The Delhi High Court, recently, in a landmark verdict declared that the eldest female member of a family could be its "Karta". "If a male member of a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF), by virtue of his being the first born eldest, can be a Karta, so can a female member. The court finds no restriction in law preventing the eldest female co-parcenor of an HUF, from being its Karta," Justice Najmi Waziri's judgement as quoted in The Times of India. According to the paper, the ruling was made on a suit filed by the eldest daughter of a business family in Delhi claiming to be its Karta on the passing of her father and three uncles, challenging her male cousin.
Who is a 'Karta'?
According to Legal Service India, the Karta of a Hindu Joint Family in Hindu law is the senior most member of the family entitled to manage family affairs. This position was traditionally inherited by men.
Earlier, in his absence the next eldest male member after him is entitled to be the Karta, however with Delhi High Court's decision, an eldest female member can become the Karta. This judgement is in line with ending gender discrimination and prevalent gender bias prevelant in traditional families.
For example, The Hindu Succession Amendment Act 2005 conferred equal property rights to daughters as well. The detailed Legal Service India article claims that "since ancient times, the framing of all property laws have been exclusively for the benefit of man."
These have passed on through Shastric laws — Mitakshara, Mayukha, Dayabhaga, Marumakkattayam (in various regions) deal with succession differently. Prior to the Hindu Law of Inheritance (Amendment) Act came into place in 1929, Bengal, Benares and Mithila sub schools of Mitakshara recognised only five female relations — widow, daughter, mother, paternal grandmother and paternal great-grandmother.
Arguments in favour of making women a Karta
There are several arguments, such as that making a woman the Karta would lend respectability to her position and in making women the Karta, society's maltreatment of women might reduce — since women will be true equal 'coparceners' (as granted by the Constitution and then remedied by The Hindu Succession Amendment Act 2005). There is a view that women are incapable of 'running business' or 'managing affairs' by those who oppose women's place as the Karta, which is untrue. Women becoming Karta would help increase awareness, literacy among women.
According to The Hindustan Times, Justice Waziri said that the female members in HUFs were earlier discouraged from becoming the Karta because they did not have the "necessary qualitifications" but with the 2005 amendment, this was not the case anymore and there was no reason "why Hindu women should be denied the position of a Karta."
The Times of India also reported that Justice Waziri said that Section 6 afforded equal rights of inheritance to Hindu males and females and that "courts should be extremely vigilant in any endeavour to curtail or fetter statutory guarantee of enhancement of their rights."