Pious' means 'godly, religious, devout, reverential. 'Pious obligation' means duty of a Hindu due to deep devotion to religion. Hindu law states that 'He who having received a sum lent or the like does not repay it to the owner will be born hereafter in his creditors house a slave, a servant or a woman or a quadruped '. As per Hindu scriptures, it is the holy duty of a son to pay off or discharge his father's debts. The religious obligation is attached to the son as well as grandson and to the great grandson also, on the ground that all the three are coparceners with others by their birth.
It is said that non-payment of debts is a sin and also a crime. Any person, who died leaving the debts behind cannot go to heaven. The 'putra' i.e. the son, son's son and son's son's son by repaying/clearing off such debts, discharges his parted father/ancestor from the indebtedness and enables/facilitates him to reach the heaven. This duty or obligation of a son to repay the debts of the deceased father ( parted ancestor ) is rested upon a special doctrine, known as "The Doctrine of Pious Obligation" - However, this obligation extends to non-avyavaharika (or vyavaharika) debts only. Avyavaharika debt is one, which is taken for illegal or immoral purpose. Eg :- Gambling, Races etc.
The Supreme Court in - Anthony Swamy V. M.R. Chinaswamy koundan (AIR 1970 SC 223), the doctrine of Pious Obligation is not merely a religious doctrine but has passed into the realm of law. The doctrine is a necessary and logical corollary to the doctrine of the right of the son by birth to a share of the ancestral property and both these conceptions are correlated. The liability on the son to pay the debt of his father is not a gratuitous Obligation thrust on him by Hindu law but is a salutary counter balance to the principal that the son from the moment of his birth acquires along with his father an interest in the joint family property. The doctrine is in consonance with justice, equity and good conscience.
Again in Venkatesh Dhonddev Deshpande V. Son, Kusum dattatraya Kulkarini (AIR 1978 SC 1791), the court observed that where the father as karta contracted the debts for family purposes, the son's as members of the family are bound to pay the debts to the extent of their interests in the coparcenary property,
Under Old Law, the doctrine (Obligation to discharge the debts) arises after the death (of the father). But, according to the modern doctrine (new law) the Obligation arises even during the life time of the father (Brij vs. Mangal prasad, 46, all. 951 (PC). Further, under the old law, the son had an obligation to pay the debts with interest. The grandson was liable for the principal amount only (i.e. without interest). The great grandson was not liable, unless he had received the property from the ancestor. But according to the modern doctrine/law all i.e. son, son's son and son's son's son are liable to pay the debts with interest.
When the father being the karta/Manager of a Hindu joint family contracts a loan for legal necessary, the loan is binding on all the members of the joint family. If he incurs debts, for his personal purpose, he is personally liable. To clear off such debts, he may have to alienate his personal property or his son's property. In son's property is alienated, his son should not question him.