Mizo Customary Laws – Inheritance Also Dependent On Support Rendered In Old Age – Supreme Court Reaffirms
A two-judge Bench of Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice B.R. Gavai set aside an order passed by the Gauhati High Court and upheld an order held by the District Council Court, regarding a matter of inheritance under the Mizo Customary Laws.
The Supreme Court opined that the view taken by the District Council Court was based on the consideration of equity and the responsibility of a legal heir to look after the elders of the family and that the High Court was not justified in reversing the well-reasoned and equitable judgment and order.
Mr. Robin Ratnakar David appeared on behalf of the Appellants and Mr. Pragyan Pradeep Sharma appeared on behalf of the Respondents.
Two individuals were married to each other and had children. After the father's death, he was survived by the mother, the son, and seven daughters. Soon after, the son applied for the heirship certificate for the properties left by his father, on the basis of the Mizo Customary Law of Inheritance. This law provides that a son shall inherit the properties of a Mizo and if the deceased is survived by more than one son, the youngest son shall inherit the property. The son died before the heirship certificate could be decided. The Subordinate District Council Court dismissed the application of the son due to his death. Thereafter, the son's widow filed an application for restoration of application for heirship certificate, but it was dismissed by the Subordinate District Council Court.
The mother also filed an application claiming an heirship certificate for the properties of her deceased husband. This application was objected to by the son's widow and their two daughters. The Subordinate District Council Court passed a decree in favor of the mother and declared her to be the legal heir of the husband's properties. On appeal before the District Council Court, the Court directed that the disputed property be divided between the four daughters of the wife, i.e., the Appellants, and the son's widow and daughters, i.e., the Respondents.
Through a series of remands, the District Council Court was directed to hear the matter afresh and opined that the property should be divided between the parties. The Respondents preferred a second appeal before the High Court, and the Court held that only the legal heirs of the son would be entitled to rights in the property. Aggrieved, the Appellants moved to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court opined that the female members of the family who are married and living in separate households were not entitled to any share in the property. It also affirmed the District Council Court's view that under Mizo Customary Law, inheritance also depends upon the responsibilities carried out by the legal heir. To that end, the Supreme Court found that although the son was looking after his mother, the youngest daughter came back to her home and started looking after her mother after the son died.
The Bench found that the provision of Mizo Customary Law relating to 'divorced' in the matter of inheritance would apply to her and her right to inheritance of her father's properties subsists by virtue of her being divorced and coming back to the original family for looking after the mother.
The Court upheld the District Council Court's reasoning that since the youngest daughter had discharged her responsibility of looking after her mother, and had reassumed her father's clan title, her right to inherit her father's properties could not be defeated.
The Court also upheld the District Council Court's reasoning that the unmarried daughter of the son also belonged to the lineage of the father, and therefore had a right to inheritance according to the Customary law.
The Bench upheld the decision of the District Council Court which had opined that in accordance with the principle of Mizo Customary Law of Inheritance and the spirit of equity, which is, it was appropriate that the property be divided between the youngest daughter and the unmarried daughter of the son.
The Supreme Court found that even in the case of Thansiami vs Lalruatkima and Ors. the Gauhati High Court had also held that the inheritance depends on whether a person supports the deceased in his old age or not, while also holding that even if there is a natural heir, a person who supports the person until his death could inherit the properties of that person.
Therefore, the Supreme Court was able to uphold the view taken by the District Council Court and set aside the judgment passed by the High Court.