Maintenance of Daughter in Law under Hindu Law
India is a country where half of the total population of women are still dependent on their husbands for maintenance of their day to day lives and expenses. Women have to ask for money from the husbands because most traditional Hindu families don’t allow their daughters and daughters in law to work and get financially independent. The patriarchy which has been deeply rooted in the society from ages have made a woman dependent, first on her father and after marriage on her husband and in old age on her son if any.
In fact whatever a woman saves she uses it either at the time of some emergency in the family or for her children. A woman holds nothing for herself and even when the time has changed and we claim to be developed and so called ‘ modern’ in our approach, we know somewhere or the other, a woman is still dependant on her spouse or son for her basic maintenance. Now the question is what will happen if a woman’s husband die and she has no son capable of her maintenance and her own parents refuse to provide any maintenance to her? She will be left with no one to help her or there will be a liability on someone to maintain her? All these questions are answered under the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956.
What is there in the Act?
The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 was introduced in order to eradicate the inability of those women who lost their husbands and everyone denied any sort of help towards them. Under Section 19 of the Act, it is clearly mentioned that a widowed daughter in law has a right to maintenance and under Section 20 it is stated that a wife whose husband cannot provide her maintenance also has a right to maintenance. We will discuss both the sections in details but let us discuss what is maintenance?
Maintenance is defined under Section 3 (b) of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act as “Maintenance includes:
(i) In all cases, provision for food, clothing, residence, education and medical attendance and treatment,
(ii) In the case of an unmarried daughter, also the reasonable expenses of an incident to her marriage,
(iii) “Minor “means a person who has not completed his or her age of eighteen years. “
In State of Haryana v. Smt. Santra, the court defined maintenance as a liability created by Hindu Law and arises out of jural relation of the parties.’
A widowed daughter in law shall be maintained when two conditions arise-
- She is entitled to be maintained by her father in law from the estates of her husband or her father or her mother or her son or her daughter, after the death of her husband
- When the daughter in law doesn’t have any of the above mentioned remedies then her re-marriage by her father in law.
Section 19 of the Act is not a statutory obligation upon the father in law to maintain his deceased son’s widow, but it talks about the moral obligation upon the father in law to provide maintenance to his daughter in law and after the death of father in law who ever will acquire his property will be legally bound to maintain the daughter in law.
Provision given in the Act- Section 19 of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 states that any Hindu whose marriage have taken place before or after the commencement of the Act, after the death of her husband, will be entitled to maintenance from her father in law to the extent that-
(i) She is unable to maintain herself from her own earnings or other property;
(ii) is unable to maintain herself from the estate of her husband;
(iii) is unable to obtain maintenance from her father’s estate;
(iv) is unable to obtain maintenance from her mother’s estate;
(v) is unable to obtain maintenance from her son’s estate;
(vi) is unable to obtain maintenance from her daughter’s estate;
(vii) is unable to obtain maintenance from her son’s and daughter’s estate;
(viii) if her father in law doesn’t have any coparcenary property in his possession from which she can have a part in order to maintain herself;
(ix) she remains unmarried. Where her father in law has coparcenary and self acquired property and the amount of earning from self acquired property is sufficient enough to let him and his wife to maintain them, the widowed daughter in law gets a right to have her maintenance out of the earnings of the coparcenary property. In this case there will be not any obligation on the earnings of coparcenary property with respect to the maintenance of father in law and wife.
Section 19 (2) states those conditions in which the obligation to maintain daughter in law is not needed or non obligatory. The conditions are-
(1) When the father in law does not have any earnings or income from the coparcenary property which was owned by the deceased husband;
(2) When the widowed daughter in law gets her share in the coparcenary property;
(3) When the daughter in law re-marries;
(4) When she converts to some other religion.
The Act applies an obligation on the joint family to provide maintenance to the wives and widows of coparceners. A widow daughter in law can also ask for maintenance out of the joint family property. This claim will be enforceable against the karta of the joint family as long as the widowed daughter in law holds a right of maintenance in the coparcenary property which is held by her father in law. But her own father is not obliged to maintain her. When the father in law dies, his moral obligation becomes the legal obligation of the person who inherits the property of the father in law.
Case Law- Raj Kishore Mishra v. Smt. Meena Mishra:
The Supreme Court in this case held that obligation upon the father in law to give maintenance to his deceased son’s widow is not enforceable if he has no resource available to maintain his daughter in law out of coparcenary property which is in his possession and out of which the daughter in law has not get any share.
A widowed daughter in law can only claim maintenance from her father in law when she is unable to maintain herself out of the property of her husband, father, mother, daughter, or son.
The maintenance of widowed daughter in law is also given under Section 21 of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956. There was a controversy in the older Hindu Laws that whether the widow had a right to get maintenance only in the circumstances where she was residing with her deceased husband’s family. This controversy was cleared by the Privy Council in the case of Prithee Singh v. Raj Rani Koer. Their Lordships held that : “ The only requirement is that she must not leave her husband house for unchaste and unreasonable motives, and she has a right to get maintenance only if she is not guilty of unchastity or any other disreputable deeds after she leaves her deceased husband’s house.” Now under the modern Hindu law, i.e., Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, a widow is not bound to reside with the family of her deceased husband and even her unchastity does not bar her to claim maintenance.
A widow of a coparcener and also widow of a karta has a right to maintenance from the joint family property but she doesn’t hold any interest in the joint family property. When she succeeds her husband’s interest, her claim of maintenance does not get lost as per the Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act, 1937. Both the Acts go parallel and do not affect each other. Also, a widowed mother has a right to maintenance and even if he gets a share in the partition, her claim of maintenance does not comes to an end.
There were many social evils and norms against a woman in the ancient India and were continued during British Raj, no matter how much the British Crown tried to eradicate some. But with the revolution in time and formation of independent India and progressive leaders, India got many statutes which tried to make women empowered as well as gave more rights to them. Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 was passed in order to give maintenance a broader definition and to tell who and from whom maintenance can be claimed.
A daughter is not the only one who can claim maintenance but widowed daughter in law too has a right to claim maintenance from her in laws when she has no means to maintain herself, and this obligation is genuine as the in laws have got someone else daughter in their house and made her a part of their family and this relation cannot be come to an end even at the death of her husband.
Also, interpretation and precedents of the Courts have also helped in making this law more progressive and developed. But there are still many things to be improved in this Act such as strict consequences in the case when the in laws deny to give maintenance to the widowed daughter in law but only in those matters when the in law shave sufficient means to give maintenance but they don’t want to, otherwise this act will also be misused like other acts and provisions which were meant to provide right and safety to women but ended up becoming inevitable weapons and most misused rights in the hands of some women.
Author: Samiksha Mehta,
Invertis University/ Student ( LL.B 3rd year