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Musammat Subhani Vs. Nawab - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectFamily;Property
CourtMumbai
Decided On
Judge
Reported in(1941)43BOMLR432
AppellantMusammat Subhani
RespondentNawab
DispositionAppeal allowed
Excerpt:
.....clearly laid down in wilson's manual of customary law. , uncles or nephews), and, even as regards ancestral property, it is now well settled that, more usually, the fifth degree is found to be the remotest customary limit. (5) it is remarkable that in answer 16 as recorded in the english version of the riwaj-i-am, no limit is mentioned within which the kindred must stand towards the deceased in order to exclude his daughters, though the question clearly contemplated enquiry into this point. but none of these considerations appear to have been kept in view by the learned judges of the high court in this case, who, in arriving at their decision, have not only ignored ( as will be shown below) the entire body of evidence adduced in the suit, but also a long course of judicial decisions of..........and that the plaintiffs had no locus, standi to sue, because daughters succeeded to the non-ancestral property as against collaterals,' especially when the plaintiffs are collaterals of the tenth degree.2. the subordinate judge who tried the suit dismissed it, holding that the plaintiffs were sahlion's collaterals of the tenth degree, that the lands in the suit were not ancestral and that, according to the general rule of custom prevailing among the mahomedan tribes of the district of shahpur which applied to the parties, the daughters were not ousted by the plaintiffs with regard) to succession to the non-ancestral property of their father. in arriving at his decision, the learned judge relied on the oral and documentary evidence adduced by the parties and upon certain rulings of.....
Judgment:

M.R. Jayakar, J.

1. The question in this appeal is whether, under the customary law applicable to the members of the Tulla clan resident at mauza Mahamad Tulla in the tahsil and district of Shahpur in the Punjab, collaterals of the tenth degree of a deceased landowner can take precedence over his married daughters in succession to his non-ancestral estate. The question arose as follows:--

One Sahlion, a Mahomedan landowner of the Tulla clan, resident as stated above, died, leaving him surviving a widow) and two married daughters (appellants before the Board) and some immoveable property. The widow subsequently gave the property to the daughters by a registered deed of gift dated September 8, 1934. The respondents, claiming to be his collaterals, instituted a suit against the widow (defendant No. 1) and the daughters (defendants Nos. 2 and 3) asserting that Sahlion's property WAS ancestral as regards the plaintiffs and that the widow had no right to make the gift, which should be declared void and ineffectual as against the plaintiff's rights and invalid after the death or re-marriage of the widow. The widow and daughters denied the claim on, the ground that the property was not ancestral and that the plaintiffs had no locus, standi to sue, because daughters succeeded to the non-ancestral property as against collaterals,' especially when the plaintiffs are collaterals of the tenth degree.

2. The Subordinate Judge who tried the suit dismissed it, holding that the plaintiffs were Sahlion's collaterals of the tenth degree, that the lands in the suit were not ancestral and that, according to the general rule of custom prevailing among the Mahomedan tribes of the district of Shahpur which applied to the parties, the daughters were not ousted by the plaintiffs with regard) to succession to the non-ancestral property of their father. In arriving at his decision, the learned Judge relied on the oral and documentary evidence adduced by the parties and upon certain rulings of the Punjab Courts.

3. The plaintiffs appealed to the High Court at Lahore and that Court, in a judgment remarkable for its brevity, allowed the appeal. The material part of the High Court judgment begins with the statement 'that it is common' ground that under the customary law which governs all the Musal-man tribes of the Shahpur district, married daughters do not inherit their father's estate in any circumstances.' Their Lordships have a difficulty in understanding; this statement, because the question stated by the High Court as the 'common ground' was precisely the issue in controversy in the case. The judgment bears, in several places, indications that the High Court, instead of examining the disputed question on the facts and the evidence in the case carefully considered in the Subordinate Judge's judgement, proceeded entirely on the authority of the questions and answers contained in) a Manual compiled by Mr. (afterwards Sir) James Wilson, called a 'General Code of the Tribal Customs in the Shahpur District of the Punjab,' published in 1896. (It may be convenient to refer hereafter to this publication as Wilson's Manual.) Basing their views on certain questions and answers in Wilson's Manual the learned Judges of the High Court held that there was a presumption against inheritance by the daughters and that this presumption had not been rebutted. They therefore allowed the appeal. The judgment contains no detailed criticism of the oral and documentary evidence of custom adduced by the parties, all of which was ignored with the brief observation that in a full bench decision of the Lahore High Court (Bahadur v. Mst. Nihdi Kaur (1937) I.L.R. 18 Lah. 594 it had been stated that: 'recent judicial decisions are not sufficient to abrogate the custom so clearly laid down in Wilson's Manual of Customary Law.' Their Lordships have consequently derived less assistance than they would have expected from the High Court judgment in elucidating the important question in controversy in this appeal.

