Monday, 1 April 2013

Law of Women Inheritance Reflected in Dharmaśastra

Prasanta Kumar Sethi

“God Resides There Where Women Are Worshiped”. Manusmrti
When we talk about empowering women, Dharmaśastra texts discuss about women’s property and their share in legacy. Earlier property right of women was recognized very unpunctually in almost all civilization. For example in German there was no question of the women holding any property. She herself was an item in the moveable property of the husband. They were treated as simple slaves and freedom is denied to them to live according to their wish and will. In order to support their view they quote some laws of Manu such as na strī  svatantryamhratī means women does not deserve freedom. If it is a matter of property then legally a son dominates the society. But In Vedic age husband and wife were the joint owners of the household and its property. Wife was regarded as the co owner of the family property along with her husband, which is reflected in Yāgyavalkya Smrti. Manu also paid a great tribute to women by saying that God resides there where women are worshiped. Manu has stated various law and rights to empower women in Manusmrti. This study consists of following sub topics: division of property as women’s property. Women’s share as wife, mother, married and unmarried sister and daughter in the division of property. The main objective of the paper is that the women empowerment can be promoted through property share benefits and the necessary rights and responsibility to women in order to make them independent.
Men and women are said to be the two sides of the same coin. They are just like the two wheels of the society. If one of the two wheels falls defective, the society cannot get along. Social progress to some extent is related to women progress. Both man and women have to work in agreement in order to make the society an ideal one. The women power is unlimited. Many instances of women power are available from history and Purānas. Women are affectionate and she is the symbol of affection. Purāna focuses on the killing of the demon king Mahīshāsura by mother goddess Durgā. But if we analyze the role of women in the modern world, it seems as if they have lost their power. Today the shadow of disappointed of women is sweeping across the country. The position of women in the high post of society is negligible. They are being victimized by the unfavorable environment of the society. There has been a degradation of the unity and integrity of women. But there is still time to set things right. If you observe that man play a essential role for the degeneration of the women. They develop the attitude of hostility towards women. As a result there is no harmony between men and women. Men always try to create hurdles on the path of women and thus suppress the women’s instincts for flourishing their personality and exposing their hidden qualities. It is the need of the hour that the women must be conscious and come forward to combat this situation. Now the time has come for them to be equal with men in all spheres of life. They must not consider themselves inferior to men. In order to set the society on the path of progress, Women empowerment is responsible. The unity and integrity of the women helps to build an idealistic society. Women power opens the path of women development if the women are empowered either through education or property or finance she can scatter the rays of knowledge through the world making others enlightened. The position of women is not inactive, rather it is dynamic. Now women have made their presence felt in the naval service, army, and air-force. Women have displayed their talents in the field of science, social service art, etc.
What is Dharmaśastra
The word Dharma in Sanskrit is highly problematic. It is not an exact parallel to the English word Religion and the Hindu Dharma is not mere religion in the sense that Christianity, Islam etc. The word Dharma is derived from the root Dhr to uphold, support or nourish. In a general sense it means that by which we live or continue to exist, that which upholds or supports or nourishes man’s life as a human being.
God created the earth and the beings and fixed up different duties and professions for the different castes, for the general protection of his creation. Manu here states that the duties and obligations that he lays down here in his work have divine origin and a proper differentiation of karmas in the primary thing. Man is social animal and since he cannot conceive of life in isolation, he has to live in a manner suited to his own existence and also that of the society.
 The Śastra claims to lay down Dharma as a whole, the good and bad of actions, the conduct of four Varnas, as also the ideal conduct of man in general. In short, by Dharma Manu means righteousness which means right conduct in life as an ideal human being and a permanent consciousness of the divine.     
Manusmrti is one of the greatest holy books in India. It is also  known as Mānava Dharmaśastra  which is consists of 2685 verses on topics as apparently varied but actually intimately interrelated in Hindu thought as the social obligations and duties of the various castes and of individuals in different stages of life, the proper way for a righteous king to rule, and to punish transgressors in his kingdom, the appropriate social relations between men and women of different castes, and husbands and wives in the privacy of the home, birth, death, and taxes, karma and rebirth, ritual practices and penance  etc are measure discussions.
Yājnavalkyasmrti is also one of the best treaties on Indian judiciary and human right. Yājnavalkyasmrti is divided into three sub topics: Achāra (proper conduct), Vyavahāra (Judicial Procedures) and Prāyaschita (Penance). The Mitākshara commentary of Yājnavalkyasmrti occupies a prominent place for the author in his work has rationalized the laws in harmony with the changing needs of society and thus significantly contributed to the development of Hindu jurisprudence.
