In a landmark decision by the Delhi high court, Indian women are now allowed to take on the position of karta (head of household). Under Indian law, the karta in a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) is in charge of all matters regarding inheritance, property management, and other family matters. Women were previously barred from holding this position.
Previously, the karta role was restricted to the oldest male in the family and has been a traditional role in Hindu households. Only males in Hindu households could inherit property and so only males could become karta. Amendments made to the Hindu Succession Act in 2005 enabled women to inherit property, and this karta ruling builds on that development. The ruling comes after a woman in North India staked a claim on the position after the death of her father, and furthers the cause of women’s equality by giving them equal opportunities within the family to control assets and make decisions.
Karta is now open to the eldest in the household, not just the eldest male. In the past, women were denied karta because they did not share in the ownership of inherited property. This ruling will change the status of women in India by giving them equal power and control over family assets. According to UN data, less than 10% of land in India is owned by women. Following this ruling, women should have greater control over land and have the potential to allocate it more fairly in the future. However, these changes will take time to be implemented as there may be disputes within households over who takes on the role of karta.
Achieving gender equality and empowerment for women and girls is one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Critical to this goal are the targets around the importance of women’s leadership as well as equal rights to economic resources including land and inheritance. Once implemented, the karta ruling will go a long way towards furthering this SDG and improving the lives of Indian women.
- Will control over family property and assets lead to greater empowerment for women in India?
- Will there be a backlash to these legal changes?
- What else needs to change for Indian women to achieve true equality?
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