Sathish Chander Ahuja V. Sneha Ahuja

By – Aparajita Patel

In The Supreme Court of India

NAME OF THE CASESatish Chander Ahuja vs Sneha Ahuja
CITATIONSC Civil Appeal No. 2483 Of 2020
DATE OF THE CASE15 October 2020
APPELLANTSatish Chander Ahuja
RESPONDENTSneha Ahuja
BENCH/ JUDGEAshok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy, M.R. Shah
STATUTES/ CONSTITUTION INVOLVEDDomestic Violence Act, 2005,  Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 
IMPORTANT SECTIONS/ ARITCLESSection 2(s) 12, 17, 19(1)(f) of DV Act, 2005, Section 13(1)(ia) and (iii) of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 

ABSTRACT:

This case raises major legal issues regarding the application and interpretation of the Domestic Violence Act of 2005. The Supreme Court explicitly emphasised in this decision that a wife has the right to remain in a joint household with her husband’s family. This means that the wife is subject to a residency order for her in-laws’ property if she lived in the same house as her husband after their marriage.

INTRODUCTION:

The Satish Chander Ahuja vs. Sneha Ahuja ruling, which maintained women’s rights in general and women’s rights in divorce cases in particular. On October 15, 2020, a bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy, and MR Shah issued the verdict. Domestic violence is widespread in the country, according to the Supreme Court, and many women are subjected to it daily. The court concluded that because the husbands did not own the marital home wholly or substantially, ladies contesting divorce petitions against their husbands could not be evicted from it.

BACKGROUND OF THE CASE:

This appeal raises important legal questions about how the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005 should be interpreted and implemented. Satish Chander Ahuja, the plaintiff, has filed an appeal challenging the Delhi High Court’s judgement in RFA No.381/2019, in which the Delhi High Court set aside the verdict granted in favour of the plaintiff on 08.04.2019 under Order XII Rule 6 of the Civil Procedure Code, declaring the plaintiff’s suit for a compulsory and permanent injunction. The High Court remanded the case to the Trial Court for a new trial following the High Court’s instructions after overturning the Trial Court’s ruling. The appellant, who was damaged by the High Court’s ruling, has filed this appeal.

FACTS OF THE CASE: [1]

The present case began with a claim for a mandatory and permanent injunction filed by the father in law against his daughter in law, who was attempting to remove herself from his property.

Sneha was married to the appellant’s son, and they lived on the first floor of the property owned by the husband’s father. The husband moved into the house’s guest room on the first level after a falling out with his wife and filed for divorce against her. Having followed that, the wife applied Section 12 of the 2005 Act against her in-laws and Ld. CMM was delighted to grant an interim order in her favour, prohibiting the Respondents from disenfranchising the alleged “shared household” and impoverishing the wife and children without a proficient court’s decision. The house’s owner, the father in law, then filed a lawsuit to keep his daughter in law from residing there. The trial court imposed a permanent and obligatory injunction in favour of the father in law. The High Court of Delhi reversed the ruling and returned the matter to the Trial Court to be adjudicated anew after the daughter-in-law filed an appeal. The father-in-law moved his case to the Supreme Court after being unsatisfied with the high court’s decision, which benefitted from the Supreme Court’s perception of the term “shared home” as specified in Section 2 (s) of the 2005 Act.

ISSUE RAISED BEFORE THE COURT:

Based on these legal precedents, the Apex Court stated the following problems. To begin, determine whether the phrase “shared home” in Section 2(s) of the Protection of Women from the Act must be understood to encompass either a joint family or one in which the injured party’s spouse has a financial interest. Second, is the Batra case judgement correctly understood in 2(s) of the Protection of Women from the Act.

ARGUMENTS FROM THE APPELLANT SIDE:

  • The respondent allegedly subjected the plaintiff and his wife to domestic abuse. Plaintiff contended that defendant’s job as a daughter-in-law during the course of the son’s marriage was permissive, and that defendant was not entitled to establish a right of residence against the plaintiff.
  • Plaintiff claimed that defendant’s labour as a daughter-in-law during the course of the son’s marriage was acceptable, and that defendant was not permitted to seek a right of residency against the plaintiff.
  • Plaintiff in the suit sought a mandatory injunction against the defendant to remove herself and her belongings from the first floor of the property, as well as a permanent injunction in favour of the plaintiff and against the defendant, restraining the defendants, her agents, employees, representatives, and so on, from interfering with or obstructing the plaintiff’s claim to the suit property in any way, and from interfering with the plaintiff’s peaceful occupation of the ground floor of the property.
  • An order of recovery of Rs.1 lac in damages/mesne profit for the use and possession of the suit property from the time the suit was filed till the defendant was removed from the suit property was also demanded.

ARGUMENTS FROM THE RESPONDENTS SIDE:

  • The respondent filed a declaration saying that the plaintiff bought the residence with the help of his family rather than his own money.
  • The plaintiff claimed in his written declaration that he had suppressed the genuine and material facts involving the plaintiff, his wife, and their eldest son inflicting bodily and mental anguish on the defendant as a result of domestic abuse.
  • In addition, the defendant proposed filing a complaint under Section 12 of the Act of 2005. The defendant claimed that the suit property is a shared household, and that under Section 2(s) of the Act, 2005, the defendant has the right to stay/reside in the shared household.
  • The plaintiff, his wife, and their elder son were also accused of subjecting the defendant to serious emotional and mental abuse. The defendant further alleges that they have been living in a shared home on the first level, which is their matrimonial residence, since their marriage.

