The Hindu joint family system is a long-standing custom in which property is divided among family members with clear rights and obligations to one another. The senior-most family member, who serves as the foreman or Karta, is thought to be the final male bearer of this system because it has only ever been dominated by men. A special and influential role within the joint family structure, the Karta is in charge of overseeing the property and protecting the family’s interests.
The senior-most male member, regardless of age or health, fills in for the father, who typically serves as the Karta. However, because women were not permitted to hold the positions of Karta or coparcener in the joint family, gender inequity has continued as a result. Fortunately, the Hindu Succession Act was amended in 2005, making it possible for women to hold coparcener and Karta positions and advancing gender equality and eradicating discrimination.
The Karta’s management authority is unrestricted, despite their additional obligations, and they are immune from liability for negligence if they behaved reasonably and with good intentions. However, this has generated some debate because the Karta has more authority than a typical manager, raising questions about accountability.
In a Hindu joint family, property can be managed by two people, but only one person can represent the joint family – the Karta. Upon the Karta’s death, the next senior-most male member becomes the new Karta, perpetuating the strong concept of seniority within the joint family system.
Undoubtedly, the Karta’s unique status within the joint family structure is a fundamental aspect of Hindu culture, but in order to make the system more inclusive, it is crucial to advance gender equality and do away with discrimination. This can be done by educating people, raising awareness, and providing legal and social support to people whose rights have been infringed. More women will be able to take advantage of the law and take their proper place in the joint family structure by putting these measures into practise.
In this paper, we embark on a journey to delve deep into the powers of the enigmatic Karta in the Hindu Joint Family system. Our mission is to unveil the intricacies of this position and to examine the role of women as Karta, in light of the transformative 2005 amendment to the Hindu Succession Act. Join us as we embark on a quest to uncover the secrets of the Karta’s power and the impact of gender equality on this age-old tradition.
In pursuit of exploring the role of female Kartas in Hindu Joint Families, I have formulated the following research hypothesis:
Hypothesis 1: The 2005 amendment to the Hindu Succession Act has empowered women to be equally capable Kartas in joint families, providing them with fair and unbiased powers.
Hypothesis 2: The 2005 amendment has not brought about an equitable distribution of power for female Kartas in joint families, leading to a perpetuation of gender inequality in this traditional structure.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
There is a body of knowledge focusing on the Karta’s diverse abilities within the large body of literature on the Hindu Joint Family. The status and authority of female Karta, however, have received little consideration; this prospect was only made possible by the Hindu Succession Act’s 2005 revision.
One illuminating study by Kaviya (2018) seeks to uncover the genesis and objectives of the Karta, scrutinize their ancient practices and ascertain their sources of income. Typically, in families headed by a father and their offspring, the father assumes the role of Karta, but in their absence, the next most senior member takes the reins. However, the senior member may decline the position, leading to the next most senior member becoming the Karta. Kaviya’s paper strives to shed light on the current state of the Karta and their powers in the Hindu Joint Family.
However, research regarding the powers of female Karta is still a nascent field. In this review, the literature is bifurcated into two strands. The first strand examines the powers of the Karta and includes scholars such as Diwan and Saxena. The second strand focuses on the situation of female Karta post the 2005 amendment and encompasses researchers like Arvinthan, Garg, and Vashistha.
The Karta’s powers in relation to the alienation of Joint family property. The author contends that the Karta plays a vital role in the legal structure and functioning of the Joint Hindu Family. As the head of the family, the Karta possesses the authority and expertise to make important decisions for the family. Nevertheless, the Karta’s absolute power can sometimes result in unfavourable outcomes for the family unit as a whole.
In 2018, G. Arvinthan delved into the topic of women as Karta in the Hindu Joint Family, shining a light on the evolution of women’s succession rights in Hindu society. In a critical analysis of the current state of Hindu women as property owners and coparceners, Arvinthan notes that the 2005 amendment alone may not be enough to address the issue of gender inequality unless it is implemented effectively.
