The Supreme Court has allowed women fighting domestic violence cases the right to reside in the ‘shared household’ even if her husband had no legal right to the house and the same was owned by the father-in-law or mother-in-law.
A three-judge bench headed by justice Ashok Bhushan passed the landmark ruling while considering the petition of a septuagenarian couple from Delhi who filed a civil suit to dispossess their daughter-in-law even as the proceedings initiated by her under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, was ongoing.
The couple told the court that they wished to stay peacefully and could not tolerate the frequent fights between their son and daughter-in-law even as their divorce proceedings were pending. The father-in-law, SC Ahuja, obtained a decree from a Delhi trial court on April 8, 2019, dispossessing his daughter-in-law from the house as he claimed sole ownership of the property purchased in 1983, long before his son’s marriage in 1993.
The wife challenged the decree before the Delhi high court on the ground that the house was her “shared property” and under the domestic violence act, she had a right to reside at the same. She claimed that the property was acquired through joint family funds. By a judgment passed on December 18, 2019, the wife got the decree set aside as the HC sent the matter back to the trial court for fresh consideration. The HC said that the trial court could not be oblivious to the pending proceedings initiated by the wife under the 2005 act.
The Supreme Court had to decide whether Section 2(s) of the domestic violence act that defines “shared property”, includes property not belonging to the husband. According to the definition in the provision, “a shared household means a household where the person aggrieved lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship either singly or along with the respondent.”
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The bench, also comprising justices RS Reddy and MR Shah said, “The definition of shared household given in Section 2(s) cannot be read to mean that shared household can only be that household which is household of the joint family, of which husband is a member or in which husband of the aggrieved person has a share.” To this extent, they held the HC decision to be right.
In stating so, the court reversed the law held by a previous decision of the Supreme Court in December 2006 in SR Batra v Taruna Batra where on similar facts, a two-judge bench refused permission to the wife to continue staying in her husband’s house as it was owned by her mother-in-law. This was later followed by several HCs. The 3-judge bench held this part of the ruling wrong in law as it did not give full meaning to the 2005 act.
The bench was of the view that the 2005 act was meant to extend effective protection for victims of domestic violence and should be so interpreted.
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The court noted how domestic violence in this country is rampant yet underreported. “Several women encounter violence in some form or the other almost every day, however, it is the least reported form of cruel behaviour. A woman resigns her fate to the never ending cycle of enduring violence and discrimination as a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a partner or a single woman in her lifetime.” The bench noted how cases of domestic violence carry a social stigma against the wife as women are expected to be subservient. “This set of circumstances has ensured that a majority of women preferred to suffer in silence, not out of choice but out of compulsion,” the bench added.