This Case Comment on Case Titled : Omprakash v. Radhacharan; is written by Parvraj Patni. He is a 1st Year Student in LL.B. (Hons.) from Jindal Global Law School.
Case Title:- Omprakash v. Radhacharan
Citation:- (2009)15 SCC
Important Law Provision: Section 15 Hindu Succession Act, 1956
If I was asked to name any particular article in this Constitution as the most important — an article without which this Constitution would be a nullity — I could not refer to any other article except this one (Article 32). It is the very soul of the Constitution and the very heart of it.Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
The inherent value behind this proclamation by Babasaheb was that he believed no matter where an individual has faced injustice; he can always knock the doors of the courts. Article 32 focuses on the right of an individual to seek constitutional remedies. This “heart and soul” of the constitution ensured that an individual will receive justice whenever he has been prejudiced against. No matter if it’s the government, an individual, group, or an organization, an aggrieved party can always count on the courts of the land; whose main and only work is to deliver justice to an aggrieved party.
But what is justice? Is it what it’s written in the codified books? How do you define what is wrong and what is right? Are the parameters of right and wrong limited to only the black letter of the law?
This article aims to talk about the concept of justice using the case of Omprakash & Ors. V. Radhacharan & Ors [see here]. The essay tells you how a party is failed by the highest court on the land when the court is toxically attached to the word of the law. The idea is to tell what happens when a court can see what is right and wrong in front of their eyes, yet deliver injustice just because they are “bound” by the codified law.
Case Facts In-Shorts
In this case, the natal family of a deceased woman approaches the Supreme Court for possession of the self-acquired property of the deceased woman. A similar claim was made from her husband’s side of the family. She was a widow who was turned out of her matrimonial home as soon as her husband died. She came back to her natal home, educated herself with the help of her natal family, and bought this property.
The court applies the “literal interpretation” of Section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 to deliver its verdict that the claim will go to the husband’s side of the family.
Section 15, Hindu Succession Act, 1956
What came to light, in this case, were the drawbacks of section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. In the section, the following principles are laid down by which the property of a Hindu female intestate will devolve- [see here]
- Section 15(1) lays down the class of heirs that will receive the property of the deceased Hindu female.
- The Section 15 (2) talks about the devolution of property that the female has received from her natal home.
- Section 15 (3) writes about what will happen to the property which the female has received from her husband or matrimonial family.
Role of Judiciary
This is a case that Thwarts Justice; mentioned by ‘The Hindu’ as the Apex Constitutional Court of the Nation itself remarked; “This is Hard Case”. Because in words of Professor Wendy Williams; “What women can expect from Courts… is a qualified degree of equal treatment”. The words taken from his Book “The Equality Crisis: Some Reflections on Culture, Courts, and Feminism,” published in 7 Women’s Rts. L. Rep. 175 (1982). So, the part and role play of court is crucial.
Role Of Court In Interpreting Silent Law And Delivering Justice
This law doesn’t talk about what will happen to the self-acquired property of the female Hindu who has died intestate. The reason why this section doesn’t talk about this is that it is based upon this stereotypical notion that women cannot acquire property by themselves. They can only receive or inherit property. Yet another one of the instances where we can see that how adamant our law is in imposing stereotypes.
In the Omprakash & Ors. V. Radhacharan & Ors, the court was already in recognition of the fact that the property of the deceased was self-acquired. The court also said that this section was silent on the aspect of self-acquired property by a Hindu female.
This is a Hard Case – Apex Court
As the court said, “this is a hard case”. Despite recognizing the above facts, they took a highly positivistic approach towards sections 15 (1) & (2) [see here]. The court delivered its judgment limited to the literal reading of this section and said that as no provision of the law talked about the devolution of self-acquired property of a female Hindu, thus it will rely upon the principles of class of heirs laid down in Section 15(1), according to which the self-acquired property will go to her matrimonial home.
As mentioned in the introductory part, a party goes to court by having a belief in the judicial system that they will receive justice. But was the court justified in this judgment, wherein it blatantly ignored some important material facts like the fact that property was self-acquired by the deceased and there was no contribution from the husband’s family towards the woman’s education?
The court ignored its duty to deliver a justified precedent on the matters where the law is silent. The judgment was not in the recognition of the family dynamics of the society. The court should have recognized the fact that the woman was able to educate herself because of the help she received from her natal home, but the court relied upon cases like Ganga Devi V. District Judge [see here] and Subha B. Nair v. The State of Kerala [see here]; and said that “sentiment and sympathy alone would not be a guiding factor in determining the rights of parties”
Manu Smriti chapter 9 lays down the principles of the dharma of a wife. It says that a wife’s primary duty is towards her husband; and the secondary duty of the wife is towards her matrimonial family. The rationale that has been used to substantiate the “duties of the wife” is that; after marrying the husband through the Hindu rituals the wife becomes a member of the husband’s family [see here]. All of her ties to her natal home are severed as soon as she completes the ritual of Saptapadi.
When it comes to duties of an individual towards another party; shouldn’t those duties be reciprocated as well? Our shastras have said that it is the duties of the individuals that tie them to one other.
In the Omprakash case, after the death of her husband the deceased was driven out of her matrimonial home at first instance. She was not given any support from her matrimonial family. She had to move to her natal home; and take the support of the family from whom her ties were supposed to be broken.
But as soon as the woman died, the matrimonial family claimed their right over the deceased’s property. Despite ignoring their duties towards a member of their home; they believed that they had a right over the woman’s property. And the worst part is, the court held them to be rightful in staking their claim over the deceased’s property; and ignored the rights of the natal family.
This calls for another question, can someone acquire rights that have been derived on moral grounds and from the codified books of law ?
Equality Before Law
The fact that we have to put a question mark in front of something; that should be an inculcated value of a society reflects the abysmal condition of our justice system. The case of Omprakash is just one of the millions of instances where the aspects of morality, humanity and societal values were blatantly ignored. This case is another classic example of the fact that what is legally right may not always be morally justified.
There is a complete contrast that can be observed between the judicial functioning of courts regarding the constitutional validity of section 15. For example, a judgment similar to Omprakash was given by Madras High court wherein it held that the self-acquired property cannot go to the natal heirs of the deceased woman [see here]. On the other hand, the Bombay High court concluded that this section was altogether ultra vires. It said that there was an element of inequality between Hindu males and females due to the existence of this section [see here]. It is a very important fact to note that these two contradicting judgments were passed in a mere gap of 3 years.
The Omprakash v. Radhacharan case law motivated many responsible Institutions. They took a charge in order to amend laws of nation.
Earlier, the 207th report [see here] of the law commission of India tried to suggest an amendment in this law on which the judiciary is clearly incapacitated. The NCW also recommended an amendment in this regard. This was all taken up in a bill proposed in the legislative assembly in 2013, although this bill didn’t pass.
The latest development in this is that SC has sought the government’s reply on neutral succession law after the petitions filed by Ashwini Upadhyay. The issue was brought forth to the division bench including CJI S.A. Bobde, Justice A. S. Bopanna, and Justice V. Ramasubramanian. The court replied that the SC cannot be mute on discrimination against women and stereotyping them [see here]. This is going to be a major step in solving this issue and we hope that things get better with this.
The apex court’s decision in Omprakash v. Radhacharan, is binding on all individuals, organizations, courts, and governments. Whenever a matter comes in front of the Supreme Court on which the law is silent, it should take a moralistic approach towards that case. When it comes to family matters, an element of sentiment and recognition of family values from the courts can set a precedent that will deliver justice to many.
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