In their exploration of the position of women as Karta within the Hindu Joint Family following the 2005 amendment, Garg and Vashistha (2018) paint a picture of evolving gender roles and a shift in the traditional hierarchy. They assert that, due to changes in the coparcenary candidacy of daughters and the opinions of Hindu sages, women can now find themselves in a favorable position to become Karta. By analyzing relevant judicial pronouncements, the authors conclude that there is growing support for women’s representation as Karta in this context.
POWER OF KARTA
The Karta’s abilities within the Hindu Joint Family are unrivalled by those of other family members, with few constraints. These abilities are separated into two categories: the authority to alienate joint family property and additional powers for family maintenance and management.
- REGARDING THE POWER TO MANAGE FAMILY AFFAIRS,
The Karta reigns supreme as the undisputed leader of the home amid the complicated web of familial dynamics. The Karta’s power is comparable to that of a sovereign, with few restrictions on their capacity to dispose of property. Any bad behaviour by a family member is addressed with prompt retribution since the Karta has the authority to expel them from the household without question.
In property disputes, the Karta’s word is final. The family has authority over the results of their labour, which they can share or withhold as they see right. All must respect the Karta’s choices on issues such as space allotment, and any challenge to their authority is futile.
The Karta’s influence on family issues is regarded as an intrinsic aspect of their duty, and as such, their judgements on familial problems are without fault. Even if their acts are seen as favouritism or bias, the Karta’s authority remains absolute and unchallenged. Equality and impartiality are not required for the Karta’s choices, as their judgement is to be blindly followed..
2. IN TERMS OF THE POWER TO REPRESENT THE FAMILY,
The case of Singriah v. Ramanuja  is legendary in the annals of Hindu Joint Family law. According to legend, the Karta, like a seasoned captain, steers the family ship in all social, legal, and religious concerns, including litigation. Because the Hindu Joint Family lacks its own legal body, it operates via the capable hands of the Karta.
If the Karta is involved in a court battle, the entire family is involved in the same conflict, regardless of the age of the family members. This includes those who have no direct link to the case. However, if the Karta show to be unobservant or untruthful in their dealings, and the family loses the case as a result, the court’s ruling is final, with no avenue for appeal.
3. POWER OVER INCOME AND EXPENDITURE:
Within the complicated folds of the Hindu Joint Family structure, the Karta wears several hats, serving as both revenue earner and financial custodian. In contrast to an agent or trustee, the Karta is free to spend the family’s income however they see appropriate, with no responsibility to save or economise..
All revenue streams in a joint family structure flow into the expert hands of the Karta, who then adroitly distribute resources to satisfy the diverse demands of the family. The Karta’s income is deemed a necessary cost for the effective administration and well-being of the family, and as such, there is no requirement to keep precise spending records. It is simply accepted that the Karta behaved in the best interests of the family, with a view to a successful and pleasant future.
4. POWER TO CONTRACT DEBTS AND RESOLVE FAMILY DISPUTES:
The Karta plays a crucial role in the complicated dance of financial and legal transactions inside the Hindu Joint Family. Their jurisdiction extends to admitting and contracting obligations for authorised purposes, which are then obligatory on all joint family coparceners. Even if a coparcener seeks division, they are still liable for any obligations incurred by the Karta as a result of their half of the property. These debts are like an unbreakable link that binds all coparceners to their commitments.
In addition to financial obligations, the Karta has the authority to settle disagreements with both family members and strangers. They might even refer the matter to arbitration and reach an agreement on behalf of the entire family. If the compromise or arbitration is beneficial to the family members, it is binding on all members, even minors. In certain circumstances, the Karta’s word is regarded sacred, carrying the weight of tradition and the better benefit of the family as a whole.
