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Indian Court Rules That Hindu Women Can Now Be the Head of Their Own Families

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In a significant decision Monday, a top court in India’s capital city New Delhi ruled that women are eligible to become the legal head of a family, a position hitherto reserved only for the eldest male.

The Delhi High Court verdict said there is “no restriction” on a woman becoming a family’s karta — a role demarcated by ancient Hindu customs and scripture that defines the manager of a joint family, the Times of India reported.

The karta assumes a preeminent position within the family, which comes with the authority to handle its rituals, property, assets and other key matters.

According to the Times, Monday’s ruling in Delhi was the result of a lawsuit filed by the eldest daughter of one of the city’s business families, whose father was the eldest of four brothers. Following the deaths of all four, her cousin — the eldest son of a younger brother — had claimed he was the rightful karta.

However, the Delhi court’s Justice Najmi Waziri 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 decision follows (and, according to the court, is based on the precedent set by) a 2005 amendment to the South Asian nation’s Hindu Succession Act allowing women previously denied equal inheritance rights.

[Times of India]

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Write to Rishi Iyengar at rishi.iyengar@timeasia.com