done in a legal necessity, for the benefit of the estate or an emergency.
Article 236 of the Mulla Hindu Law has given the definition of “Karta” as follows:
“Manager – Property belonging to a joint family is ordinarily managed by the father or other senior members for the time being of the family: The Manager of a joint family is called Karta.”
Who can become a Karta?
The senior most male member becomes the Karta of the Hindu Joint Family and on his absence, the next senior most male member becomes the Karta. If in case, a senior Karta gives up his right, a junior coparcener can become the Karta after all the other members have consented to it. This was held in the case of Narendra Kumar J. Modi v.CIT. (2)
Who are coparceners?
Coparceners are a particular class of within a Hindu Joint Family. These are only the male members of the Hindu Joint Family. All the coparceners have right over the property of the HJF. They are derived from 4 successive generations and the senior most among these become the Karta of the Hindu Joint Family. According to the Mitakshara Law, coparcenary starts on the birth of the son in the family.
There has been a lot of debate surrounding the inclusion of Female in the ambit of a coparcener and even Karta.
Female as a coparcener or Karta
Certain females are entitled to shares if the partition is done. Father’s wife, mother and grandmother are entitled to share as per Hindu women’s Right to Property Act 1987 when a coparcener dies and leaves behind a widow. She will be entitled to take the property to the extent of her husband’s share.
The norm in earlier times was that the Karta of the Hindu Joint Family is the seniormost male member and hence, a female was never given the recognition. Karta is always one of the coparceners and because of this, females were never a part of the coparceners.
Many courts have held that only a coparcener can become Karta of HUF. In the case of Commissioner of Income Tax v. Seth Govindram Sugar Mills Ltd. (3), the same thing was held by the court.
Can the Widow be a Karta?
A widow is not a coparcener and every Karta is appointed from one of the coparceners.
Radha Ammal v. Commissioner of Income Tax (4), it was held that since a widow is not considered as a coparcener, she does not have any legal qualification to become a manager of a Hindu Joint Family which is Karta.
However, there were some different interpretations that were being made for the inclusion of female in the concept of coparcener or Karta. The Hon’ble High court in the case of CIT v Seth Laxmi Narayan Raghunathdas (5) reasoned that since in Dayabhaga Law a widow may be a coparcener then she may even be the Karta of the family particularly if she is the only member sui juris left in the family. For Mitakshara Law, where along with male coparcener a female may not be a coparcener because she does not possess the right of survivorship, the court observed that this right or the status of a coparcener is not a requisite for being the Karta of a joint Hindu family to which she has been admitted to.
But in times of necessity, a widow can be appointed as a Karta of the Hindu Joint Family. In the case of C.P. Berai v. Laxmi Narayan (6), it was held by the court that a widow could be a Karta in a situation when there are no adult male members left in the family. Any Karta should act for the benefit of the Hindu Joint Family and if a widow has the intention of doing so, she should be appointed as the Karta.
How did the question of a female being a Karta in Hindu Joint Family arise?
Dharmashastra proved to be a source which gave females a right that they can be the Karta of the Hindu Joint family and do all acts that are necessary and which may result in the benefit of the Hindu Joint Family. Dharmashastra has provided that female can act as a manager of the Hindu Joint Family.
Acting upon this source, in the case of Pandurang Dahke vs. Pandurang Gorle (7) where it was held that any adult member of any family, male or female, is entitled to the right to manage a Hindu Joint family to the best of their interests and for their benefit. This decision was relied upon by Justice Puranik, in and it was held that the mother can be the manager of a Hindu Joint family.
