Streedhan: Concept and Legal Status

Introduction

Streedhan is the property that a woman obtained at the time of her marriage, it differs from Dowry in the way that it is the voluntary gifts given to a woman before or after her marriage and has no element of coercion. The Courts have also made this distinction clear. Women have an absolute right over the Streedhan.

The words literally mean “ A woman’s property” The following is Streedhan in the hands of a woman whether she is maiden, married woman or widow.[1]

  1. Gifts made to a woman before the nuptial fire.
  2. Gifts made to a woman at the bridal procession
  3. Gifts made in token of love by father in law, mother in law
  4. Gifts made by father, mother and brother

Streedhan can have different meaning to it, as per different Hindu schools. All features are peculiar into its nature. A Hindi female may acquire property from various sources. She may acquire it by gift, or by inheritance, or on partition. She may also acquire it on her labour and  skill. However, all property acquired by her is not Streedhan. Whether a particular property is Streedhan or not depends upon ;

  1. The source from which the property was acquired;
  2. Her status at the time of acquisition, i.e. whether sh aquired it during maidenhood, coverture or widowhood
  3. The school to which she belongs.
Concept of Streedhan

Streedhan belonging to a woman is property of which she I the absolute owner, and which she may dispose of at her pleasure, if not in all cases during coverture, in all cases during widowhood. However, a Woman is not the absolute owner of her property, which is not her Streedhan, nor can she dispose of it at her will.
Streedhan has all the characteristics of absolute ownership of property. The Streedhan being her absolute property, a woman has full rights of its alienation. This means that she can sell, gift, mortgage, lease, and exchange her property in part or whole. This is entirely true when she is a maiden or a widow.
Some restrictions are recognised on her power of alienation if she is a married woman. For a married woman Streedhan falls under two heads:
• The saudayika (gifts of love and affection)- gifts  received by a woman from relations on both sides (parents and in-laws).
• The non-saudayika– all other types of Streedhan such as gifts from a stranger, property acquired by self-exertion or the mechanical arts.

Over the former she has full rights of disposal but over the latter she has no right of alienation without the consent of her husband during coverture. During the pendency of the marriage he has the right to its equal use. On the woman’s death it passes on to her heirs[2].

A woman’s right to her Streedhan is protected under law. This comes in handy in case of  matrimonial discord as a woman can have her Streedhan or its value returned to her. In the case of Pratibha Rani v. Suraj Kumar[3], the Supreme Court of India held that “a Hindu married woman is the absolute owner of her Streedhan property and can deal with it in any manner she likes and, even if it is placed in the custody of her husband or her in-laws they would be deemed to be trustees and bound to return the same if and when demanded by her”.

The position of Streedhan of a Hindu married woman’s property during coverture is absolutely clear and unambiguous; she is the absolute owner of such property and can deal with it in any manner she likes-she may spend the whole of it or give it away at her own pleasure by gift or will without any reference to her husband. Ordinarily, the husband has no right or interest in it with the sole exception that in times of extreme distress, as in famine, illness or the like, the husband can utilize it but he is morally bound to restore it or its value when he is able to do so. This right is purely personal to the husband and the property so received by him in marriage cannot be proceeded against even in the execution of a decree for debt, such being the nature and character of Streedhan of a woman. If her husband or any other member of his family who is in possession of such property, dishonestly misappropriates or refuses to return the same, they may be liable to punishment for the offence of criminal breach of trust under sections 405 and 406 IPC. The offence of criminal breach of trust is punishable with imprisonment up to 3 years or fine or both. It is a cognizable, compoundable (up to Rs.250 only) and a non-bailable offence.

Kinds of Woman’s Property[4]


What is the character of the property that is whether it is Streedhan or woman’s estate, depends on the source from which it has been obtained. They are :

Gifts and bequests from relations- Such gifts may be made to woman during maidenhood, coverture or widowhood by her parents and their relations or by the husband and his relation. Such gifts may be inter vivos or by will. The Dayabhaga School doesn’t recognize gifts of immovable property by the husband as Streedhan.

Gifts and bequests from non-relations- Property received by way of gift inter vivos or under a will of strangers that is, other than relations, to a woman, during maidenhood or widowhood constitutes her Streedhan. The same is the position of gifts given to a woman by strangers before the nuptial fire or at the bridal procession. Property given to a woman by a gift inter vivos or bequeathed to her by her strangers during coverture is Streedhan according to Bombay, Benaras and Madras schools.

