A division bench of the Kerala High Court, presided by Justice V Chithambaresh and Justice K Ramakrishnan, on Wednesday ruled that a person cannot be denied his/her property rights on the mere fact of being a priest or nun.
“There is absolutely no statutory prohibition for a Christian priest or nun in the matter of intestate or testamentary succession of property of course in his/her personal capacity”
The court further held that such a person cannot be automatically deprived of their property rights acquired either by way of intestate or testamentary succession, due to the mere factum of joining a religious order and having renounced worldly pleasures.
In the instant case, the defendant inherited certain property from his parents by way of a joint will.
He subsequently joined the vocation of becoming a priest. The plaintiffs, who were his deceased brother’s children, filed a suit for partition for the aforementioned property, claiming to eschew his share for the factum of the defendant being a priest. The lower court allowed the suit permitting partition. Aggrieved by the same, the defendant appealed before the high court.
Repelling the challenges made by the plaintiffs, the court held that a priest or nun cannot lose their rights of inheritance in whatsoever manner, as the above are conserved and protected by virtue of operation of the provisions of the Indian Succession Act, 1925.
The court held that though such a person would severe relations and renounce worldly pleasures on being a nun or priest, the same cannot amount to civil death as per the Indian Succession Act. The court also added that such persons in the above circumstances cannot be deprived to enjoy the property gained either by testamentary or intestate succession.
It was also opined that the denial of any such rights of these persons would amount to violation of constitutional right to property enshrined under Article 300 A of the Constitution of India, 1950.The court, taking cue from Mary Roy’s case, declared three previous high court judgments which had taken a contrary view as not good in law and binding.
Justice V Chithambaresh, who authored the judgment, gave the court’s judicial analysis as follows: “To hold that one would suffer a 'civil death' and be deprived of his property on entering into the Holy Order would be a naked infringement of Article 300-A of the Constitution of India. Of course, it is the volition of a Hindu ascetic or a Christian priest to relinquish his right over his personal property in favour of a Mutt or Monastery in a manner known to law. But there cannot be any automatic deprivation of property acquired by way of intestate or testamentary succession by the mere fact that one has entered into the religious order and renounced his worldly pleasures.”
The court, thereafter, allowed the appeal and granted partition as sought by the defendant, passing a preliminary decree in this regard.
Read the Judgment here.