5. POWER OF ALIENATION
As the primary guardian of family funds and property in a Hindu joint family, the Karta has significant power. However, when it comes to parting with shared family assets, the Karta’s jurisdiction is limited. The Karta cannot dispose of any property until all coparceners agree, unless it is essential for legal reasons (Apatkale), advantageous to the estate (Kutumbarthe), or satisfies religious and moral standards (Dharmamarthe). Any violation of these requirements gives coparceners the ability to contest and overturn the Karta’s acts. It’s worth emphasising that the Karta’s powers extend to minor members as well, tying them to any agreements made on their behalf until they reach the age of majority. The rationale behind this curtailment of Karta’s power is to ensure that the interests of all coparceners are safeguarded, and that joint family property is managed equitably and prudently.Top of Form
FEMALE AS KARTA
For millennia, the Hindu Undivided Family has been embedded in Indian society. It is a distinct sort of joint family in which all members are regarded coparceners with a claim to a portion of the property. However, family issues have always been managed by the senior-most male member of the family, known as the Karta..
This study begins by analysing the Karta notion and how it has always been linked with male family members. The fundamental reason for this was that in the joint family, women were not considered coparceners. Women were barred from becoming Kartas and managing family matters as a result of this rule. This changed in 2005, when Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, was amended to allow daughters to become coparceners..
A landmark reform to Hindu family law was introduced in 2005, breaking down the barrier that barred women from becoming Kartas. The long-standing question of whether a woman may hold this post was answered in the landmark case of “Sujata Sharma v. Manu Gupta”. The verdict was clear: as daughters and sons both hold coparcener status, women were now entitled to represent their family as Kartas.
This amendment was a significant step in the fight for gender equality in India, as it sought to address the imbalance that existed between the rights of men and women. Under the Hindu Succession Act of 1956, women did not have the same inheritance rights as men, particularly in relation to coparcener property. However, the 2005 amendment ensured that women could now claim their rightful share, in line with the constitutional principles of gender equality.
In 2005, the Hindu Succession Act underwent an amendment that aimed to eliminate gender inequalities within the Hindu society. With this amendment, women were granted the same level of status as men in the family, allowing them to become Kartas and manage family affairs. This was a significant step towards eradicating the traditional belief that daughters were liabilities and not equal to their male counterparts.
Despite this landmark amendment, there is still a sense of hesitation in granting women the role of Kartas, indicating that they must work harder to prove their equality to men. Unfortunately, the 2005 amendment has not provided complete parity for Hindu women, as their property is first passed down to their husband’s heirs and then to their mother’s heirs if they pass away without a will. This unequal distribution of property highlights the limited scope of the husband’s family, further restricting women’s access to their rightful inheritance. Despite the amendment of the Hindu Succession Act in 2005, the scales of property inheritance for women in the Hindu joint family still tip unevenly. The law guarantees their rights, yet cultural beliefs and ignorance often overpower this constitutional assurance. Undoubtedly, the amendment of the Hindu Succession Act in 2005 marked a significant milestone in Indian society’s progress towards eliminating inequality. It granted daughters the status of coparceners and Kartas, which ensured a level playing field among family members. However, the lack of awareness and education on women’s inheritance rights remains a roadblock to achieving true equality in the Hindu joint family system.
The Karta of a Hindu Joint Family has more authority than any other family member. With the ability to represent the family and contract debts, the Karta’s actions carry a lot of weight. However, with ultimate authority comes the possibility of conflict and abuse.
The Karta’s control over family issues can occasionally produce conflict, resulting in a break in the joint family. Furthermore, as the single decision-maker, their choices are obligatory on all members, which may result in personal interests taking precedence over the well-being of the family.
If the Karta fails to exercise due care and the family loses a court battle, the decree cannot be set aside solely on the basis of the Karta’s actions, resulting in serious penalties. Furthermore, the Karta may lack knowledge in all areas, perhaps resulting to judgements that are detrimental to the family’s interests.
The Karta is likewise subject to infinite culpability for the activities of all family members. In conclusion, while the Karta’s power has enormous benefits, it also has drawbacks that must be addressed for the greater interest of the family.
To summarise, the Hindu Joint Family structure has both advantages and downsides, and Karta’s authority, while enormous, may be damaging in some instances. Recent legal developments and landmark judgements have improved the role of women within the Hindu Joint Family structure. However, there is still a long way to go in terms of properly implementing these reforms and building a culture that encourages gender equality in all aspects.
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 Dr. Poonam Pradhan Saxena, Family Law-II 151(LexisNexis, 4th ed. 2019)
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