Property acquired by self-exertion, science and arts- A woman may acquire property at any stage of her life by her own self-exertion such as by manual labour, by employment, by singing, dancing etc., or by any mechanical art. According to all schools of Hindu Law, the property thus acquired during widowhood or maidenhood is her Streedhan. But, the property thus acquired during coverture does not constitute her Streedhan according to Mithila and Bengal Schools, but according to the rest of the schools it is Streedhan. During husband’s lifetime it is subject to his control.

Property purchased with the income of Streedhan- In all schools of Hindu Law it is a well settled law that the properties purchased with Streedhan or with the savings of Streedhan as well as all accumulations and savings of the income of Streedhan, constitute Streedhan.

Property purchased under a compromise- When a person acquires property under a compromise; what estate he will take in it, depends upon the compromise deed. In Hindu Law there is no presumption that a woman who obtains property under a compromise takes it as a limited estate. Property obtained by a woman under a compromise where under she gives up her rights, will be her Streedhan. When she obtains some property under a family arrangement, whether she gets a Streedhan or woman’s estate will depend upon the terms of the family arrangement.

Property obtained by adverse possession- Any property acquired by a woman at any stage of her life by adverse possession is her Streedhan.

Property obtained in lieu of maintenance- Under all the schools of Hindu Law payments made to a Hindu female in lump sum or periodically for her maintenance and all the arrears of such maintenance constitute Streedhan. Similarly, all movable or immovable properties transferred to her by way of an absolute gift in lieu of maintenance constitute her Streedhan.

Property received in inheritance- A Hindu female may inherit property from a male or a female; from her parent’s side or from husband’s side. The Mitakshara constituted all inherited property a streedhan, while the Privy Council held such property as woman’s estate.

Property obtained on partition- When a partition takes place except in Madras, father’s wife mother and grandmother take a share in the joint family property. In the Mitakshar jurisdiction, including Bombay and the Dayabhaga school, it is an established view that the share obtained on partition is not Streedhan but woman’s estate.


Sources of a Woman’s Property

PROPERTY RECEIVED IN LIEU OF PARTITION

The Karta can grant some property to a member of the family for his or her maintenance. A Hindu female can also be granted property for her maintenance under a family arrangement or a partition. In Chinnappa Govinda v. Valliammal[5] a father-in-law gave some properties for the maintenance of his widowed daughter-in-law under a maintenance deed. Subsequently, in 1960 he died. Since he died leaving behind the daughter-in-law his interest devolved by succession. The daughter-in-law sued for partition so as to get her share of inheritance. Other members said that she could get her share only if she agreed to include the properties given to her for maintenance in the suit properties. The Court held that she need not surrender the properties held by her under the maintenance deed. Section 14[6] lays down that any property which a Hindu female gets on partition after the commencement of the Act will be her absolute property and any property which she got at a partition before the commencement of the Act will also become her absolute property provided it was in her possession at the commencement of the Act.  
The Kerela High Court in Pachi Krishnamma v. Kumaran Krishnan[7] observed that the share a woman got on partition would be her absolute property on account of her pre-existing right to maintenance enlarged to an absolute title to property by virtue of section 14(1)

PROPERTY GIVEN UNDER AN AWARD OR DECREE

In Badri Prasad v. Kanso Devi[8], where a partition under an award was subsequently embodied in a decree, certain properties were allotted to a Hindu female as her share, the Supreme Court said that section 14(2) did not apply. Their Lordships said that section 14 should be read as a whole. It would depend on the facts of each case whether the same is covered by sub-section (1) or subsection (2). The crucial words in the subsection are ‘possessed’ and ‘acquired’. The former has been used in the widest possible sense and in the context of section 14(1) it means the state of owning or having in one’s hand or power. Similarly the word acquired has also been given widest possible meaning. The Supreme Court was of the view that a share obtained by a Hindu female in a partition under section 14(1) even though her share is described as a limited estate in the decree or award.

PROPERTY UNDER AN AGREEMENT OR COMPROMISE

The test that if the decree or award is the recognition of pre-existing right then sub-section (1) will apply and if property is given to the Hindu female for the first time under an award or decree subsection (2) will apply. It has been applied to the acquisition of property under an agreement or compromise. This distinction has been clearly brought out by Mahadeo v. Bansraji and Lakshmichand v. Sukhdevi. [9]

PROPERTY RECEIVED IN INHERITANCE

Any property that a Hindu female inherited from a male or female relation was taken by her as limited estate except in the Bombay school. Section 14 lays down that any property that a Hindu female inherits from any relation after the commencement of the Act will be her absolute property.

On her death it will devolve on her heirs under the provisions of section 15 and 16. If any property has been inherited by her before the commencement of the Act and if it is in her possession then that property also became her absolute property.

