Progressive Gender Equality Move: Indian Court Rules Women Can Now Be Legal Head Of The Family


When we think about the dominant sexist or patriarchal machine that is still largely in control of the world today, the idea of changing it to something more equal can seem daunting. But the best way is to chip away at it slowly, think “death by a thousand paper cuts” slowly.

In India, the patriarchal culture is still a very powerful force in society. To get an idea of just how real it is, we highly recommend watching Leslee Udwin’s ‘India’s Daughter’ documentary, which is an expose into the controversial Delhi gang rape of a young girl in 2012. What is most shocking about this documentary, which features interviews with the victim’s parents, rapists as well as the rapist’s lawyers, is the attitude toward women, which shows there are many who don’t look at them as equal to men.

The rapists were mostly uneducated men who grew up in the slums, and believed raping a young woman who was out after dark without her parents or husband was perfectly normal. But then you hear the lawyers, highly educated men, echoing the same beliefs, and it starts to sink in how real the gender inequality is. One of the lawyers even went as far as to express that if it were his own daughter out after dark, he would throw acid on her. Yuck.

It should go without saying that not everything about India is doom and gloom. There are many positive things we have shared about Indian men and women, especially Bollywood celebrities who are using their platform to speak out against injustice, and inequality.

One of the ways women are often held back in certain sections of Indian society, despite it being a democracy with even more equal rights measures that the US Constitution, is by social customs. These can range from forced marriage and lack of education to domestic violence, acid attacks and a lack of access to opportunities that help them become independent powerful citizens.


The notion that women are not deserving of the same rights as men because they are not equal is very much status quo in parts of India, and one of the ways this problem manifests itself is with money. Men are traditionally seen as the “head” of the household and therefore control all the family’s finances.

In 2015, an article on spoke about this in more detail:

India consistently ranks quite low on various measures of gender equality. (The United Nations placed India at 132 out of 148 countries in its recent gender inequality index.) The housework issue is a decidedly less dire example than the country’s increasingly high-profile problem with sexual violence. But it is another indication of the fact that weak female economic participation is still a drag on India’s economic development. Perhaps that will change, as the country looks for new drives to counter its declining rates of GDP growth”

In some areas, the problem of women not being empowered financially is starting to hit home, and they are taking steps to rectify it. This small village has created a brilliant “eco-feminism” initiative that not only promotes sustainable growth in the area, but also provides financial incentives for women and girls to go to school, work, and earn their own money.

Now the country has taken a major step forward by endowing upon women headship rights that clearly put them in control. A New Delhi court has ruled that women can now legally be the “karta” (meaning “head”) of the family, a position where they are in charge of property, rituals and other family affairs, and normally reserved for the eldest male in the family.

The Karta comes from an ancient Hindu custom, but today it has more modern progressive attributes attached to it thanks to a case which changed the law. The ruling came after a suit filed by the eldest daughter of a business family in north Delhi staking claim to be its Karta on the passing of her father and three uncles. She was challenging her cousin brother who was the next senior male member in line in their extended family. But because her father was the eldest out of his brothers, the woman argued she should become the next Karta.


The Delhi court ruled in her favor, and said there shall be no gender restrictions on the Karta anymore. This court ruling follows a 2005 amendment to India’s Hindu Succession Act allowing women previously denied equal inheritance rights.

“If a male member of a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF), by virtue of his being the first born eldest, can be a Karta, so can a female member. The court finds no restriction in law preventing the eldest female co-parcenor of an HUF, from being its Karta,” Justice Najmi Waziri said in a judgment made public after the decision.

The term “co-parcenor” refers to rights derived in Hindu law to be the joint legal heir of assets in a family, according to the Times of India. Traditional Hindu view, based on treatises such as Dharmshastra and Mitakshara school of law, recognizes only male inheritors to ancestral property.

The court determined it was “rather odd” that following the amendments, “while females would have equal rights of inheritance in an HUF property, this right could nonetheless be curtailed when it comes to the management of the same”. Section 6 of Hindu Succession Act, it pointed out, did not place any restriction on women becoming the Karta.

It is yet another small but major chip away at the barrier that prevents women from becoming equally empowered citizens in India. We are starting to see a sweeping change in many ways, and while legislation has to continue to evolve to reflect the views of people who want to see equality, it has to be matched by individual attitudes and social customs. Because as we pointed out earlier in the case of the ‘India’s Daughter’ rapists and lawyers, laws can only go as far as people are willing to carry them out in society.





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  1. Pingback: All New Cell Phones In India Will Have A Panic Button To Protect Women & Prevent Assault - GirlTalkHQ

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