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H.H. Mir Abdul HussaIn Khan Vs. Mussammat Bibi Sona Dero - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
Decided On
Reported in(1918)20BOMLR528
AppellantH.H. Mir Abdul HussaIn Khan
RespondentMussammat Bibi Sona Dero
DispositionAppeal dismissed
custom-family custom-burden of proof-alleged presumption in favour of custom-bombay regulation (iv of 1827), section 26-punjah laws act (iv of 1872), section 5-evidence necessary to support valid custom instances may be useful even though all the requisite conditions of a custom are not proved in each instance-importance of revenue-records-mohomedan family-inheritance- exclusion of daughters in favour of their brothers.;where either party to a suit relies upon a. 'custom' as a rule of decision, it is incumbent upon him to allege and prove the custom on which he relies.;no presumption in favour of custom as against the general or personal law is created by clauses such as section 20 of the bombay regulation (iv of 1827) or section a of punjab laws act (iv of 1872) : it is only when the..........yet on the whole the evidence has fallen short of the standard to which it must attain in order to succeed in altering the devolution of property according to mahomedan law to a devolution determined by a family custom, and they will accordingly humbly advise his majesty that this appeal should be dismissed with costs.

Buckmaster, J.

1. On the 30th January, 1907, Mir Hussein Ali Khan of Talpur died intestate, leaving neither widow nor child. His nearest surviving relations were the plaintiff, Abdul Hussein, the son of his brother by the half-blood, one sister, the first defendant upon the record, and his sister's son, who is the second defendant. His estate, consisting exclusively of personal property, and largely of what we should call personal effects, is of great value, and doubtless also, from the character of many of the articles, of great personal interest to his relations. It is a dispute about the inheritance of this property that has given rise to the present appeal. The deceased was a member of the family of Talpur Mirs of Sind, who were a branch of the large Baluchi tribe. He was a Mahomedan, and, if Mahomedan law governed the question, the rights of the parties would vary accordingly whether the deceased was a member of the Shia or of the Sunni sect. If the former, the sister would inherit the whole estate; if the latter, the plaintiff would be entitled to a half. The plaintiff alleges, however, that the rights of inheritance are not to be determined according to Mahomedan law, but that they are regulated by a custom well-known and distinctly ascertained, by which, notwithstanding the provisions of the Koran, women are excluded from any share in the inheritance of a paternal relation, he further alleges that, if this contention does not prevail, the deceased was a Sunni and not a Shia, and that he is therefore entitled to the more limited rights to which reference has been made. Their Lordships think it is convenient to dispose of the latter contention first.

2. Although the holding of religious opinion is a matter of personal faith, and ordinarily it may not be easy to determine what the nature of that faith may be, yet in a case like the present, where the question lies between two sects so sharply divided in ritual and observances, performance of prayers, and public declarations of faith as the Sunni and the Shia, it is readily capable of being determined by definite evidence of action, conduct, and observance. For reasons which their Lordships consider as conclusive, both the Judicial Commissioner, before whom the case was first tried, sitting as District Judge, and the Court of the Judicial Commissioner of Sind, before whom the appeal was heard, have decided that the deceased was of the Shia persuasion, and with this finding their Lordships see no reason to interfere.

3. There remains therefore for consideration only the question of custom, and upon this the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal have differed, the District Court holding that the custom was established, and the Court of the Judicial Commissioner of Sind deciding that it was not. It is from this latter decision that the present appoal proceeds.

4. Before proceeding to investigate the facts and circumstances that have influenced the two judgments already mentioned, it is desirable to make plain what is the position of a person like the plaintiff, who asserts that custom and not Mahomedan law gives him the rights he claims. The appellant alleges that, by Section 26 of the Bombay Regulation of 1827, which has by notice been extended to the District of Sind, a presumption ought to be made in favour of the existence of a usage or custom where it is known that that usage or custom is prevalent. He basis this argument upon the words of the Regulation, which are as follows : 'The law to be observed in the trial of suits shall be Acts of Parliament and Regulations of Government applicable to the case; in the absence of such Acts and Regulations, the usage of the country in which the suit arose; if none such appears, the law of the defendant; and in the absenso of specific law and usage, justice, equity, and good conscience alone.