Women and Dharmaśastra
In Vedic India, women enjoyed equal opportunities with men. Girls were even initiated in to Brahmacharinam to study Vedas. Women or girls not only studied the Vedic literature but famous women such as Maittraī, Gargī, Ghośa, Lopāmudrā, etc had themselves composed the Vedic versus. A women of the ancient period gained knowledge in all śāstras. They not only participated in the śāstras equal to those of men but also acted as judges or mediator.
Women were not only scholars and composers of hymns, but they were also regular participants in the sacrifices of their husbands. According to Panini, the word Patnī denotes special connection with the husbands sacrifice. Her presence is so important that a person became eligible for sacrifice only when he had a wife by his side.  They were also participated in Upanayana Samskar. It refers girl’s marriage only after the completion of their Brahmachariya. Their eligibility and active participation in scarifies indicate that the system of girls investiture of sacred thread was prevalent since the Vedic period.             
Besides that vocational training also were given to women. For example Vidālakari (basket ball), Siri (weaver) etc... Fine arts like vocal music, dancing etc. were mainly cultivated by ladies. Brāhmana text frequently mentions that singing and dancing were womanly activities. Last but not least a reference to the female soldier’s involvement in war, their heroic feats makes us suppose that they were provided some military training also. Not only they were able to protect themselves, but in time of emergency they faced enemy soldiers also. The statement of a puzzled Aryan soldier strīyo hi daśa Ayudhāni cakre (Rig. V 5.30.9) indicates that there was a female squad also.                   
Women Inheritance
Inheritance is the transmission of (right of) material property at death. It is everywhere dominated by kinship and conjugality. Property is usually redistributed among the relatives cooperating in a unit of consumption and non industrial economics of production. Indeed in this later society, inheritance involves the transmission of rights means of production, a process critical to the reproduction of the social system itself. The paper has divided the entire property right among two is that the right of daughter and right of women in Property.
Rights of daughter (married and unmarried)
Manu seems to make a destination between the married and the unmarried daughter with regard to the right of inheritance. He has again stated that the son and the daughters are the same, and so none else can claim the property till one of the two is alive. It is for us to make a comparative study of all the relevant verses and come to a conclusion in the relative status of the Putrīkā and her son and the unmarried daughter with regard to rights to the property.
Svebhyoanśebhyastu Kanyābhyah Pradadyubhrarah Pruthak.
Svatsvadamśāca caturbhāgam Patitāh Syuraditsavah... (Manu, 9-118)
The brothers shall separately give quarter part out of their respective shares  to their unmarried sisters and failing to give them such shares, they shall become degrade in life.
Some people have held the following view; - Three parts of the property shall be taken by the sons and the fourth part by the daughter.
Others have held the following view; -“Truly a great benefit is derived by the daughter from her father; if the father is alive they have their marriage performed at tremendous expense, and if he is dead, she obtains a share in the property”.
The same view is supported by other smrti text also the brother who have already had their sacramental Rites performed, should perform the same for the unmarried girls: sisters should receive from their brothers the fourth part of their share’ Bhaginīśca Nijādamśādrutvāmśam tu Turīyakam  (Yajnavalkya 2’124): and again –“Until marriage has not been performed, she shall receive a share; after marriage she shall be maintained by her husband. He has again stated that the son and the daughters are the same, and so none else can claim the property till one of the two is alive. It is for us to make a comparative study of all the relevant verses and comes to a conclusion in the relative status of the Putrikā and her son and the unmarried daughter with regard to rights to the property.
            Aputrobhanena vidhinā sutām  kurvīta putrikām.
                Yadapatyam bhavedasyām tanmama syātsvadhākaram. (Manu. 9-127)
If a sonless man marries his daughter to another on the stipulation that sons born of her womb shall do my SRADHAS and offer me ablations that daughter is called a putrikā.
So the sonless father at his daughter’s marriage time has to declare her daughter as putrikā but her son will be my son and the owner of my property.
Yatheivātmā tathā putrah putrena duhitā samā.
Tasyāmātmani tisthantyā kathamanyo dhanam haret. (Manu. 9-130)
The son is as one’s own self and the daughter it equal to the son; hence so long as she is there in her own real character, how can anyone else take his property? It has been said that the father shall declare-‘The child that is born of her shall be mine; and a man’s child inherits his property; so that at the time that the farther dies; if the daughter has got no child, it would seem that she cannot inherit his property; it is in view of this that the present text lays down that she shall inherit it.’ so long as she is there in her own real character’- of being meant to provide a son.
Akrutā vakrutā vāpi yam vindet sadruśāt sutam.
Pautrī mātāmahasa tena dadyāt pindam hared dhanam. (Manu. 9-136)
By the son whom one’s daughter, whether married or putrikā gives birth , her father becomes posed of a son, such a daughter’s son shall offer oblation (srādhas) to her mother’ s father, and take property.