4. Before examining the value to be attached to the statements in Wilson's Manual, and the effect of the full bench decision, it will be useful to state what the true legal position of the parties was as it emerged from the pleadings. The basis of the plaintiff's claim was that the property in, suit was ancestral so far as their rights were concerned. This was denied by the defendants. The onus was therefore on the plaintiffs to prow, that the property was ancestral. The Subordinate Judge held that the onus had not been discharged. The learned Judges of the High Court did not consider this question, as the statements in Wilson's Manual on which they relied made no distinction between ancestral and non-ancestral property, and stated generally that married daughters 'in no case' inherited their father's estate or 'any share in it.' Before this Board, the respondents did not appear in support of the High Court judgment. Their Lordships have therefore to decide the question on the evidence which is available in this case, and, on reviewing it, they agree with the finding of the Subordinate Judge that the land was not proved to be ancestral. In more than one decision of the Lahore High Court (see, for instance, Chanda Singh v. Mst. Banto (1927) I.L.R. 8 Lah. 584 and Rahmat Ali Khan v. Mst. Sadiq-ul-Nisa (1931) I.L.R. 13 Lah.404 it has been laid down that to establish the ancestral character of land it is not sufficient to show that the name of the common ancestor from whom the parties are descended was mentioned in the revenue pedigree. It should also be proved that the descendants' of that common ancestor held the land in ancestral shares and that the land occupied, at the time of the dispute, by the proprietors thereof had devolved upon them by inheritance. It is now settled law in the Punjab that the mere mention of the name of a person in the pedigree table as the common ancestor is no proof of the fact that every piece of land held by his descendants (howsoever low) was originally held by and descended from him in succession from generation to generation. As is explained by Tek Chand J. in Chanda Singh v. Mst. Banto I.L.R. (1927) Lah. 584 'a genealogical tree of this kind is prepared merely to indicate the relationship of the proprietors in a particular village1 and is in no sense intended to be a record of the acquisition of every bit of land held by all persons whose names appear in it. It is no doubt presumptive proof of their kinship, but not of the nature of the property owned by them. For that purpose one has to look to the history of the acquisition of the village.' The extracts from the settlement records relating to the land in dispute, which are a part of the evidence in this case, justify the finding of the Subordinate Judge.

5. Before examining the questions and answers in Wilson's Manual, it will be useful to ascertain the customary rights of daughters against collaterals with reference to ancestral and non-ancestral land as they are stated in Sir W.H. Rattigan's Digest (of Civil law for the Punjab, chiefly based on customary law, 1935 edition), a book of unquestioned authority in the Punjab. In paragraph 23 (p. 79) it is stated that (1) a daughter only succeeds to the ancestral landed property of her father, if an agriculturist, in default (a) of heirs mentioned in the preceding paragraph (viz., male lineal descendants, a widow or mother), or (b) of near male collaterals, provided that a married daughter sometimes excludes near male relatives, especially amongst Mahomedan tribes, under circumstances specified in the: paragraph (not material to the present issue); (2) but in regard to the acquired property of her father the daughter is preferred to collaterals. It is further stated (p. 92) 'that the general custom of the province (the Punjab) is that a daughter excludes collaterals in succession to self-acquired property of her father,' and 'the initial onus therefore is on the collaterals to show that the general custom in favour of the daughter's, succession to the self-acquired property of her father has been varied by a special custom excluding the daughters.' This being the legal position of the parties, the question arises whether, the property being non-ancestral, the plaintiffs have discharged the onus by proving the existence of a special custom excluding daughters. They endeavoured to do this in two ways, (1) by relying on the authority of Wilson's Manual, and (2) by producing oral evidence at the trial.

