Question: Explain the Application of Doctrine of 'Relation Back' Under Hindu Law.


Note: this post is a part of our important question answer series on Family Law. You can read other questions by clicking here.



The Doctrine of Relation Back is a legal principle in Hindu law that creates a retroactive effect for certain actions. It essentially states that an act, typically adoption, carried out at a later date is considered to have occurred at an earlier point in time. This creates a legal fiction, granting the adopted individual specific rights and obligations as if they were in place before the actual adoption.


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Traditional Approach

Under old Hindu Law, if a Hindu widow adopted a son after the death of her husband , the adoption was deemed to have occurred on the date of the husband's demise. This meant that the adopted son:

1. Inherited rights in the deceased husband's property as if he were a natural son born before the death.

2. Could participate in the partition and inheritance of the property.

The doctrine was based on the idea of maintaining the continuity of the adoptive father's lineage, even though it contradicted the principle that once property rights are vested, they cannot be divested.

However, the rule had two exceptions:

1. That any lawful alienation effected by a female heir since the death at the adoptive father and before the date of adoption was binding on the adopted son.

2. That if the property by inheritance went to a collateral, the adoption could not divest the property which was vested in the heir of the collateral.

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Modern Approach

With the enactment of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, the Doctrine of Relation Back was abolished. Now, in accordance with third proviso to section 12 of HAMA, the adopted child acquires the status of a son/daughter solely from the date of the adoption, eliminating the retrospective effect.

While the Doctrine of Relation Back no longer applies in its original form, it still has some residual significance. An adopted child, through the adoption process, establishes a legal relationship with the deceased husband of the widow, and the deceased husband thereby becomes the adoptive father of the child.

Confuse which book to refer for Hindu Law? Here’s the answer.


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