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The Enduring Dependence : A Look at Domicile Rights for Women in India

Mar. 19, 2024   •   Taniya Mahanti

Student's Pen  

A Relic of the Past: The Indian Succession Act and Section 16

The Indian Succession Act, 1925 (ISA) governs matters of inheritance. Section 16 of the Act dictates that "a wife's domicile during her marriage follows the domicile of her husband" [3]. This provision essentially erases a married woman's independent identity for legal purposes, assuming she automatically acquires her husband's domicile upon marriage. The only exceptions are if the couple is legally separated by a court order or if the husband is undergoing a severe sentence [3].

This concept stems from the archaic common law doctrine of "unity of domicile," where the husband's domicile was deemed the family domicile. This doctrine, however, has been abolished in many countries, including Australia, Canada, and New Zealand [4].

Arguments for an Independent Domicile

The continued existence of Section 16 raises concerns about a woman's agency and equality within marriage. Here are some key arguments for granting women independent domiciliary rights:

  • Gender Equality: Tying a woman's domicile to her husband's undermines her individuality and reinforces the notion of the husband as the head of the household. It contradicts the principles enshrined in the Constitution of India, which guarantees equality before the law and equal protection (Articles 14 and 15) [5].
  • Practical Challenges: In today's globalized world, couples often live in different states or even countries due to work or educational opportunities. Section 16 creates practical difficulties for women in such situations. Inheritance rights, tax implications, and access to legal recourse can become complicated if a woman's legal home is automatically linked to her husband's location, which may not reflect her own life and circumstances.
  • Protection from Abuse: In cases of marital discord, a woman seeking separation or divorce may be disadvantaged if her domicile is tied to her husband's. This could make it difficult for her to access legal aid or claim inheritance rights in her own state.

Calls for Reform and the Path Forward

The Law Commission of India, a body tasked with legal reforms, has acknowledged the need to amend Section 16. In its 246th report published in 2011, the commission recommended abolishing the provision and granting married women the right to an independent domicile [6].

Despite the commission's recommendations, legislative progress has been slow. Advocacy groups and legal scholars continue to urge reform, emphasizing the importance of recognizing a woman's independent legal identity.

Moving Forward -

Recognising the need for change, there are several ways to move forward. Amending the Indian Succession Act to abolish the dependent domicile clause is a critical first step. This would grant women the right to establish their own domicile, independent of their husbands. Courts can also play a vital role by interpreting existing laws through a gender-sensitive lens. Finally, raising awareness about this issue among the public and legal professionals is essential to fostering a more informed discussion and garnering support for reform. By taking these steps, India can work towards a legal system that respects women's autonomy and creates a more equitable society.

Conclusion: Towards a More Equitable Future

The current legal framework regarding a woman's domicile in India perpetuates an outdated patriarchal notion. Granting women the right to an independent domicile is a crucial step towards achieving true gender equality. It would empower women to navigate legal and financial matters with greater autonomy and provide them with the necessary resources to build independent lives. As India strives for a more progressive and inclusive society, reforming Section 16 is a necessary step towards a future where women have equal footing in both their personal and legal lives.


[1] The Indian Succession Act, 1925, Section 16 [available at:] (accessed March 19, 2024). [2] P.M. Bakshi, The Conflict of Laws in India (Oxford University Press, 2010). [3] AdvocateKhoj, "Marriage | The Indian Succession Act, 1925 | Law Commission of India Reports" [available at:] (accessed March 19, 2024). [4] Ibid. [5] The Constitution of India, Articles 14 and 15 [available at:]] (accessed March 19, 2024). [6] Law Commission of India, 246th Report on The Domicile of Married Women and Children (2011).

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