PROPERTY RECEIVED IN GIFT

Under the Act, there is no distinction between the gifts received by her from relatives or strangers and at any stage of her life, and all gifts that she receives will be her absolute property. Ornaments received by her at the time of her marriage are ordinarily her Streedhan property. A full bench in Vinod Kumar Sethi v. State of Punjab[10] held that dowry and traditional presents made to a wife at the time of the marriage constitute her Streedhan. In Gopal Singh v. Dile Ram[11], a widow having a life estate purported to make a gift of the property before the Hindu Succession Act 1956 came into force.

PROPERTY RECEIVED UNDER A WILL

In Karmi v. Amru[12] a Hindu , under a registered will , conferred a life estate on his wife Nihali , with the direction that after the death of Nihali , properties would devolve on Bhagtu and Amru , two of his collaterals Nihali took possession and died. On her death her heirs claimed property on the assertion that after the coming into force of the Hindu Succession Act , Nihali’s life estate became her full estate . It was held that where only life estate is conferred under a will , Section 14(2) will apply and the estate will not become full estate .But if a will confers on her full estate , she will take absolutely . Properties given under a settlement to the widow which were to revert to the settlor on his brother on her death  do not get enlarged into full estate.

IN CASES OF A EARNING WOMAN

Now the paradigm takes a new shape with a working woman contributing to the running of the house hold. She is a wealth creator too – an equal or more, but contributing member in running the house. Now Stridhan is attached to income one does not get any tax benefit, but you are liable to pay tax on the income arising from any of the assets passed to you under Streedhan.

Legal aspect of the Concept

Streedhan is often misinterpreted as dowry even when the law of the land has an entirely different definition for it. The domestic law perceives dowry as any property or valuable security given or agreed by the bride’s side to the family of the bridegroom before, during or after marriage, by exploiting or threatening the girl or her family while Streedhan is a voluntary gift given by members of the bridal side to the bride as a stepping stone to establishing her own property.
There are strict Streedhan laws and the grooms’ side may face stringent action under Section 405 & 406 of the Indian Penal Code if they deny returning wealth when claimed. The Judiciary has tried to make references of two distinguished case-laws, in order to put light on the Streedhan laws and laws against Dowry in the country.

Bhai Sher Jang Singh vs Smt. Virinder Kaur[13] while hearing the case, Punjab & Haryana High Court had ruled that the groom’s side is bound to return back all the items including property, ornaments, money and other belongings offered by the bride’s side at the time of marriage if claimed. In the case of denial, the groom’s family is tending to get strict punishment.The court found that Bhai Sher Jang Singh and his family have committed an offense under Section 406 of IPC by committing criminal breach of trust of the ornaments and other articles owned by Virinder Kaur which were her Streedhan and were entrusted to her husband for safe custody and which he has dishonestly misappropriated.

Advertisement

Also, in the case of Pratibha Rani vs. Suraj Kumar[14], the Supreme Court observed that the complainant (Pratibha Rani) had suffered by their in-laws when she was harassed and denied her Streedhan by his husband’s family. The Apex Court observed that the case portrays the plight of an estranged married woman. She even suffered large during the legal process, the court observed. Pratibha Rani was married to Suraj Kumar on February 4, 1972. Rani’s family had given Rs 60,000, gold ornaments, and other valuable items to Kumar’s family on their demand. But soon after Rani entered her marital home she was started being tortured by her in-laws for dowry. She was forcefully kicked out of her in-law’s house with her two minor children and was denied money and other essentials for survival. She had lodged two complaints against her husband and in-laws under section125 Criminal Penal Code and breach of trust. The lower court gave judgment in her favour but she got a seatback from Punjab & Haryana High Court which was later on given in her favour by the Hon’ble Supreme Court.

  • Application of Section 405 of Indian Penal Code[15]

As in the case of criminal misappropriation, even a temporary misappropriation could be sufficient to warrant a conviction under this section. Even if the accused intended to restore the property in the future, at the time misappropriation, it is a criminal breach of trust.
In Rashmi Kumar vs. Mahesh Kumar Bhada[16] the Supreme Court held that when the wife entrusts her Streedhan property with the dominion over that property to her husband or any other member of the family and the husband or such other member of the family dishonestly misappropriates or converts to his own use that property, or wilfully suffers and other person to do so, he commits criminal breach of trust.
Henceforth; shall be punished under Section 405 of the IPC, failing to provide Streedhan of the Woman.

