Revanasiddappa v. Mallikarjun, 2023

Introduction 

The question of the status of the inheritance rights of children born out of marriages deemed voidable or null and void under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (HMA) was questioned in the Revanasiddappa case. The question specifically asked if the children of such parents could inherit their parents’ possessions in the same way as legitimate children would. This case questioned both kinds of property namely inherited property and self-acquired property. 

The ruling is a landmark judgement because it also examined the possibility of understanding whether the children from the union of couples having void and voidable marriages could become coparceners in a Hindu Mitakshara Joint Family or not. A coparcenary is a type of property ownership where multiple people inherit the same property, with each person owning an undivided, transferable interest in the property. Interest in property refers to the rights, titles, claims, or shares in a property. It can contain any estate, right, or power, whether at law or in equity, in or over the property. The idea of coparcenary is fundamental to Hindu property rights, especially in mixed families under Mitakshara law, where male heirs divide ancestral property evenly among themselves.

  1. FACTS
  • This case deals with the children who belong to the parents of the who are Hindu by religion in any of its forms or developments, including a Virashaiva, a Lingayat or a follower of the Brahmo, Prarthana or Arya Samaj, or a Buddhist, Jaina or Sikh by religion then 
  • However, when such a Hindu parent’s marriage is “null and void” as per Section 11 of the HMA, the status of the children was studied. This section deals with the marriage being null and void because of reasons like the marriage was not solemnised between any two Hindus, because either party has a spouse living at the time of the marriage; or if the marriage took place between people who are within the degrees of prohibited relationship or the couple are the sapindas of each other, unless in both cases an existing custom or usage is governing each of them permits of a marriage between the two. The term “Marriage was not solemnized” means that the couple did not officially get married according to the law or customary practices. The law says that such children from such union before the declaration of this decree as null and void marriage will be called legitimate under section 16 (2) of the HMA. 
  • Similarly, if such a marriage was given the status of nullity under Section 12 of the HMA which concentrates on “Voidable marriages”. Such marriages may be annulled by a decree of nullity for various reasons, including non-consummation, contravention of conditions, lack of consent, or pregnancy by another person. The marriage would then be treated as if it did not exist in the first place. Then in this scenario too the children from such a union before the declaration of nullity of marriage, would be considered to be legitimate children. 
  • Although the children from voidable and void marriages are considered to be legitimate or part of the family, Section 16(3) of HMA says that even though the kids are deemed legitimate, they cannot automatically get rights like property from anyone else other than their parents because they are in reality illegitimate. This means that if someone else, like a grandparent or an uncle, had something to give to the children, these children would not automatically get it, even if they were considered part of the family.
  • The Supreme Court has however considered the nature of the property rights to be given to children who belong to void and voidable marriages under Section 12 of the HMA. 
  • Through judgements like Jinia Keotin v Kumar Sitaram Manjhi (2003), Neelamma v Sarojamma (2006), and Bharatha Matha v R Vijaya Renganathan (2010) it said that the child from void or voidable marriage as per Section 16 (3) will not get more rights than what is explicitly stated in the provision as it would go against the law itself. Therefore, the courts rejected the arguments made by the appellants and upheld the decisions made by the lower courts. 
  • An amendment was made in 1976 to Section 16 of the HMA by Act 68 which mentioned that the idea of the children being illegitimate under Section 16 (1) and 16 (2) needed to be removed completely because of the associated stigma attached to it. Since society is not static, the law too should not be static. 
  • The deceased in the case had a 1/4th share in the coparcenary property, and in an estimated partition, his widow would have obtained a 1/6th share of his 1/4th share, which is 1/24th. The court held that there was no justification to limit the widow’s share to 1/24th, as she would have received a 1/4th share if an actual partition had occurred during her husband’s lifetime. The Explanation to Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act 1956 compels the assumption of a fiction that a partition of the property had taken place before the death of the deceased.
  1. ISSUES RAISED 

The issues of this case deal with the rights of children born out of void or voidable marriages regarding property inheritance. 

