There is an age-old ritual prevailing in our society where parents offer their daughter her share during the marriage. Stridhan is very often misinterpreted as a dowry. Dowry means any property or valuable security agreed by the bride's side to the family of the groom before, during or after the marriage, by exploiting or threatening the girl or her family while Stridhan is a voluntary gift given by members of the bride and this is established as her property.
Stridhan means wealth and other belongings of the women in the form of gifts which she brought from her parents' house during or after marriage and it constitutes a woman's property. Women have the absolute ownership of it. In the case of Pratibha Rani v. Suraj Kumar[i], Pratibha Rani was married to Suraj Kumar on February 4, 1972. Rani’s family had given Rs 60,000, gold ornaments, and other valuable items to Kumar’s family on their demand. But soon after Rani entered her marital home she was started being tortured by her in-laws for dowry. She was forcefully kicked out of her in-law’s house with her two minor children and was denied money and other essentials for survival. The Supreme Court had made this distinction clear that women have an absolute right over Stridhan.
‘Stridhan' or 'Property of Women' is a concept that came down all the centuries from the Hindu Smritis but has today engulfed all forms of marriages in all castes and religions. According to the old Smritis and schools of Hindu law such as Dayabhaga, Mitakshara, etc, Stridhan was in the hands of a woman whether she is a maiden, married woman, or widow.
Constituents of Stridhan
-Gift made to a woman before the nuptial fire.
-Gift made to a woman at the bridal procession.
-Gift made in token of love by father-in-law & mother-in-law.
-Gift made by father, mother, brother.
For a married woman, Stridhan falls under two heads
1) Gift by love and affection received by a woman from both the relations on both side's parents and in-laws.
2) Gifts from a stranger, self-acquired property.
Application under different laws
Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 provides us the protection of women's rights to her Stridhan that make a Hindu female as the absolute owner of the property. Section 15 of Hindu Succession Act, 1956 lays down that when a Hindu woman dies intestate leaving her Stridhan, it will transfer to the following categories which are provided in Section 16:
· Firstly, upon the sons and daughters (including the children of any pre-deceased son or daughter) and the husband;
· Secondly, upon the heirs of the husband ;
· Thirdly, upon the mother and father;
· Fourthly, upon the heirs of the father;
· Lastly, upon the heirs of the mother.
There are strict Stridhan laws under Section 405 & 406 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 which says that if the husband and his family deny returning wealth when claimed and are liable for punishment. Section 406 is also applicable to recover Stridhan and protects wives who are suffering from mental and physical harassment[ii].
Bhai Sher Jang Singh v. Smt Virinder Kaur[iii]
Virender Kaur gave all the ornaments and other things (Stridhan) owned by her to her husband for safe custody and it was dishonestly misappropriated. The court held that Bhai Sher Jang Singh has committed an offense under Section 405 of IPC by committing a criminal breach of trust.[iv]
If a woman is a victim of domestic violence Section 12 of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 provides right to her Stridhan. Under section 18(ii) Domestic Violence Act, 2005 women are entitled to receive the possession of Stridhan, jewelry, and other necessary items.
In India, there is a practice that during marriage and childbirth it is normal to receive jewelry as a gift (token of love) from parents and relatives. In Ashoke Chadha v. IoT[v], The High Court of New Delhi held that Stridhan of jewelry given over 25 years cannot be said to be an unexplained investment under Section 69A of Income Tax Act, 1961.
Stridhan is right of women and she can claim her wealth anytime and also use it in whichever way she wants to. There are various rules and enactments available for the protection of Hindu women. Due to a lack of knowledge and ignorance of law women lose their absolute right over Stridhan.
[i] AIR 1985 SC 628. [ii] Reema Aggarwal Vs. Anupam, 2004 Cri.L.J. 892. [iii] 1979 Cri. L J 493. [iv] https://www.legalindia.com/criminal-breach-of-trust-under-ipc-a-critical-analysis/ [v] ITA 274/2011, delivered on 5 July 2011. Author- YUKTI CHORDIYA
BACL(Main Branch), Nagpur
LEGALEAGLE LAW FORUM