  • Section14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956[17]

A woman’s right to her Streedhan is protected under law. Section14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 read with Section27 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 make a female Hindu an absolute owner of such property. In the case of Pratibha Rani vs. Suraj Kumar, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India explained the concept of ‘Streedhan’ and its legal position under the Indian Laws. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India held that:
“a Hindu married woman is the absolute owner of her Streedhan property and can deal with it in any manner she likes and, even if it is placed in the custody of her husband or her in-laws they would be deemed to be trustees and bound to return the same if and when demanded by her”.

If her husband or any other member of his family who is in possession of such property, dishonestly misappropriates or refuse to return the same, they may be liable to punishment for the offence of criminal breach of trust under Section405 of IPC.

Also Section12 of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 provides for women right to her Streedhan in cases where she is a victim of domestic violence. The provisions of this law can be easily invoked for the recovery of Streedhan. And under section 18(ii) of the Domestic Violence Act the law says that a woman is entitled to receive the possession of the Streedhan, jewelry, clothes, and other necessary items. The term ‘economic abuse’ has also been provided under the Act. It includes deprivation of all or any economic or financial resources to which the woman is entitled under al the existing customary laws whether payable at the concern of the court or in any other manner. These resources are however not limited to the household necessities of the aggrieved person.

Streedhan and Alimony

In the case of Lakshyajit Kapoor & Anr vs The State ( Nct Of Delhi) & Anr[18]
present in the Court, submitted that the dispute between the parties has been amicably resolved. As per the mediation report, it has been agreed that both the parties shall seek divorce by mutual consent by filing a petition under Section 13(B)(1) & 13(B)(2) of HMA[19]. It has been also agreed between the parties that petitioner shall pay a sum of Rs.3.6 lacs to the respondent towards her full and final settlement including streedhan, permanent alimony, maintenance (past, present and future) etc.

Also, in the case of Dinesh Kumar & Ors vs State & Ors[20] the respondent/husband has agreed to pay a sum of Rs.5,00,000/- (Rupees five lakhs only), towards full and final settlement of all claims of complainant/wife articles, streedhan, permanent alimony and maintenance  which the complainant/wife has agreed to accept as such.

Therefore in both the cases the husband is therefore paying their wives Alimony as well as Streedhan. Therefore this can be concluded that Streedhan is a wife’s complete right to clain on and she an exercise absolute power upon it. Whereas under Section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, both the wife and the husband are entitled to claim maintenance from their spouse. Thus, this section does not differentiate between a male and a female. This maintenance depends on certain factors like husband’s earnings, assets & liabilities, wife’s financial standing, employment, etc.

When the couple decides to get divorced by mutual consent, the decision on the alimony to be paid by either of the party is on account of their decision and mutual understanding. But in contested matters, the issue of alimony is decided on the merits of each case. It is also possible that no alimony is given at all based on facts and circumstances. The maintenance amount depends entirely on the discretion of the court. The wife also has an additional option to claim maintenance under Section 18 of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956. The entitlement to alimony is based on the following:-

  • If the husband abandons her, without any justified reason, without her consent.
  • If the husband treats her with cruelty.
  • If the husband has another wife.
  • If the husband suffers from a virulent form of leprosy.
  • If the husband has concubine in the same house.
  • If the husband converted to another religion.
  • If there is some other reason for the wife to live separately.

This section is read with Section 23 of this Act, which specifies that it shall be the discretion of the court to award maintenance if any and what amount to be awarded. But, unlike Alimony the Wife may exercise absolute power over the Streedhan and independently claim it back.

Landmark Judgement

PRATIBHA RANI V. SURAJ KUMAR CASE: A SOCIOLOGICAL IMPLICATION

Facts of the case:

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 married according to all Hindu customs and that during the time of her marriage her husband’s family had demanded dowry from her parents as consideration for the marriage. This demanded was accepted and a dowry worth Rs. 60,000/- was given in the form of jewelry.

However, even after this, the accused would mistreat the complainant and eventually deserted her. Later on when complainant demanded the articles given, as a part of her ‘Streedhan’ the accused refused to return it to her by declaring it to be her dowry. The lower court and also the Punjab & Haryana High Court dismissed the appeal on the grounds that the case did not attract the s.405 of IPC as the handling over the articles to the husband did not amount to entrustment under the law. This reasoning was given by the High Court by referring to the case of Vinod Kumar Sethi v. State of Punjab[21]

Issue that had come up was ; the position of ‘Streedhan’ among the Hindus was questioned while the other issues that were dealt with in the case related to the rights of a husband over the ‘Streedhan’.There was also another question that was discussed in this case. It was regarding the legal partnership being created between husband and wife due to the joint holding of the ‘Streedhan’ property.
As such whether the refusal to return the ‘Streedhan’ property by a husband on demand from his wife would amount to Criminal Breach of Trust under section405 of IPC.

