The king then directs an enquiry as to whether any of the widows of the merchant was pregnant so that the posthumous children may take the property. This enquiry would have been wholly unnecessary if the widow could in her own right claim the property.
Brihaspati recognised the widow’s right to inherit on the theory that the wife is declared to be half the body of her husband and so when the widow is alive half the husband’s body still lives and so no other heir can take the property.
Yajnavalkya mentions the widow as the first heir in his compact series of heirs to the estate of a sonless man. The widow thus acquired an unquestionable right to inherit her husband’s property in the absence of sons.
Limited estate According to the Mitakshara the property acquired by the Widow by inheritance from her husband is her Stridhana i.e. absolute property which would devolve on her own heirs. According to the Dayabhaga prevailing in Bengal she takes only a limited estate and the property devolves on her death not on her heirs but on the heirs of her husband, the last male- holder.
The heirs of the last male-holder are called reversioners and they take the estate on the death of the widow. Jimutavahana, the author of the Dayabhaga, relied for his conclusions on the following text of Katyayana:
(Let the sonless widow keeping unsullied the bed of her husband, and abiding with her venerable protector, enjoy with moderation the property until her death. After her let the husband’s heirs take it.)
The Privy Council considered the nature of the widow’s estate in Mt. Thankore v. Rai Baluk Ram, 11 MIA 139 at 173. It was a case governed by the Mitakshara. Colebrooke’s translation of the chapter on inheritance was available and it supported the contention that the widow took as stridhana.
But the Privy Council observed: We have not the whole Mitkashara. Mr. Colebrooke, in his preface, states that his work includes only an extract from that celebrated treatise comprising so much of it as related to inheritance.
The widow’s disabilities, which depend in a great measure upon the notions which Hindu legislators entertained on the infirmity and necessary dependence of the female sex, may be dealt with in the other parts of the work”.
This was very unfortunate for there are in fact no restrictions upon the widow’s powers indicated in any other part of the Mitakshara. The Privy Council unaware of this at that time reiterated its view in Bhagwan Deen v. Myna Bal, 11 MIA 487. There two widows inherited their husband’s property.
One widow executed a will bequeathing her half-share to her father and brother. Sir James Colvile observed: “The Benaras Pundits who are in favour of the Appellant refer only generally to the Mitakshara”. The result is that the widow even under the Mitakshara School acquired only a limited estate.
Position of other Female Heirs:
The estate taken by the other female heirs inheriting to a male was also held by judicial interpretation to be only a limited estate on the analogy of the estate taken by a widow. Even Katyayana’s text had reference only to the widow and not to other female heirs.
So this judicial extension of the restrictions to the estate inherited by other female heirs was unwarranted. As Sadasiva Iyer,.J, observed in Venkataraju v. Kotayya, 23 MLJ 223, “By a false analogy, the restrictions have been imposed on other female heirs also.”
Present Statutory Reform:
It is only by the Act of 1956 that the injustice to the widow has been rectified. Sec. 14 provides that any property possessed by a female Hindu shall be held by her as full owner and not as limited owner.
So the limited estate has now been abolished. Further, the son can no longer exclude the widow. The widow takes her share along with the son. Thus her position has been considerably improved by legislation.