When one talks about the property of a married Hindu woman, terms like StreeDhan, Dowry, Alimony comes into mind. However, dowry and streedhan are distinct terms. Streedhan, as per the Law, is legal, whereas, Dowry is illegal. Women should have a proper understanding of the various terminologies. During divorce proceedings, emotions take precedence over logical thinking, leading to a skewed division of marital assets. The losers are often women, especially those who do not take part in financial decision making during the marriage and are ignorant of joint assets and their share in them. The article talks about the concept of Streedhan, it also explains the difference between Streedhan and Alimony, Streedhan and Dowry. What are the various laws related to Women and Streedhan, What should a Woman do for her StreeDhan.
As per The Supreme Court of India:
“a Hindu married woman is the absolute owner of her Streedhan property and can deal with it in any manner she likes and, even if it is placed in the custody of her husband or her in-laws they would be deemed to be trustees and bound to return the same if and when demanded by her”.
A woman has an inalienable right to streedhan and can claim it even after her separation from her husband, the Supreme Court has said in a ruling that makes it clear that denial of her claims can amount to domestic violence, making her husband and in-laws liable to face criminal prosecution.
Table of Contents
StreeDhan and Women
What is StreeDhan?
People often perceive Streedhan with terms like Dowry and Alimony. Dowry is regarded as unethical, forceful, and illegal in our society. Whereas Alimony one involves the right of a woman for her support after separation.
The word Streedhan is derived from the combination of two words i.e. stree meaning woman and dhan which means property so StreeDhan is the property of a woman. This property includes whatever woman receives before or after the marriage i.e during maidenhood, the subsistence of marriage or widowhood. As per the Hindu philosophy, Streedhan is the absolute property of a woman and she has the right to gift/will away as per her own will. She does not even require the consent of her husband. A husband may/may not use it, but, if he uses it, then he must return the same to his wife when required. This includes all the movable and immovable property received by her. The following things are included under Streedhan:
- Gifts include all kinds of jewellery (gold, silver, precious or semi-precious stones etc), property and other valuables like a car, paintings, artefacts, appliances, furniture etc. gifted to the woman at marriage, before marriage and during the course of her marriage. In case of a dispute, a list of all the items signed by two witnesses can be given to make a claim.
- Gifts can come from anyone—parents, in-laws, relatives, friends and acquaintances.
- Woman’s earnings before or after marriage from employment or business. Any savings or investments made from her earnings.
What does not come under Streedhan
- Any jewellery, like a ring or gold chain, and other valuables gifted to the husband by the wife’s parents at the time of marriage and through the duration of the marriage.
- Any movable or immovable asset bought by the husband in the wife’s name without passing it on as a gift.
- Earnings of the woman spent on the household cannot be claimed back.
Even if the husband and wife both use a gifted asset during the marriage, in the event of a divorce, that asset becomes the wife’s. This is something Faridabad-based Prerna Sharma was not aware of at the time of her divorce. She let go of the car her father had gifted her at the time of marriage in return for a lump sum settlement for the house, although she had a right over both. “I was made to believe that my ex-husband was a part owner of the car because we both used it”
What should a Woman do for her StreeDhan?
It is recommended that girl maintain a list of their Streedhan and look after their own Streedhan in terms of its security such as opening a bank locker in their names for the purposes of storing jewellery and instruments of money, property etc. or keeping it under their lock and key. Some of the precautionary steps in keeping the check on the Streedhan could involve:
- The woman should make a list of all the gifts and properties received before, during and after marriage from her family, husband’s family, friends, and other acquaintances.
- The woman should keep evidence for all the gifts received such as wedding pictures. Also, ensure that the gifts and their bills are in her name and preserve these bills.
- The woman should have witnesses. The statements of witnesses will be important evidence for gifts of movables (including jewellery) at the time of marriage.
- The woman should maintain a separate account in her name for her salary.
- The woman should get involved in the family financial decision-making and keep a record of bank accounts and the investments made out of her Streedhan.
- The woman should ensure that the title to the property given to her and those bought from her Streedhan are clear and that the investments made from these assets are in her name.
- The woman should open a bank locker in her name for storing jewellery and instruments of money, property and so on.
- It is advisable for the woman’s parents to gift her income-generating property, rather than expensive consumer items. It becomes often difficult to give full detail accounts for the consumer items.
Our article Woman take control of your Money, your Life, which was published in Femina talks about how a woman can become aware of money and finances.
Tax and StreeDhan
The Streedhan is a gift i.e without any consideration in return thereof. There is no provision under Income Tax for Streedhan. Streedhan is just used for the protection of property that is possessed by a woman.
In case you are a working woman and you have received some property from your parents then the income from that property would be added to your income and you would, therefore, be liable to pay tax for that.
StreeDhan and Law
To give a woman legal protection for the streedhan, there are several laws and regulations enacted in our society. In case of refusal to pay the alimony or streedhan then the legal forces of the court would come into effect. Legal action could be taken against the party and the court may jail the reluctant payor. Laws for women related to StreeDhan include:
Hindu Succession Act 1956 – Under Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act 1956, Streedhan is defined as the property that is acquired by a woman during her marriage. This is her absolute property. If the property is placed under the custody of her husband, in-laws, etc. then they are bound to return that when demanded by her.
Domestic Violence Act 2005 – Under Section 3 of the Domestic Violence Act 2005, denial of streedhan by husband or in-laws accounts to economic abuse and they would be held under custody in such situations. This law also protects a woman from cases of domestic violence that include actual abuse or abuse caused by physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, or economic scenarios.