6. As the questions and answers in Wilson's Manual formed the main basis of the High Court judgment, it is necessary to examine in detail their value and effect. [After examining the questions and answers the judgment proceeded:]

On a careful examination of the relevant questions and answers in Wilson's Manual, a few considerations arise in liming which cannot be ignored:--

(1) That some of the answers are in conflict with the customs recorded in Rattigan's Digest, notably what is stated in that Digest as the general custom of the province that daughters exclude collaterals with respect to self-acquired property of their father.

(2) It cannot be disputed that, in his lifetime, a Mahomedan proprietor (as, for instance, an Awan in the Shahpur district) possesses unlimited power to give away his property to his daughters and their isssue. This, is clear from Wilson's Manual, p. 71, where' it is recorded: 'a father having no son or son's son, has full power to give the whole of his immovable property to his daughter, daughter's son, sister, sister's son, or son-in-law, or to one of his agnate heirs, without the consent of tha other agnates. No distinction is made between ancestral and acquired property.' Again, at p. 73, it is stated as regards Awans and miscellaneous Musalmans (Tullas are included in this category): 'a proprietor having no son or son's son, can, without the consent of the agnate heirs, make a gift of immovable property, ancestral or acquired, divided or not, to a person not related to him,' and an explanatory note is added that; 'among the Awans there is a general feeling that a sonless man is absolute owner of all his property, including his land, and can do with it as he likes, as his agnate heirs are generally his enemies' If this is the rule, it is difficult to understand why, on the death of such an absolute owner, his married daughters, whom he could have made the objects of his bounty at his will during his lifetime, should be superseded, even with regard to his self-acquired property, by collaterals, irrespective of the degree of remoteness in which they stood. Though Punjab Act II of 1920 ('an Act to restrict the power of descendants and collaterals to contest an alienation of immovable property . . . on the ground that such alienation . . . is contrary to custom') does not apply to alienations made by a female (as in the present case), Section 7 thereof throws light on the absolute right of the proprietor to give away his non-ancestral property. The section applies to the whole of the Punjab, and provides that 'no person shall contest any alienation of non-ancestral immovable property.. .on the ground that such alienantion . . . is contrary to custom.'

(3) In answer 17 in Wilson's Manual no distinction is made between ancestral and non-ancestral or between movable and immovable property, and the rule is stated as a wide generalisation (in answer 16) with reference to 'all Musalmans' that a married daughter 'in no case' inherits her father's estate or 'any share in it.' This answer is in conflict with numerous decisions of the Punjab Courts (some of them are noticed in a subsequent part of this judgment) which have laid down in clear terms that, in the earlier records of customs throughout the Punjab, rules stated in such wide and general terms must be taken to govern ancestral property only.

(4) In the province as a whole, numerous decisions of the Punjab Courts show that daughters generally succeed to the self-acquired property of their father, even to the exclusion of the nearest agnatic relations (as, e.g., uncles or nephews), and, even as regards ancestral property, it is now well settled that, more usually, the fifth degree is found to be the remotest customary limit. (See Rattigan's Digest, paragraph 23, clause (i), sub-clause (2), and authorities quoted at p. 84 and following). This general rule, prevalent in the entire province, appears to have found expression in Section 6 of the Punjab Act II of 1920,, which lays down the fifth degree as the limit of collateral relationship able to contest an alienation of ancestral immovable property, on the ground that it is contrary to custom.

(5) It is remarkable that in answer 16 as recorded in the English version of the riwaj-i-am, no limit is mentioned within which the kindred must stand towards the deceased in order to exclude his daughters, though the question clearly contemplated enquiry into this point. It is not possible to say whether the omission to answer this part of the question was due to the fact that-the point was lost sight of in the investigation or whether the answer was really intended to lay down that custom permitted collaterals, however remote (even of the tenth, fifteenth, or remoter degrees), to exclude daughters. Tek Chand J., in the course of an examination of answer 16 in Khun Beg v. Mst. Fateh Khatun I.L.R. (1931) Lah. 276 had occasion to consult the vernacular version of the riwaz-i-am. He came to the conclusion that, though the last part of the question was not specifically answered, it was clear from certain expressions--Chacha (father's younger brother) and Taya (father's elder brother) used in the corresponding vernacular answer, that it was not intended to lay down that collaterals of remote degrees should be preferred to daughters.