  • In light of Section 16(3), what are the legal rights of a child recognised under Sections 16(1) or 16(2) with provisions of the Hindu Succession Act 1956 about Joint Hindu families governed by Mitakshara law about ancestral or coparcenary property as opposed to the self-earned or independent property of the parents? 
  • Does Section 16’s legislative purpose seek to legitimise these kids in a way that makes them coparceners and gives them the right to start or receive a piece of the division, real or imaginary?
  • To understand the definition of “property” as it was not clear in Section 16(3) of the HMA. 
  • How can the children who were deemed legitimate under Section 16 (1) and 16 (2) begotten or conceived from a void or voidable marriage under the HMA be discriminated against in Section 16 (3) concerning property rights?
  • At what point does a specific property transition into becoming the property of the parent? 
  1. CONTENTION
  • The contention in the case revolves around the entitlement of children to a share in their parent’s property, particularly in the context of joint family property. 
  • Illegitimate children by void and voidable marriage of parents are equated with other legitimate offspring under the law, but their rights are limited to their parents’ property and they cannot seek the partition of such property during their parents’ lifetime. 
  • The Court recognized that conferring legitimacy to children born from void or voidable marriages does not grant them rights in or to the property of any person other than their parents. Once declared legitimate, these children are considered on par with other legitimate children.
  • The retention of the Mitakshara coparcenary property without including the females in it means that the females cannot inherit ancestral property as their male counterparts do, or could they?
  • The law by excluding the daughter from participating in the coparcenary ownership contributes to her discrimination on the grounds of gender and leads to oppression and negation of her fundamental right of equality guaranteed by the Constitution of India.
  1. RATIONALE 
  • It was observed that the judgements of Jinia Keotin v Kumar Sitaram Manjhi (2003), Neelamma v Sarojamma (2006), and Bharatha Matha v R Vijaya Renganathan (2010) were taken into consideration in a narrow sense for Section 16 (3) which then denied their rights. 
  • The Court recognized that while such children are equated with legitimate offspring, Section 16 (3) is clear that the children who have been born through conception or begotten the property rights or entitlement is limited through their parents property and not any other member of the family. 
  • Children from Section 16 (1) and (2) cannot be discriminated against as illegitimate children against legitimate children and thus should have rights to self-acquired property or ancestral property. 
  • Once declared legitimate, these children are considered on par with other legitimate children
  • The society is changing and thus what was deemed illegitimate in the past should be legitimate with changing social norms. 
  • In a joint family property, the child will have rights to the property through their parents and not on their own which is applicable only after the death of the parents. 
  • Additionally, the court highlighted the distinction in rights between legitimate children and children legitimized under Section 16(3) in terms of claiming partition in a larger coparcenary, noting that the proviso to Section 6 plays a role in determining shares within the coparcenary property.
5. DEFECTS OF LAW
  • The defects of law, in this case, include the irregularities in the interpretation of Section 16 of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 regarding children born from void or voidable marriages as noted in judgments like Parayankandiyal Eravath Kanapravan Kalliani Amma v K Devi.
  • The legislation suffered from shortcomings due to the dependency of the Rule of Legitimacy on annulment decrees, resulting in children being unfairly categorized based on the timing of the marriage. 
  • The Law Commission highlighted the need for clarity on the status of children born from void marriages, leading to the enactment of Section 16 to confer legitimacy and address the issue of illegitimacy. 
  • The Parliament while curating the law not only wanted to protect such children from stigma but also considered the implications on property rights.
  • The linkage of Section 16 with Sections 11 and 12 created complications, and the need for a decree of annulment for legitimacy highlighted further shortcomings in the law.
6. INFERENCE
  • The law should be read the Hindu Marriage Act with the Hindu Succession Act. Thus, the child is not illegitimate. 
  • However, sub-section (3) of Section 16 specifies that the rights of such children are limited to their parents’ property and cannot take their rights from any other person. This legitimacy under Section 16 is considered for succession purposes under Section 3(1)(j) of the Hindu Succession Act (HSA).
  • Section 6 of the HSA recognizes the institution of a joint Hindu family, with equal rights for daughters after an amendment in 2005. Thus, the child that is either a son or daughter will have coparcener rights.
  • The interest of a deceased Hindu Mitakshara coparcener is determined by assuming a theoretical partition before their death. Heirs, including children legitimized under Section 16 of the HMA, are entitled to their share based on this theoretical partition.
  • Furthermore, the transference of interest and distribution of property following the death of a coparcener, specifying the shares that the widow and children born from different marriages are entitled to in the coparcenary property based on legal provisions such as Section 16(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

Name of the Author :- Annie Cardoz

College Name :- Adv.Balasaheb Apte College of Law