The old law stated when a death occurs without any will or testament, the property was to be distributed as per the guidelines of the personal Law varying from one place to another as in vogue in India based on the customs and rites set by the respective religious scriptures and teachings. The region of Bengal including Orissa and Assam were under the Dayabhaga system, while rest of India was ruled by Mitakshara system.
The difference between how Bengal interpreted inheritance and how other states of India did came from the interpretation of who is a sapinda. Both schools concur on the principle that property should be inherited by the sapindas, but the definition of the word itself given by the schools is different. According to the Mitakshara system it means ‘one that has the same body’ which can be construed as a close relative who is a descendent of a common ancestor and should be the male members.
Jimutvahana, the founder of the Dayabhaga system interpreted “sapinda” as is any relative who can offer ‘pindas’ i.e. the balls of rice offered during the funeral of the deceased as per the custom. This includes women in the family as well, allowing them to freely inherit property. While the Mitakshara system founded by Vijnaneswara, following a rigid patriarchal system primarily in favour of the male descendents. Jaimini, the great scholar on Hindu jurisprudence referred in his texts stating that certain Vedic quotations explicitly provide for women owning and possessing and even alienating the wealth or the property.
The Dayabhaga Law protected the interests of widows whose right of inheritance to her deceased husband’s property when he leaves behind no male issue and died separated or United from the family. Under the Mitakshara system, the widow is entitled to inherit her deceased husband’s property only when he dies leaving behind no male heir and separated from his brothers.