UNDERSTANDING COPARCENARY: JOINT OWNERSHIP AND BIRTH RIGHTS IN HINDU ANCESTRAL PROPERTY
In Hindu law, coparcenary refers to the joint ownership of ancestral property among the male members of a family. Coparcenary rights are governed by the Mitakshara school of Hindu law and have evolved over centuries, reflecting changes in societal norms and legal developments. The coparcenary concept has some key feature peculiar. Coparcenary as a concept has certain key features which are unique to the system. One such feature is that of joint ownership. Joint Coparcenary entails the joint ownership of ancestral property by all the male descendants of a common ancestor. Each coparcener has an undivided interest in the property, irrespective of their age or birth order. In addition to joint ownership, under coparcenary, rights are acquired by birth. Upon birth into a coparcenary, a male child becomes a coparcener and gains an equal share in the ancestral property.
Over the years, coparcenary rights have undergone significant changes to promote gender equality and address the historical discrimination against women. The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, marked a milestone in this regard by granting women the status of coparceners. Prior to this, women could only hold a limited right known as a “limited estate” in the ancestral property. The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, was another landmark legislation that brought about a transformative change in coparcenary rights. It removed the gender-based distinction and granted daughters equal coparcenary rights along with sons. This amendment acknowledged the inherent right of daughters to inherit ancestral property on an equal footing, putting an end to gender-based discrimination.
The expansion of coparcenary rights to include women has had far-reaching consequences. It has not only recognized the rights of daughters as coparceners but also enabled them to exercise control over ancestral property. Women now have the power to manage, alienate, and partition their share in the property, ensuring economic empowerment and greater financial independence. The legal reforms have also fostered a shift in societal attitudes towards gender equality and the role of women in property inheritance. The amendments reflect the changing dynamics of modern Indian society, where women are actively participating in various spheres and making substantial contributions.
Difference between Ancestral property, coparcenary property and joint family property
Ancestral Property: Ancestral property is the property that is passed down from our ancestors. It includes things like cash, jewelry, land, and houses that have been in the family for several generations. According to Hindu law, this property can be traced back at least four generations of male family members. When a new generation is born, they automatically get an equal share in this ancestral property.
Coparcenary Property: Coparcenary property is a narrower term that relates specifically to the Hindu Undivided Family (HUF). It includes only the male members of the family who inherit a share in the ancestral property by birth. These male members are called coparceners. In the past, only male descendants up to three generations from the property holder were considered coparceners. However, the law was changed in 2005, and now daughters are also recognized as coparceners.
Joint Hindu Family Property: Joint Hindu Family Property is a broader concept that includes both ancestral property and coparcenary property. It refers to any property that is owned and held by a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF). A HUF is a legal entity created by law and consists of a common ancestor, his male descendants, and their wives and unmarried daughters. All the members of the family jointly own the property, and they have the right to use and manage it according to their respective shares.
Right to coparcenary property under Mitakshara law
Under Mitakshara Law, ancestral property refers to property inherited by a male Hindu from his father, father’s father, or father’s father’s father. According to Mulla’s commentary on Hindu Law, the essential feature of ancestral property is that the sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons of the person who inherits it acquire an interest and rights attached to the property at the moment of their birth. This signifies that upon birth, male descendants have an inherent right to the ancestral property, and the property remains coparcenary in nature.
Mulla’s commentary further states that a son, a grandson whose father is deceased, and a great-grandson whose father and grandfather are both deceased succeed simultaneously as single heirs to the separate or self-acquired property of the deceased with rights of survivorship (Mulla, 22nd Edition, p. 129). This implies that in the case of separate or self-acquired property, the male descendants share an equal right and hold the property as coparceners.
Judicial understanding for Coparcenary under Mitaksahara School.
In the case of Shyam Narayan Prasad v. Krishna Prasad and Ors., the Supreme Court has affirmed that property inherited by a male Hindu from his paternal ancestors is his ancestral property. The rights of coparceners are acquired at the moment of their birth, and even after partition, the property remains ancestral in the hands of the son, allowing the natural or adopted son of that son to take interest in it by survivorship.
Similarly, in Yudhishter v. Ashok Kumar, the court stated that under Hindu Law, a son’s right in the father’s property accrues with his birth, regardless of the father’s death or inheritance. However, the court also acknowledged that Section 8 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 has modified this position, allowing the son to inherit the property in his individual capacity rather than as a part of the undivided family.
In the case of Valliammai Achi v. Nagappa Chettiar and Ors., the court held that the share obtained by a co-sharer upon partition of ancestral property retains its ancestral nature in relation to his male descendants. According to established principles, the male descendants have a birthright in the property, whether they exist at the time of partition or are born later. Therefore, even after partition, the character of the property as ancestral property remains unchanged for the sons (Valliammai Achi v. Nagappa Chettiar and Ors., 1967).
The concept of succession and coparcenary rights under Mitakshara Law has experienced notable changes over time due to legal advancements and interpretations by the judiciary. Although ancestral property still plays a crucial role in determining coparcenary rights, the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 has brought about significant modifications in the categorization of property and the individual rights of inheritors. It is essential for individuals involved in matters of succession and coparcenary rights in Hindu Law to stay informed about these evolving legal principles. Navigating this complex legal landscape requires a thorough understanding of the changing dynamics in order to protect one’s rights and interests effectively.
Written by Shriya Prakash- 3rd year student of Nirma University
1. Concept of Coparcenary under Hindu Law, (May 25, 2021), https://lawbhoomi.com/concept-of-coparcenary-under-hindu-law/.
2. Mukesh Kumar, Difference between Joint Hindu Family and Coparcenary, https://www.tutorialspoint.com/difference-between-joint-hindu-family-and-coparcenary.
3. Mulla, 22nd Edition, p. 327
4. (2018) 7 SCC 646
5. (1987) 1 SCC 204
6. AIR 1967 SC 1153