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Court Ruling Says Indian Women Can Now Be Heads of Household

It changes their rights in the eyes of the law and their families.

Via (cc) Flickr user Stefan H

In the United States, we’ve seen women make massive societal advances thanks to legislation that increased their freedom. For instance, in 1900, women were allowed to have property rights in their own name, and in 1920, they won the right to vote. For some perspective, a major court ruling in India that was passed down in December and announced on Monday completely redefines a woman’s rights in the eyes of the law, and within her family as well.


In India, the karta is the head of the family and is in charge of property, inheritances, and family decision making. Before Monday, it was a role that only a man could hold. Now, women with the karta designation can make decisions about family property and business assets and can lead funeral proceedings. This huge change empowers women to take control of matters that have a massive impact on their social standing.

The case was brought to the high court because the eldest daughter of a family wanted to take over the family business after the passing of her father, brothers, and uncles but was challenged by her nephew for the role of karta. In the landmark decision, the court said, “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 coparcener of an HUF, from being its karta.”

Although this decision is a big win for women throughout India, the decision does not give all of them the right to be karta. The ruling applies only to India’s legal definition of an extended family, which is a Hindu Undivided Family. Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists are able to form HUF groups, but Muslims, who make up 14 percent of India’s population, are excluded from the HUF designation.

(H/T Think Progress)

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