5. Their Lordships cannot accept this view. In a case of Daya Ram v. Sohel Singh (1908) P.R, No. 110 of 1906, F.B., which related to proof of a Hindu custom, the Chief Court of the Punjab had to consider a similar question on the terms of Section 5 of the Punjab Laws Act, the words of which are more strictly in favour of the appellant's contention than those of the Regulation that governs this dispute. This contention was dealt with by Mr. Justice Robertson at p. 410 of the report in words which their Lordships think so aptly and expressly declare the true relation of the necessity of proof as between customary and established law that they may with advantage be reproduced. The learned Judge said :-

In all cases it appears to me under this Act, it lies upon the person asserting that he is ruled in regard to a particular matter by custom, to prove that he is so governed, and not by personal law, and further to prove what the particular custom is. There is no presumption created by the clause in favour of custom; on the contrary, it is only when the custom is established that it is to be the rule of decision. The Legislature did not show itself enamoured of custom rather than law nor does it show any tendency to extend the 'principles' of custom to any matter to which a rule of custom is not clearly proved to apply. It is not the spirit of Customary Law, nor any theory of custom or deductions from other customs which is to be a rule of decision, but only 'any custom applicable to the parties concerned which is not...' and it therefore, appears to me clear that when either party to a suit sets up 'custom' as a rule of decision, it lies upon him to prove the custom which he seeks to apply; if he fails to do so Clause (b) of Section 5 of the Laws Act applies, and the rule of decision must be the personal law of the parties subject to the other provisions of the clause.

6. The principle that underlies this statement is, in their Lordships' opinion, correct, and is applicable to the construction of the Regulation that governs the present case. It is therefore incumbent upon the plaintiff to allege and prove the custom on which he relies, and it becomes important to consider the nature and extent of the proof required. Their Lordships have carefully considered the difficulty of applying all the strict rules that govern the establishment of custom in this country to circumstances which find no analogy here. Custom binding inheritance in a particular family has long been recognised in India (see Soorendronath Roy v. Mussamut Heeramonee Burmoneah (1868) 12 M.I.A. 81, although such a custom is unknown to the law of this country and is foreign to its spirit. Customs affecting descent in certain areas or customs affecting-rights of inhabitants of a particular district are perhaps the nearest analogies in this country. But in England, if a custom were alleged as applicable to a particular district, and the evidence tendered in its support proved that the rights claimed had been enjoyed by people outside the district, the custom would fail. This principle, however, it seems to their Lordships, ought not to be applied in considering such a custom as the one claimed hero, since, if the custom were in fact well established in one particular family, whether it were enjoyed or no by another family would not affect the question, since the custom might be independent in each case and the evidence would not establish that the custom failed by reason of the inability to define the exact limits within which it was to be found when once it was established that, within certain and definite limits, it undoubtedly existed.

7. Nor are their Lordships prepared to accept without qualification the statement of Mr. Justice Crouch that it is necessary to reject as useless for proving the custom 'all those instances where we have no evidence that the deceased left any estate at all' or where there is no evidence to show its nature or value, or the amount of liabilities against it, e.g. whether or not it consisted merely of a Jagir, or Mafi land, or of heirlooms, or of land heavily mortgaged, or of the family demesne; where there is no proof and no admission that the lady said to have been excluded had a legal claim to a share under the ordinary law; where, in case of a married lady, wo have no evidence showing the actual amount of dowry received; where, in case of unmarried ladies, there is no proof that they knew of the custom and stood aside in obedience to it. And in all those cases where a witness states that he has himself excluded his own sisters, or nieces, our judgment as to the value of such statement as evidence of the custom having been enforced must be held in suspense until there is also evidence before us that the ladies had independent advice, and, with full and intelligent knowledge of the custom, voluntarily acquiesced in their exclusions.' An example of each of the conditions there laid down ought certainly to be established by some witness, but it is not, in their Lordships' opinion, necessary that all should be proved in every case, as this might greatly weaken the evidence by tradition to which in a custom of the character under consideration great weight is due.

8. But, as pointed out by this Board in Ramalakshmi Ammal v. Sivanantha Perumal Sethurayar (1872) 14 M. I.A. 570 'It is of the essence of special usages modifying the ordinary law of succession that they should be ancient and invariable : and it is further essential that they should be established to be so by clear and unambiguous evidence. It is only by means of such evidence that the Courts can be assured of their existence, and that they possess the conditions of antiquity and certainty on which alone their legal title to recognition depends.