7. This case of Khan Beg v. Mst. Fateh Khatun (their Lordships have derived considerable assistance from Tek Chand J.'s judgment) deserves to be examined carefully as it related to the Shahpur district and the dispute was also very similar to the one in the present case. [After discussing this and other cases the judgment proceeded:]

8.Their Lordships have thought it desirable to refer, in some detail, to these observations of the Judges of the Punjab Court, because they held eminent positions and some of them had experience of the preparation of official codes of tribal custom. But none of these considerations appear to have been kept in view by the learned Judges of the High Court in this case, who, in arriving at their decision, have not only ignored ( as will be shown below) the entire body of evidence adduced in the suit, but also a long course of judicial decisions of their own province, extending over nearly thirty years, in which similar questions arose with reference to the tribes in the Shahpur and neighbouring districts and which were uniformly decided against the collaterals of much nearer degree than in the present suit, except in two cases of exceptional character where there was no rebutting evidence at all. (See J awaya Shah v. Mst. Fatima, and Gulab v. Umar Bibi A.I.R [1936] Lah. 403 As the question at issue affects large classes of the Muslim community, it is, in their Lordships' opinion, of sufficient importance to justify their briefly reviewing a few of these important decisions. [After reviewing the decisions the judgment proceeded:].

9. It now remains to consider the full bench case of Bahadur v. Mst. Nihat Kam I.L.R. (1937) Lah. 594, (differing judgments of Coldstream and Bhide JJ. and full bench decision of Young C.J., Monroe and Din Mohammad JJ.). As the High Court in the present case has treated this ruling as an authority for ignoring the previous judicial decisions, it is necessary to examine closely the facts and effect of this ruling. The case related to the Jats of Daska tahsil in Sialkot district. The contest was between a married daughter (plaintiff) and collaterals of the fourth degree (defendants). The land was non-ancestral. The trial Court decreed the suit, holding that the land being non-ancestral the custom favoured the daughter's preferential right. This decision was upheld on appeal by the District Judge. The collaterals appealed to the High Court, and that Court dismissed the suit. It is to be noted that neither party had proved any specific instances in the case, so there was no rebutting evidence against the presumption raised in falvour of the collaterals by the answers in the riwaj-i-am relating1' to the district. The only material question was whether previous decisions of the Lahore High] Court of a character contrary to the custom recorded in the riwaj-i-am would be sufficient evidence to rebut the presumption. None of the earlier decisions, for instance those cited above, nor even those relating to the Jats in the Sialkot district, were noticed in the full bench' judgment, which referred only to two previous decisions: one of 1922, which Young C.J. (who delivered the judgment of the full bench) thought was based on a wrong view of the law; and the other of 1928, which was held to be too recent to prove a custom. The riwaj-i-am relevant to the suit, which was noticed and commented on in some of the earlier decisions cited above, was clear so far ate it went, but its qualifications were not igiven effect to as was done in some of the earlier decisions. There was a difference of opinion between Coldstream J. and Bhide J., and on reference to the full bench, the reasoning adopted by the former Judge was virtually approved, but several vital considerations urged by Bhide J. in his differing judgment do not appear to have received adequate consideration in'the full'bench judgment.

10. If the full bench decision is intended to lay down the rule that a riwaj-i-am, being presumptive evidence, cannot be over-ridden by recent instances, either in the form of specific ca'ses proved at the trial or the decisions of the law Courts, their Lordships have little comment to make on it. The case cannot, however, be treated as an authority for the view that judicial decisions, even if they are not of recent date, cannot be treated as evidence against the statements in the riwaj-i-am. A judicial decision, though of comparatively recent date, may contain, on its records, evidence of specific instances, which are of sufficient antiquity to be of value in rebutting the presumption. In such a case, the value of the decision arises from the fact not that it is relevant under Ss. 13 and 42 of the Indian Evidence Act as-forming in itself a) 'transaction by which the custom in question was recognised, etc., etc.,' but that it contains, on its records, a number of specific instances relating to the relevant custom. To ignore such judicial decisions merely on the basis of the riwaj-i-am would add greatly to the perplexities and difficulties of proving a custom.