But in another smrti text it is found to be laid down that it is incumbent upon very daughter’s son to offer the cake to his maternal grandfather; - so also on behalf of the mother’s fathers’ and in the present verse also, if we ignore the fact of its occurring in a context dealing with the ‘appointed daughter’, and bear in mind the words of the text itself, it appears only reasonable to take, as pertaining to takes and the inheriting of property.  In another text also, it has been declared that ‘the daughter’s son shall take the entire property etc., (Manu, 9.12)”.
If the appointed daughter happens to die without a son, the husband of that appointed daughter may, without hesitation, take that property.
Dauhitro hrākhilam rikthamaputrasya piturharet
Sa eva dadyaddvau pindau pitre mātāmahāya ca. (Manu. 9-132)
The daughter’s son should inherit the property of the sonless father; he shall also offer two cakes to the ‘father’ and to the ‘maternal grandfather’.
Rights of women
Yajnavalkya states that the same share should go to the wives if the man divides himself with his sons and the wives should be made to get almost an equal share with the sons together with the Srtīdhana of course. Anyway, she ultimately gets the same share as the son. No such statement is found in Manu. It is again, Yajnavalkya who lies down that in case of the failure of the son etc. the wife and etc are the regular heirs. No such positive statement is found in Manu, the commentators and various interpreters do not guide us rightly here and it is stated that Yajnavalkya is the first to give that right to the wife and her honourable right in the property of her husband. It is for us to see how far it is possible to conclude in a similar manner from the Manusmrti. It will be for us to see how far we can further clarity the view of Kulluka that Manu takes for granted the right of the wife in the property of her husband.
            Mātustu yotakam yat syāt kumārībhāga eva sah.
            Dauhitra eva ca haredaputrasyākhilam, dhanam. (Manu. 9-131)
            Whatever may be the separate property of the mother like dowry is the share of the unmarried daughter alone and the daughter’s son shall inherit the entire property of the man who has no son.
The term ‘yautuka’ is applied to the separate property of a woman; of which she alone is the sole owner others apply it to only what she receive at marriage, and not to all that belongs to her; as it is only over the former that she has an absolute right; as it is said that ‘woman becomes their own mistresses, on obtaining presents at their marriage’. So all the dowry and property will go to her daughter and grandson.
Bhajeranmātrukam riktham bhaginyaśca sanābhayah. (Manu. 9-192)
On the death of their mother all the uterine brothers and their unmarried sisters equally partition the maternal property among them, and let them give quarter parts of their respective share to their married sisters.
Anvādheyam ca yad dattam patyā  prītena caiva yat.
Patyau jīvati vruttatāyāh prajāyāstadhanam bhavet. (Manu. 9-195)
Given to her after marriage by her parents, husbands parents and relations as well as those given to her by her husband out of love, let her sons divide among themselves, if she happens to die in the life time of her husband.
            Women’s Strīdhana is a sacred trust over which no one except her has a right. The share of the wife in the inheritance, or that of the daughter’s sons etc. is dependent upon the will of the main concerned. In some cases the wife can become a custodian, or trustee of the property of the husband and the sons have to respect her as far as she is right. So finally it can be only said that the women empowerment have become indispensable in today’s society. No women should lose her birth right. She could not continue as the puppet in the hands of male members. She could continue the struggle, until she becomes equal with men. This can become a reality only when the women of this nation become empowered.
“You Can Tell The Condition Of The Nation By Looking At The Status Of The Women”. Jawaharlal Nehru
1 Basshi, S.R. (1998), Women’s Right and Modernization, Jaipur: Book Conclave
2 Dr. Gangasagara ray, (2010) Yajnavalkya Smrti, Chaukhamba Sanskrit Pratistahn, Delhi
3 Dr. R.N. Sharma, (2003), Manusmriti, Chaukhamba Sanskrit Pritisthan, Delhi.
4  Dr. Umesha Chandra Pandeya, (1967), Yajnavalkya Smrti, Chaukhamba Sanskrit Series office, Varanasi
5  Jack Goody, Joan Thirsk, E.P. Thompson, (1976), Family and Inheritance, Cambridge University. London.
6  Maggie Rae, (1986) Women and the Law – You and Your Right, Longma Group Limited.
7  Maitreyee Deshpandeya, (2010), Manusmrti, New Bharatiya book Corporation, Delhi.
8  R. S. Betai, (1970), A Reconstruction of the original Interpretations of the Manusmrti, Gujarat University, Ahmadabad.
9  Shivaraj Aacharya KaundiNyayana, (2010), Manusmrti Caukhamba Vidyabhavan,Varanasi.
10Wendy Doniger and Brian K. Smith, (1991), The Law of Manu, Penguin Books, London.
11 Chandrakala Pandia, Women in Dharmaśastra
Prasanta Kumar Sethi
 Research Scholar   
 Dept. of Sanskrit,
 Pondicherry University, Pondicherry.