Criminal Breach of Trust – IPC Section 405 include the matters relating to dishonesty or misappropriates related to Streedhan and protects a woman from the breach of trust. If some expensive gift such as jewellery is misappropriated by a woman’s in-laws, she or her family can take recourse to legal action under Section 405 of the Indian Penal Code that deals with the punishment for criminal breach of trust. This section of the law reads as follows:
“Whoever, being in any manner entrusted with property, or with any dominion over property, dishonestly misappropriates or converts to his own use that property, or dishonestly uses or disposes of that property in violation of any direction of law prescribing the mode in which such trust is to be discharged, or of any legal contract, express or implied, which he has made touching the discharge of such trust, or wilfully suffers any other person so to do, commits ‘criminal breach of trust.”
So As per the Law
Mere joint holding by a husband of the ‘Streedhan’ property does not constitute any legal partnership or co-ownership between the husband and his wife. The court opined that a wife can file a civil suit under the Section 14 of Hindu Succession Act and under Section 27 of the Hindu Marriage Act if the husband declines to return the ‘Streedhan’ property of his wife.
The husband has virtually no right over StreeDhan. The utmost use he can make of property is only in time of great distress or calamity in the family involving someone’s health. Again this so-called concession given to the husband over the property of his wife is personal and no one else in the family of the husband can make use of the property.
It has also been established by the courts that the ‘Streedhan’ property of a woman will not be used to pay off debts taken by the husband.
The Supreme Court opined that the refusal to return ‘Streedhan’ property would amount to the criminal breach of trust. The court had accepted that civil law provides a remedy but the criminal law gives a co-extensive remedy to the aggrieved party.
Other Dowry related laws are:
- Dowry Prohibition Act: The Act, first introduced in 1961, defined the actions that fall under the category of dowry, clearly stating that any kind of demand made to the bride’s family before the wedding as a condition for getting married, at the time of marriage, or after marriage. It also stated that both taking as well as giving dowry is a crime. (Note: There have been subsequent amendments to the Act).
- Section 498A: Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code 1890 mainly deals with domestic violence, and by extension, dowry-related harassment falls under its purview. Under this, the husband of a woman or his relatives can be fined or imprisoned for three years if they subject her to violence or threat – whether physical or mental in nature.
- Section 304B: Under Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code 1890, a woman’s death shall be considered as ‘dowry death’ if she dies within seven years of her marriage unless for a reason of natural consequences and it is proved that she was subjected to cruelty immediately before her death, and the abusers can be imprisoned for a minimum of seven years which may extend to life imprisonment.
Mahatama Gandhi and StreeDhan
On July 13, 1927, Mahatma Gandhi addressed a gathering at the Mahila Seva Samaja in Basavanagudi, Bangalore. That morning, Mahatma Gandhi encouraged women to be change-makers and contribute to the Harijan (SC/ST) movement by donating their streedhan (share of paternal wealth received at the time of marriage).
Kamalabai Chandur (Rajamma), Subamma and Gowramma, freedom fighters of the old Mysore State, were the first to contribute all their ornaments. Others followed suit. That morning Mahatma managed to raise Rs 90,000 worth of jewellery. Ref: Economic Times of India
Women Rights and Constitution
The various rights of women that are protected under the constitution of India include:
- Right to Streedhan
- Right to Residence
- Right to a committed relationship
- Right to maintenance by the husband
- Right to live with dignity and self-respect
- Right to child maintenance
Difference between Streedhan and Dowry
Streedhan and Dowry are the two different concepts and they must not be confused with each other. At one side dowry is strictly illegal and must not be practised in modern society. However, on the other hand, streedhan is a legal concept that empowers woman to live her life with full wisdom. With the laws and regulations in place and the increased awareness of the two concepts, people will take the precautionary measures and ensure that their daughters are safe and secure when they are away from them.
The differences between Dowry and Streedhan are:
|Definition||Money demanded by the bridegroom’s family from the bride’s family||Property that solely belongs to a bride and stays with her throughout her life.|
|Obligation||Given on demand under the pressure of compulsion||Given as a token of affection|
|Authority||Bridegroom and his family||Woman to whom it belongs.|
|Rights of a woman protected||NA||Liberty, Security, and Independence of a woman|
|Rights of claim||No legal rights. Dowry should not be given.||The girl can legally claim her Streedhan after/before her divorce|
|Right of Disposal||Rights lies with Bridegroom and his family.||Full right over disposal/alienation.|
|Witness Requirement||No witness requirement.||At least 2 witnesses are required.|
Difference between Alimony and Streedhan
Alimony and Streedhan are the two separate terms. A woman’s property is thus different from Alimony. Alimony should not be confused with child support. “A father is duty-bound to pay for the child’s maintenance, which is separate from the alimony for the wife. Chennai-based Sandhya Natarajan got custody of her son after divorce. She did not demand alimony for herself hoping to get maintenance for her son although she qualified for alimony too as her salary was very little compared to her husband’s earnings and she had no savings. Natarajan did not start a legal fight for what was due to her as she did not have enough money to engage a lawyer. Deshmukh says that in such a situation, the wife can ask for interim maintenance from her husband till the divorce finalises.
The table given below represents the difference between the Alimony and Streedhan:
|Definition||Spousal support after separation||Property that a woman gets at the time of her marriage|
|Receipt from||Husband||Parents and Relatives|
|Requirements||1. There must be a substantial difference between the income of her and her husband.
2. If she is not earning then her qualification and her ability to earn is considered.
|The property possessed by a woman belongs solely to her.|
|The time when availed||After separation||Anytime after marriage|
|Inclusion of child support||No. It has to be provided separately||NA|
|Capping||25% of the husband’s gross salary||NA|
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In conclusion, there are laws to protect your interest. It is imperative that one must have knowledge about them and use it judiciously to safeguard and protect the lives of our loved ones.