Amendment in Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005
A major breakthrough towards eradicating gender inequality and discrimination and to prevent the gender-bias that has been prevalent in families in India and to improve the adverse condition of women in the society has been ensured with the enactment of the Hindu Succession Amendment Act, 2005. This amendment has conferred equal property rights on daughters of a Hindu Joint Family. Now, a daughter can be a coparcener in a Hindu Joint Family in the same way as the sons. After her marriage, she becomes a part of her Husband’s Hindu Joint Family but does not cease to be a coparcener in the Hindu Joint Family of her father. She can exercise all the rights given to any coparcener before and even after marriage. She can have a right over the property of the Hindu Joint Family and also can alienate that property either by way of sale or will. Daughter will also get the property if any coparcener dies just like the way sons get the property. In a situation when a female coparcener dies before partition, then children of such coparcener would be eligible for claiming that property as they would have been entitled to such property in the future. A widow of a pre-deceased son is eligible for a share in the property as a legal heir of that pre-deceased son of the Hindu Joint Family. Even if she remarries, she will have this interest in that Hindu Joint Family property.
According to the Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, and daughter, mother, widow, predeceased son’s daughter and his widow, predeceased son’s widow, daughter’s daughter are entitled to their respective shares as per the provision.
Female as a Karta
Earlier, a female was not given the chance to be a coparcener, she was not empowered to act as Karta prior to the amendment in the Hindu Succession Act. However, after the amendment of 2005 in Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, was done keeping in mind and respecting the position of a female member, the daughter of a coparcener shall by birth become a coparcener in the same way as the son. This was upheld in the case of Shreya Vidyarthi vs Ashok Vidyarthi & Ors (8).
What will be the powers of a female as a Karta?
Earlier in certain cases like Sushila Devi Rampura v. Income-tax Officer (9), the court held that where the remaining male members of the Hindu Joint Family are minors, their natural guardian is their mother. Hence, the mother can represent the Hindu Joint Family in an issue of assessment and recovery of income tax.
But, in recent cases like Sujata Sharma v. Mannu Gupta (10), the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi has interpreted the amendment of 2005 in a way that will extend the applicability of the amendment to not just the Hindu women who will be recognised as coparceners in a same way as the son, but also recognising the eldest woman member of the Hindu Undivided Family as the Karta of the Hindu Undivided family and its properties.
The point to remember is that the only hindrance for a female to be a Karta was the fact that they are not coparceners in a Hindu Joint Family. Under Mitakshara law, they have been given equal rights as that of a son. Son being a coparcener makes way for the instant effect that daughter can also become a coparcener. Hence, there is no firm argument as to why daughters cannot be made a Karta. When it comes to the question of a widow being a Karta, widow is never a coparcener, hence she will never become a Karta.
The rigid laws in India have always resulted in women being marginalized. The concept of Karta was that the senior most male member will be the one to take care of the members and property of the Hindu Joint Family. Women were never given consideration until recent times when the legislation and judiciary in India have exercised their powers and authority in such a way that gender equality is ensured. Earlier the reasoning which was given by the courts that woman, cannot become a Karta because one of the coparceners is appointed as a Karta and women cannot become a coparcener. But after the amendment to Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 gives equal rights to daughters in the Hindu Mitakshara coparcenary property as the sons have.
The amendment of 2005 in the Hindu Successions Act has cleared the pathway for women to be a coparcener in a Hindu Joint Family and has given them consideration for being the Karta. In a lot of cases, we have seen that justice is denied because of a lack of knowledge about one’s rights or awareness of the law. Therefore, this law and amendment should result in greater convenience for women and it may be easier for them to know about their rights. Measures should be taken that are empowered and learned enough to know and demand their rights. This article has discussed in detail the conflict between the opinions of courts on the inclusion of female in the ambit of coparcener and Karta. The reader will get to know about the concept of Karta and the history of the situation of female in a Hindu Joint Family.
- AIR 1972 All 424.
- (1976) 105 ITR 109(SC).
- AIR 1966 SC 24.
- AIR 1950 Mad 588.
- 1966 AIR 24.
- AIR 1949 Nag 128.
- 1947 ILR Nag. 299.
- AIR 2016 SC 139.
- AIR 1959 Cal.
- 2015 SCC Del 14424.