9. It is therefore necessary to define what is the custom, and then examine the evidence to see if it satisfies the conditions so laid down. It is urged against theappellant that he alleged thecustom on which his case depends in throe different forms: first, in theplaint filed on the 12th July, 1907, in which he asserted his rights as arising from current and immemorial custom of the dynasty of the parties; secondly, in an affidavit sworn by him on the10th July, 1907, where he said that thecustom was ' that a woman after her marriage loses all interest and right of inheritance in the property loft by her relations (on the father's side)'; and finally in the plaint in the present proceedings, where the custom is assorted in these terms : ' But according to the custom regulating the inheritance by females in the family of the parties and amongst the respectable Baloochis and Sardars, which is ancient and which is invariable, and has been acted upon from time immemorial, and which has obtained amongst Sunnis or Shias alike, a woman is entitled to her proper dowry according to the rank or status of the family, and she has no other rights of inheritance to theproperty of her paternal relations.

10. There certainly is a marked difference between these different customs, but their Lordships are not prepared to give this fact such weight as to crush the appellant's case, and they will assume that the custom upon which he relies is a custom by which, in the event of intestacy, daughters of the deceased are excluded in favour of their brothers, and sisters in favour of male paternal collaterals, and the question is, was such a custom proved ?

11. A very large number of witnesses were called in its support, and a number of instances, amounting to sixty-one in all, were given as evidence of its operation. This evidence has been the subject of the most painstaking and careful analysis by both the Courts, and has again been carefully considered by their Lordships with the assistance of the criticisms made both in the District Court and in theCourt of Appeal. Upon the whole their Lordships think that this evidence fails to satisfy the necessary standard of proof and that upon this point the judgment of the High Court must be accepted. Their Lordships do not propose to examine again in detail each one of the instances mentioned, for there are one or two general observations which are, in their opinion, sufficient.

12. The custom alleged, in its form most limited and best suited to theplaintiff's case, is a custom confiued to theTalpur Mirs, the descendants of one Kaku Khan. These descendants are now represented by eight different families, viz. : Sorabanis, Rustomanis, Bijranis, Shahdanis, Mahomedanis, Shahwanis, Jamanis, and Manikanis, of which the deceased belonged to the Shahdanis. Relevant and material instances are to be extracts ed from the descent of these families. The attempt to extend the custom to the ' respectable Balochis and Sardars' broke down, and it would in their Lordships' opinion, under any circumstance, have been unsafe to assume a custom applicable to a group of people so vaguely defined as those covered by the definition of 'respectable Balochis and Sadars.' Dealing, therefore, with the Talpur Mirs alone, their Lordships think the evidence is subject to the following comments :-

13. In the first place, many of the instances relate to descendants of a ruling family and depend upon the eldest son inheriting to the exclusion of his brothers and sisters. Although it is true that the sisters are excluded, yet it is plain that we have not in these cases reached the custom on which the plaintiff relies, because in a ruling family an over-riding custom has excluded all males as well as females in favour of the eldest male. Nine further cases relate to instances where the excluded daughters were unmarried and living with their brothers. These instances cannot be confidently relied upon. The position and relationship of the different members of the family must always be considered in determining whether claims are not met because the rights to which they relate do not exist or whether they are put on one side because, in the circumstances, there is no need that they should be asserted. This is pointed out in the case of Mirabivi v. Vellayanna I.L.R. (1885) Mad. 401, by Chief Justice Turner and Mr. Justice Hutchins. It is there stated at p. 465 :-

It must be admitted that instances have been adduced in which the claims of daughters and sisters to a share have been ignored, or they have been allotted maintenance, though the cases mentioned by the Judge of a partition in the father's lifetime are not inconsistent with Mahomedan law. There are also case3 in which married daughters have been treated as estranged from the family. But instances of this kind will be found to occur where there is no doubt that the family is governed by pure Muhammadan law. Indeed, in many parts of the country it is unusual for Muhammadan ladies to insist on their unquestioned rights. They will often prefer being maintained by their brothers to taking a separate share for themselves, and when they are married, the marriage expenses and presents are often, by express or implied agreement, taken as equivalent to the share which they could claim. Moreover, Muhammadan females are so much under the influence of their male relations, that the mere partition of theproperty among the males without reference to them cannot count for much.

14. And with this statement their Lordships are in entire agreement.

15. In certain other instances, and notably in 24, 35, and 45, there is no substantial evidence of property to be divided, and in the most recent cases of all, 52-60, there is only one witness who speaks in their support, although it is plain that there must have been others who could have spoken upon thematter, It ought not, of course, to be assumed that a custom fails because certain of the instances brought forward in its support may be referable to other causes than thecustom relied upon; nor again, because in certain respects some of the witnesses may be found untrustworthy.

