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Safeguard Streedhan. Read To Know More

Last updated on: May 13, 2024 13:22 IST

Streedhan refers to gifts, money or property that a woman receives before her marriage, at the time of her marriage, during childbirth or widowhood, primarily from her parents, relatives or in-laws.

IMAGE: Kindly note the image has been posted only for representational purposes. Photograph: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters

A husband has no control over his wife's 'streedhan' (a woman's property), the Supreme Court reaffirmed in a recent judgement which emphatically recognised a woman's " right over her property.

"This judgment reinforces women's autonomy over their pre- and post-marital property, asserting that any contribution by a woman to her partner, even if in the form of a loan, must be returned," says Ekta Rai, an advocate at the Delhi high court.

Streedhan refers to gifts, money or property that a woman receives before her marriage, at the time of her marriage, during childbirth or widowhood, primarily from her parents, relatives or in-laws.

"It is considered her exclusive property and is meant to provide her with financial security and independence within her marital relationship," says Alay Razvi, partner at Accord Juris LLP.

Streedhan comprises assets acquired through various lawful means, including gifts, inheritance, earnings, and investments.

If a bride receives her husband's family heirloom within the first few days of marriage, it becomes her streedhan.

The case

A Hindu married woman from Kerala filed a petition in a family court seeking the recovery of 89 sovereigns of gold and Rs 2 lakh that her husband had used to settle his financial debts.

Although the family court ruled in her favour, the Kerala high court only allowed her to recover Rs 2 lakh from her husband.

In the Supreme Court, a two-judge bench comprising Sanjiva Khanna and Deepankar Datta reiterated a married woman's rights over streedhan property. The ruling affirmed that streedhan property belongs exclusively to the woman.

"Streedhan property does not become the joint property of the wife and the husband, and the husband has no title or independent dominion over the property as owner. The Supreme Court also held that streedhan is the "property of a woman, and she has all rights to dispose of it at her own pleasure," says Anushkaa Arora, principal & founder, ABA Law Office.

Often, the jewellery and other streedhan items of new brides are kept in bank lockers for security reasons, with the bride wearing the jewellery only occasionally.

Many a times, the husband and his family take control of the jewelllery and other Streedhan. It is crucial for women to understand their rights over streedhan and how they can retain control over it.

Protecting Streedhan

Married women should maintain an inventory of streedhan received or acquired, along with any relevant evidence regarding these assets.

"As a matter of principle, they should have " custody of streedhan. If not, they must be aware of where it is stored and by whom, to prevent any misappropriation," says Ankur Mahindro, managing partner at Kred Jure.

Photographs of women wearing their streedhan ornaments can be used as evidence. "Preserve digital evidence such as wedding pictures and receipts," says Rai.

She adds that the title of any property that is part of the streedhan should be in the woman's name.

Storing valuables in bank lockers opened in their names can further safeguard women's interests.

"Consider drafting a prenuptial agreement or a separate legal document outlining the specifics of streedhan and its management," says Razvi.

Rai advises women to stay informed about their legal rights and seek legal advice if required.

Families, too, need to be vigilant

The husband's family also needs to take a few steps to safeguard its interests. When gifting jewellery to a woman, provide the bills and receipts, including descriptions and weights of items purchased.

"This ensures clarity of intention for both the husband and the family, which the woman may also appreciate," says Pratibha Bangera, a lawyer at the Bombay High Court.

The boy's family must take such precautions because there have been instances of harassment through false claims about streedhan.

"Fake jewellery lists are being used to harass and extort from husbands by threatening to file a criminal complaint," says Bangera.

Legal recourse for women

If a husband or his family usurps a woman's streedhan, the law has provisions for protecting her interests.

"If a woman entrusts dominion over her streedhan property to her husband, or to any family member, and it is not returned to her, the woman can make out an offence for 'Punishment for Criminal Breach of Trust' under Section 406 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

"This can result in imprisonment of up to three years, a fine, or both," says Akhilesh Wahal, partner at Syal & Co.

What happens in court?

In case of disagreement, a husband might have to prove that the wife is falsely claiming property as streedhan.

"Typically, the responsibility of proving ownership of the streedhan usually lies with the woman asserting her claim," says Bangera.

In other religions, too, similar provisions exist for protecting women's assets or gifts received at the time of marriage.

"In Islamic law, there are provisions for mehr (dowry) given by the husband to the wife at the time of marriage, which serves as her financial security," says Razvi.

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