It was held that:

The majority that the position of Streedhan among the Hindus is very clear and unambiguous. In cases of ‘Streedhan’, the woman is to be treated as the absolute owner of her property. This property is for her use and satisfaction and further, it was also added that such a property can be gifted or willed away without the consent of the husband. The Apex Court further explained that mere joint holding by a husband of the ‘Streedhan’ property did not constitute any legal partnership or co-ownership between the husband and his wife. The court opined that a wife can file a civil suit under the Section14 of Hindu Succession Act and under Section27 of the Hindu Marriage Act if the husband declines to return the ‘Streedhan’ property of his wife.

As such the second issue was also answered that the husband has virtually no right over the property. The utmost use he can make of property is only in time of great distress or calamity in family involving someone’s health. Again this so-called concession given to the husband over the property of her wife is his personal and therefore no one else in the family of the husband can make use of the property.
It has also been established by the courts that the ‘Streedhan’ property of a woman will not be used to pay off debts taken by the husband and that this property cannot be proceeded 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 the criminal breach of trust. The court had accepted that civil law provides a remedy but the criminal law gives a co-extensive remedy to 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 safekeeping of the items of ‘Streedhan’ does not give him the right to use it to the detriment of the wife.

Conclusion

Section 14 has definitely been a safety guard for the women especially the Hindu women. It has provided women with those rights, which were denied to her for centuries. It is undoubtedly a colossus step for the protection of women rights as Human rights. This section removes the disability of a female to acquire and hold property as an absolute owner and to convert any estate already held by a woman on the date of commencement of this act as a limited owner, into an absolute estate. In case of her death intestate, she becomes a fresh stock of descent and the property devolves by succession on her own heirs.
This section enlarges the maintenance rights of women by providing them with absolute rights upon it. Giving women their absolute rights is the absolute fresh happy feeling for the women rights activist. Sub section (2) is an exception to sub section (1) as it states that nothing contained in sub section (1) will apply to any property acquired by way of gift, or under a will, or any other instrument or under a decree, order of a civil court under an award where the terms of the gift, will or other instruments restricted estate in her. So overall, what can be said is that this section has been a beneficiary for the women.

Also Read: The Essential Conditions for a Valid Marriage under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955


[1] According to Smritis – the sacred writings of Rishis or sages of antiquity

[2] Heirs according to Hindu Succession Act 1956

[3] 1985 (2) SCC 370

[4] Banerjee, Hindu Law of Marrriage and Streedhan, Pg 321

[5] AIR 1969 Mad 187

[6] SECTION 14 OF THE HINDU SUCCESSION ACT,1956 shall be referred as Section 14 only the entire document.

[7] AIR 1982 Ker 137

[8] AIR 1970 SC 1963

[9] AIR 1971 ALL 515 and AIR 1970 Raj 285

[10] AIR 1982 P& H 372

[11] AIR 1987 SC 2394

[12] AIR 1971 SC 745

[13] 1979 Cri. L J 493

[14] AIR 1985 SC 628.

[15] Whoever, being in any manner entrusted with property, or with any dominion over property, dishonestly misappropriates or converts to his own use that property, or dishonestly uses or disposes of that property in violation of any direction of law prescribing the mode in which such trust is to be discharged, or of any legal contract, express or implied, which he has made touching the discharge of such trust, or wilfully suffers any other person so to do, commits ‘criminal breach of trust.

[16] (1997) 2 SCC 397

[17] Section 14- Property of a Female Hindu to be her absolute property.
(1) Any property possessed by a female Hindu, whether acquired before or after the commencement of this Act, shall be held by her as full owner thereof and not as a limited owner.

Explanation.– In this sub-section, “property” includes both movable and immovable property acquired by a female Hindu by inheritance or devise, or at a partition, or in lieu of maintenance or arrears of maintenance, or by gift from any person, whether a relative or not, before, at or after her marriage, or by her own skill or exertion, or by purchase or by prescription, or in any other manner whatsoever, and also any such property held by her as Streedhan immediately before the commencement of this Act.

(2) Nothing contained in sub-section (1) shall apply to any property acquired by way of gift or under a will or any other instrument or under a decree or order of a civil court or under an award where the terms of the gift, will or other instrument or the decree, order or award prescribe a restricted estate in such property.

[18] 08.01.2016 HC of Delhi

[19] Hindu Marriage Act, 1955

[20] 07.10.2015 HC of Delhi

[21] AIR 1982 P&H 377 (FB)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *