SUPREME COURT REITERATES AND INTERPRETS VARIOUS PROVISIONS OF LAW IN CASE OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

The #SupremeCourt has in a recent case of Satish Chander Ahuja vs Sneha Ahuja  passed a Judgment dated 15-10-2020, where the Apex Court interpreted various provisions of #Protection of #Women from #DomesticViolence Act, 2005. 

In this case, the Appellant, Mr Satish Chander Ahuja had purchased a property in Delhi (Premises) and was residing with his wife, son and daughter-in-law at the said Premises. The Appellant and his wife resided at the Ground Floor and his son and daughter-in-law resided at the First Floor of the Premises. Later, the Appellant’s son shifted to the Ground Floor owing to certain marital discord with his wife. He then filed a Divorce Petition under Section 13 (1) (ia) and (iii) of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (the 1955 Act) on the ground that his wife, i.e. the Respondent herein, had treated him with cruelty.

Magistrate Proceedings

Pending this Application in the Trial Court, the Respondent filed an Application under Section 12 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (the 2005 Act) before the Hon’ble Chief Metropolitan Magistrate alleging that she has been subjected to immense emotional and mental abuse by her in-laws and husband. The Learned Magistrate passed an Interim Order dated 26-11-2016 directing the Respondent’s in-laws and her husband not to alienate the #sharedhousehold or #dispossess the Respondent from the Premises until further orders.

Trial Court Proceedings

Aggrieved by the said Order of the Magistrate, the Appellant (Father-in-Law) herein filed a Suit in the Trial Court against the Respondent (Daughter-in-Law) herein seeking removal of Respondent from their Premises so that they could lead a peaceful life. The Appellant further pleaded that the Respondent had filed false and frivolous cases against them only because his son had filed a Divorce Petition against the Respondent. In fact, the Appellant and his wife have been subjected to violence on many occasions in the hands of the Respondent. Another ground for challenging the Magistrate’s Order is that the Appellant being the Father-in-Law is not responsible to maintain the Respondent, i.e. his daughter-in-law during the lifetime of her husband. The Trial Court passed a Judgment dated 08-04-2019, whereby the Court directed the Respondent herein, i.e. the Daughter-in-Law to vacate the physical possession of the Premises so that there is no interference in the peaceful occupation of the Premises by the Appellant and his wife.

Delhi High Court Proceedings

Aggrieved by the Trial Court’s Judgment dated 08-04-2019, the Respondent herein filed an Appeal before the Delhi High Court, which set aside the Trial Court’s Orders and sent the matter back to the Trial Court for proper adjudication. The High Court observed that during the pendency of the domestic violence proceedings before the Magistrate, the Trial Court’s Order directing the Respondent to vacate the Premises, where she has allegedly been subjected to domestic violence, would cause serious prejudice to the Respondent.

The High Court further reiterated that persons affected by domestic violence should have a right to reside at the suit premises/shared household, irrespective of whether they are the owner or they have any right, title or interest in the suit premises/shared household, as long as they are able to prove that they have endured domestic violence while being in a domestic relationship with the owner of such premises. Alternately, the Respondent should be given an alternate accommodation during the subsistence of her matrimonial relationship, under Section 19 (1) (f) of the 2005 Act.

Supreme Court Proceedings

Thus, aggrieved by the Order of the Delhi High Court dated 18-12-2019, the Appellant (Father-in-Law) filed an Appeal before the Supreme Court against the Respondent (Daughter-in-Law).

The Apex Court made the following observations in this case:

1- That the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 was enacted to secure the rights of aggrieved persons living in a #domesticrelationship in a shared household. Domestic relationships may mean to include such cases where a widow is living with her mother-in-law in a premises owned by the mother-in-law, or where an orphaned-sister is living in her brother’s house, or where a widowed-mother is living at her son’s house, etc. ‘Domestic relationship’ has been defined under Section 2 (f) of the 2005 Act as follows:

“domestic relationship” means a relationship between two persons who live or have, at any point of time, lived together in a shared household, when they are related by consanguinity, marriage, or through a relationship in the nature of marriage, adoption or are family members living together as a joint family.

2- Thus, in the aforesaid instance, if the widowed-mother living in a domestic relationship with her son in a shared household is threatened of dispossession from the premises, then she can secure reliefs under the 2005 Act, irrespective of whether the son is the owner of the premises or not.

3- That in the present case, the owner of the Premises is the Appellant (Father-in-Law) alone as per the Deed dated 12-01-1983. Although the Respondent (Daughter-in-Law) or her husband did not have a share or interest in the said Premises, it was the matrimonial home of the Respondent where she had been residing in the First Floor since her marriage for a considerable period of time. Hence, the Premises have to be considered as a ‘shared household’ under Section 2 (s) of the 2005 Act. Section 2 (s) of the 2005 Act has been reproduced below:

“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 and includes such a house hold whether owned or tenanted either jointly by the aggrieved person and the respondent, or owned or tenanted by either of them in respect of which either the aggrieved person or the respondent or both jointly or singly have any right, title, interest or equity and includes such a household which may belong to the joint family of which the respondent is a member, irrespective of whether the respondent or the aggrieved person has any right, title or interest in the shared household.

4- Further, as the Appellant’s son and the Respondent (Daughter-in-Law) were living in a domestic relationship in a shared household at the Premises, therefore, the claim of the Respondent herein that she has a right to reside in the said Premises, ought to have been considered and adjudicated upon by the Trial Court.

Thus, based on the aforesaid grounds, the Apex Court upheld the Order of the High Court and remanded the matter to the Trial Court for fresh adjudication of claims and for leading of evidence.

Harini Daliparthy

Senior Legal Associate

The Indian Lawyer

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