The Hindu Succession Act: One Law, Plural Identities
Abstract: A broad definition of law manifests itself in various ways: it legitimates certain visions of social order, it determines relations between individuals and groups, and it manipulates cultural understandings and discourses over various concepts of rights - and duties. In India, the Hindu Succession Rights Act (HSA) of 1956 allows the wife and daughters, along with the sons of the deceased senior male, to claim an equal share in familial property. By giving inheritance rights to daughters and widows, not only to sons, this Act proposes a radically different organization of the ideal household, commonly referred to as the ‘Indian joint family’. The Act initiates a transformation of Hindu women’s status through their rights to property, which implies the transformation of women’s rights and duties in India. It also affects men’s access to natal property and modifies brother-sister relationships. Moreover, it redefines some religious categories. Firstly, under this Act the category ‘Hindu’ includes Hindu, Buddhist, Jain or Sikh. Secondly, it regulates the multiple religious and inheritance practices that still exist in different parts of India.