majority in Hindu law

Donald R. Davis, Jr. drdavis at WISC.EDU
Thu Apr 9 21:22:28 UTC 2009


As always, Ludo Rocher has an article on this issue, "The Status of 
Minors according to Classical Hindu Law," Recueils de la Societe Jean 
Bodin 35 (L'Enfant) (1975) 377-393.  So far as I know, the standard age 
for majority is sixteen, as attested in several texts.  Before that, the 
term used is baala; after sixteen one becomes vyavahaarajna (or some 
synonym).  The main legal issue, of course, is the capacity to make 
valid contracts, but minority also comes with restricted criminal 
liability and additional protections for the minors' property and person. 

Independence of the son in terms of residence or occupation is, to my 
knowledge, not a big issue for the Dharmasastra.  All bets are off when 
it comes to law in practice, however, as you suggest.  The ways in which 
regionalized communities accepted or rejected partitions of joint family 
property was staggeringly diverse.  Our knowledge of this diversity, as 
in so many areas of Indian law, is almost all recent and observed during 


Don Davis
Dept of Languages & Cultures of Asia
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Allen W Thrasher wrote:
> George Cardona's citation of Patanjali on addressing a son who is independent of his father raises a question I was already meaning to raise here.
> "Patanjali remarks that someone whose father is still alive but is independent is addressed using a gotra term; such an offspring bears the technical name 'gotra' out of scorn, as when one addresses one who should be called (using a yuvan term) is addressed as gargya."
> I was meaning to get Kane from the stacks and check him first, but chance has brought it up.  Is there such a thing as an age of majority in Hindu law, an age at which a son may make decisions independent of his father?  I can't think of any such thing in law or narratives.  In the stories the sons who form romantic marriages usually have fathers already dead, unless they're sent off to a svayamvara like Rama.  May a son with a living father decide his own residence or occupation, or contract an otherwise suitable marriage if he is a long distance from his father?
> Of course, some modern regional property regimes allow a son to request (or demand?) his share of the family property from a living father.
> Gunther-Dietz Sontheimer's observation in "The joint Hindu family" that Hindu law has two principles in tension - the subordination of the son to the father and the identity of the son to the father - may be pertinent here.  The subjection of adult sons doesn't seem to have worked out to be as drastic as in Roman law.  I read an article on Punjab land law once that said that when a decision about land is to be made, all potential male shareholders are consulted, not only adults and youths but boys of seven and up, although the latter's opinion won't be considered a quasi-vote like that of the older males.
> Allen
> Allen W. Thrasher, Ph.D.
> Senior Reference Librarian
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