16. But there is one outstanding circumstance in the present case which their Lordships think demands attention. Mir Rustom Khan is the admitted head of theRustomanis. he is a man of position and authority, and he says in plain terms that 'there is no such custom amongst our families by which daughtors and sisters are excluded from inheritance. They get their share of inherianoe according to Mahomedan law.

17. He is supported by other witnesses, of whom thelearned Trial Judge says that they are all witnesses of high position, and that there seems no special reason why they should combine to give falso evidence on behalf of the defendants, although he adds that Mir Rustom Khan was not on good terms with the plaintiff, and inclined to exaggerate his evidence. But the learned Judge declines to accept the view that these important witnesses are committing perjury, and the statement which he thinks shows a tendency to bias in favour of the defence is a statement which may well have been misunderstood. Mir Rustom Khan was speaking of the religion of the deceased, and stated that whenever a Sunni entered his house he had it washed three times. As the servants were Sunnis the learned Judge thinks that this is a clear improbability. It appears to their Lordships quite possible that Mir Rustom Khan was only referring to people of a similar social standing to the deceased, who, it is not unreasonable to assume, would not pay the same attention to the religion of his servants that he might to the religion of his friends. But however this may be , Rustom Khan can have been under no misapprehension upon the question of this custom. If he did not know of it it may be safo to say that it did not exist. If he did know of it he could not have denied the knowledge without deliberate untruth, which thero is no reason to impute to his evideuce.

18. There is, however, one instance in connection with his testimony which does need some further consideration. Mir Validad Khan, who was the paternal uncle of Rustom Khan, died leaving three sons and six daughters. Mir Rustom Khan was asked to determine how the estate should be divided among the three sons, and he made an award, effecting this division. It is suggested that if no such custom as that alleged existed he must have known that he was making an improper division of the property. Their Lordships do not think this is the only and necessary inference. He was never asked to determine the rights as between the brothers and the sisters, but merely how to divide the property among the brothers themselves, and it may well be that he assumed that arrangements had been made with the sisters which rendered it unnecessary for him to consider anything more than the actual point that he was called upon to determine. He also speaks to a matter, to which constant reference is made by the witnesses, and that is that the question of inheritance is decided in each family, either by a family council or by the head of the family. This is an extremely probable explanation of many of the instances in the present case, and if it be accepted it destroys the custom, because the division made according to the wishes of the members of a family council is certainly not the custom on which the plaintiff relies.

19. In every case of this kind the burden of proof lies heavily upon the plaintiff, and though his evidence may consist of a number of striking instances in support of his case, it receives a severe blow when prominent members of the families concerned deny that the custom exists.

20. There is also another piece of evidence which is of considerable value : this is to be found in the Revenue Records which relate to the descent of the property of Mir Ghulam Ali Khan, who died leaving three widows, one sister, two daughters, and a brother; one of these Records, dated October, 1903, shows a clear division according to the Mahommedan Law, and not according to any such custom as is alleged. There are no other Revenue Records produced, and it is said that the reason of their non-production is that they do not assist the defendants' case. But their Lordships think the omission is serious. The best evidence associated with any such custom as that alleged would be found in connection with the division of land, and these records would at least have established the fact that land was left, its extent and character, and would, were it the fact, make clear the point which the evidence leaves uncertain, that, in the division of this property, the women were excluded. The argument put forward by the defendant that, in many of the cited instances, the women said to have been excluded have been provided with dowries either in the lifetime of the owner of the estate, on the division of which they received no benefit, or after his death by a male relation, and that this was equivalent to and must be taken as a recognition of their right to share, is one to which their Lordships are unable to accede. It is quite possible that the husband of a wife who had been suitably dowered would not desire to claim rights of inheritance against those by whose generosity or at whose expense the dower had been provided, but this would not involve the conclusion that the right to share existed and had been satisfied by the dower.

21. Again, such an argument, though it might affect inheritance as between father and daughter, would not cover the present case, for, if a daughter had been dowered by her father, and this were treated as equivalent to an advancement of her share in his estate, this would not affect a claim like the present put forward by a woman to a share in her brother's estate by whom she had never been dowered at all.

22. The ground upon which their Lordships base their judgment does not include any such considerations; it is their opinion that, although there is much reason in history for the custom alleged, and some evidence by which it receives support, yet on the whole the evidence has fallen short of the standard to which it must attain in order to succeed in altering the devolution of property according to Mahomedan law to a devolution determined by a family custom, and they will accordingly humbly advise His Majesty that this appeal should be dismissed with costs.

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