11. Their Lordships are not convinced that Young C.J.'s reference to the English rule, stated in Blackstone's Commentaries, that 'a custom, in order that it may be legal and binding, must have been used so long that the memory of man runneth not to the contrary' was either apposite or useful, when applied to Indian conditions. It is undoubted that a custom observed in a particular district derives its force from the fact that it has, from long usage, obtained in that district the force of law. It must be ancient; but it is not of the essence of this rule that its antiquity must in every case be carried back to a period beyond the memory of man--still less that it is ancient in the English technical sense. It will depend upon the circumstances of each case what antiquity must be established before the custom can be accepted. What is necessary to be proved is that the usage has been acted upon in practice for such a long period and with such invariability as to show that it has, by common consent, been submitted to as the established governing rule of the particular district. Having regard to the circumstances under which local customs have arisen and do arise in India, both with reference to Muslims and Hindus, and the ease and frequency with which people migrate from one district or province to another, it would, in their Lordships' opinion, create great perplexity in the already uncertain character of customary law to require that, in every case, the antiquity of a custom must be carried back to a period which is beyond the memory of man. Insistence upon such proof would also involve a complete ignoring of the caution, which was uttered in a judgment of this Board in the case of Abdul Hussein Khan v. Bibi Sona Dero (1917) L.R. 45 IndAp 10 where their Lordships adverted to the difficulty of applying 'the strict rules that govern the establishment of custom in this country to circumstances which find no analogy here.' Likewise, their Lordships do not find themselves in agreement with the view of the full bench that the effect of the statements in the riwaj-i-am was not weakened by the fact that women had no opportunity of being consulted by the officer compiling the customary law or by the fact that the custom recorded was not in conformity with the general customary law. The presumption enjoyed by the riwaj-i-am was, in their Lordships' opinion, weakened to the extent of both these considerations, though the degree of the weakening would depend upon the facts of each case. Their Lordships prefer, in this behalf, the observations of the Punjab Judges, cited in a previous part of this judgment, which are of a contrary character.

12. Whatever value the full bench decision might have with reference to the customs of the Sialkot district, the High Court in the present case was in error in accepting it as an authority for excluding from consideration the several instances, both judicial and otherwise, which were proved in this case with reference to the customs of the Shahpur district. By no straining of language could these decisions be described as recent. They commence from 1905-6 and range over a period of nearly thirty years. In, many of these decisions the claimants in the position of the daughters proved specific instances of their superseding collaterals of varying degrees of remoteness, sometimes even nephews, with reference to non-ancestral property. The case of Gulab v. Umar Bibi,1 on which the full bench judgment relied, was, as shown above, of an exceptional character and could hardly be regarded as indicating any rule of custom of general application as against numerous instances of a, contrary character. Besides, both parties had led, in the present case, evidence of specific instances which had received careful consideration in the judgment of the Subordinate Judge. The High Court virtually ignored all this evidence on the basis of the full bench judgment. Their Lordships have examined this evidence and they agree with the view of the Subordinate Judge that the evidence produced by the daughters was of a more convincing character.

13. For the reasons indicated in this judgment, their Lordships are of opinion that the true legal position was that, the property being non-ancestral, the initial onus lay on the plaintiffs to prove that the general custom in favour of the daughters' succession had been varied by a special custom enabling the plaintiffs to exclude the daughters and that the plaintiffs have not discharged this onus. Their Lordships would add that even if it be held that the answers in Wilson's Manual raised an initial presumption against the daughters, having regard to the considerations mentioned in this judgment it was a weak presumption, which has been sufficiently discharged by the evidence adduced in the case.

14. Their Lordships will accordingly humbly advise His Majesty that the appeal be allowed, that the decree of the High Court be reversed and that of the Subordinate Judge restored. The respondents will pay the appellants' costs in the High Court and before this Board.


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