Property held by women in their exclusive right has been called the “Stridhan”. Stridhan has been recognised in early Hindu Law. The term Stridhan first occurs amongst the Smritis in the Dharma Shastras of Gautam. It literally means women’s property. Under the Mitakshara law and also under the authorities that follow, the term Stridhan includes all kinds of property of which a woman has become the owner, whatever be the extent of rights over it.
Jimutvahana narrows down the meaning of the term Stridhan by restricting it to that property of the woman over which she has absolute control even during the life-time of her husband. “Stridhan” according to Manu “is what has given before the nuptial fire (Adhyagni) what was given at the bridal procession (Adhyavahanike) what was given in token of love (Dattam Pritikarmini), and what was received from a brother, a mother, or a father are considered as the six form of property of a woman”.
The definition of Manu is supposed to be the principal definition of Stridhan. To this list of Manu, Vishnu and Yajnavalkya, add that what is given to the wife on her supersession by a second wife (Adhivedanika). The definition of Yajnavalkya, what was given to a woman by a father, mother, husband of her brother, or received by her at the nuptial fire or presented on her succession (Adhivedanika) and the like (adya) is denominated women’s property.
It is the word ‘adya’ which has raised a storm of controversy and has been the subject of various interpretations by ancient text-writers so much so that with regard to this, law was not settled until the Privy Council by its decision settled the entire controversy finally.
The controversy started by the explanation given by Vijnaneshwara of the word ‘Adya’. According to him the term ‘Adya’ includes “property which she may have acquired by inheritance, purchase, partition, seizure and finding”. Further according to him the term “Stridhan” is not technical in its significance but conforms in import with its etymology.
He also interprets Manu’s sixfold classification as being only illustrative and not exhaustive He appears to be right, for the Smritis also enumerate more than six kinds of Stridhan.
Thus Vijnaneshwara has expanded the meaning of Stridhan from what it was according to the texts, which related to the matters other than succession.
We now proceed on the interpretation put on the word ‘Adya’ by the Privy Council. The Privy Council’s view may be properly considered fewer than two heads:
(a) Property inherited by a woman;
(b) Share obtained by a widow on partition.
In the case of property acquired by a woman by inheritance, whether from a male or from a female, it is not her Stridhan. This was held in Bhagwandin v. Myne Baee 11 M.I.A. 487. This was a case in the year 1867 and the property was inherited by a widow from her husband and the Privy Council declined to hold it as the Stridhan property of the widow.
In another case the properties was inherited by a woman from female (by a daughter from her mother) and in this case it also it was held that the daughter’s inheritance from her mother was not her Stridhan. [Sheo Shankar v. Devi Sahai, 301.A. 202).
As to the share obtained by a widow on partition of the joint family property, the Privy Council in case of Devi Mangal Prasad v. Mahadeo Prasad, 39 I.A. 121,. Declined to hold such a share of widow to be Stridhan.
It will be noted that the property acquired by inheritance and property acquired on partition are two of the five kinds Stridhan added by Vijnaneshwara in his expansion of the word ‘Adya’ in his definition of the word “Stridhan”, it will also be noted that the Privy Council declined to uphold this expansion of the word “Adya” by Vijnaneshwara and narrowed down the same.
By holding that acquisitions by inheritance or on partition are not Stridhan, the implication is that after the death of the acquirer who is a woman, the property does not descend to her own heir.
Only in the case of Bombay it is firmly established that property inherited by a woman is her Stridhan except where it is inherited from a male into whose family she has come by marriage. With the exception of Bombay, the Privy Council’s view governs all the Mitakshara Schools, although the eases considered by the Privy Council were all from the Banaras School.