LEGACY GAIN – `Convert can inherit father’s property’

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HC

No Bar In Hindu Succession Act, Says HC

   In a landmark judgment, the Gujarat high court has ruled that a Hindu woman who married a Muslim -and renounced her Hindu faith to embrace Islam -is entitled to inherit her father’s ancestral property according to the Hindu Succession Act. In an order signed on Wednesday, Justice J B Pardiwala interpreted Hindu inheritance laws and concluded, “The Hindu Succession Act does not disqualify a convert (from inhering ancestral property). It only disqualifies the descendants of the convert.“

   The high court ordered the state revenue authorities to enter the woman’s na me in the list of heirs. The authorities had earlier held that the woman had renounced her Hindu religion voluntarily, and so did not have any right to a share in her Hindu father’s pro perty.

   The case concerns Nasimbanu Firozkhan Pathan (nee Nainaben Bhikhabhai Patel) from Vemali village in Vadodara. She renounced Hinduism and embraced Islam on July 11, 1990, before marrying Firozkhan on January 25, 1991, according to Muslim rites and rituals. Nasimbanu’s father, Bhikhabhai Patel, passed away in 2004 leaving behind sizeable parcels of land in the village.

   When she staked her claim and applied for entering her name in the list of heirs, her sister and brother opposed her on the grounds that she was not eligible to inherit the property because she had converted to another religion.

   Interestingly, the deputy collector had held that the Muslim woman was entitled to inherit the property. However, the district collector and the state revenue secretary overturned the decision. After hearing the case, Justice Pardiwala elaborated on how provisions in the pre-existing Hindu Shastric laws for disqualification of Hindu women from succession or maintenance were pushed aside by the modern inheritance law in Independent India.

   He further said, “The change of religion and loss of caste have long ceased to be the grounds of forfeiture of property and the only disqualification to inheritance on the grounds that the person has ceased to be a Hindu is confined to the heirs of such convert. The disqualification does not affect the convert himself or herself.“

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