RELATED PROVISIONS:

  • Domestic Violence Act, 2005:[2]

Section 2(s):

“Shared household” refers to a residence where the person aggrieved lives or has lived in a domestic relationship with the respondent, whether alone or with the respondent, and includes such a residence whether owned or rented jointly by the aggrieved person and the respondent, or whether owned or rented jointly by the aggrieved person and the respondent or owned or leased by either of them in which either the aggrieved person or the respondent, jointly or singly, has any right, title, interest, or equity, and includes any household that may be part of the joint family of which the respondent is a member, regardless of whether the respondent or the aggrieved person has any right, title, or interest in the shared household.

Section 12:

Application to Magistrate.

  1. An aggrieved person, a Protection Officer, or any other person acting on their behalf may make an application to the Magistrate for one or more of the following reliefs: The Magistrate shall take into account any domestic incident report received from the Protection Officer or the service provider before imposing any order on such application.
  2. The relief requested under sub-section (1) may include an order for payment of compensation or damages, without prejudice to such person’s ability to bring a claim for compensation or damages for injuries caused by the respondent’s acts of domestic violence: Provided, however, that where a decree for any amount as compensation or damages has been passed in favour of the aggrieved person by any court, the amount, if any, paid or payable in pursuance of the order made by the Magistrate under this Act shall be set off against the amount payable under such decree, and the decree shall, prejudice to the generality contained in the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (5 of 1908) or any other legislation in force at the time, be enforceable for the balance, if there are any, left after such set off.
  3. Every application under sub-section (1) must be in the form and contain the particulars required, or as close to them as feasible.
  4. The Magistrate will set the first hearing date, which will usually be no more than three days after the court receives the application.
  5. Every application filed under subsection (1) must be resolved by the Magistrate within sixty days of the date of the first hearing.

Section 17:

Right to reside in a shared household.

  1. Regardless of any other provision of law in effect at the time, any woman in a domestic partnership has the right to reside in the shared household, whether or not she has any right, title, or beneficial interest in it.
  2. The respondent may not expel or exclude the aggrieved person from the shared household or any part of it unless the procedure specified by law is followed.

Section 19(1)(f):

Residence orders:

  1. When dealing with an application under section 12(1),if the Magistrate is satisfied that domestic abuse has occurred, he or she may issue a residence order.

(f) requiring the respondent to provide the aggrieved person with the same level of substitute accommodation as she had in the shared home, or to pay rent for the same, if the circumstances so require: Provided, however, that no order under subsection (b) shall be made against a woman.

  • Hindu Marriage Act, 1955:[3]

Section 13(1)(ia) and (iii):

  1. On a petition brought by either the husband or the wife, any marriage solemnised before or after the start of this Act may be dissolved by a decree of divorce on the grounds that the other party is unfit.

(a) has, after the solemnisation of the marriage, treated the petitioner with cruelty;

(iii) has been incurably insane or has suffered continuously or intermittently from a mental disease of such a nature and severity that the petitioner cannot reasonably expect to live with the respondent.

JUDGEMENT:

A shared household, according to Section 2(2) of the Equality Act, is one in which the person aggrieved lives or has lived in a domestic relationship with the respondent, either alone or with the respondent at any time. It includes a household that is jointly owned or rented by the aggrieved person and the respondent, or jointly owned or rented by either of them.

This includes a household that may belong to the respondent’s joint family, regardless of whether they have any right, title, or interest in it.

The phrase lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship in section 2(s) has to be given a purposeful and normal meaning, opined the Bench. They observed that “From the above definition, the following is clear:-

  1. It is not a legal requirement that the aggrieved person own the premises jointly or separately, or that the premises be rented jointly or singly;
  2. Regardless of whether the respondent or the aggrieved person has any right, title, or interest in the shared household, the household may belong to a joint family of which the respondent is a member; and
  3. The respondent may own or rent the shared household alone or jointly.”

Section 26 of the 2005 Act must be read in a way that achieves the Act’s main goal and objective. Unless a claim by an aggrieved person seeking an order as contemplated by the 2005 95 Act is expressly banned from consideration by a civil court, this Court will be unlikely to read in the bar in any legal proceedings before the civil court.  The Small Cause Court claims that the appellant’s complimentary licence has expired, and it requests that the appellant be barred from using the suit flat and that the plaintiff be allowed to enter and use it. The appellant’s right of residency is linked to the claimant’s counterclaim determination and refusal to examine her claim.

Thus, the court was of the considered opinion that the counterclaim filed by the appellant before Judge, Small Cause Court in Civil Suit No. 77 of 2013 was fully entertainable and the courts below committed error in refusing to consider such claim. In light of the court’s ruling in the preceding case, the defendant’s claim that the suit property is a shared household and she has the right to reside in the house should have been considered by the Trial Court, and the Trial Court’s failure to consider the 96 claims/ defence is nothing more than a violation of the right guaranteed by the Act of 2005.  

The court held that the plaintiff can be treated as a “respondent” to determine the defendant’s right under Sections 17 and 19 read with Section 26 in the suit in question, but that to grant any relief to the defendant or successfully resist the plaintiff’s suit, the necessary conditions for grant of relief as prescribed under the Act, 2005 must be pleaded and only after the defendant has proven his case and the Civil Court has given him relief may the defendant be granted remedy.

Although the plaintiff has not sought any redress against his son, Raveen Ahuja, the respondent’s spouse, the court decided that he was not a necessary party in this action because the respondent has asserted her right of residency in a shared household under Sections 17 and 19 of the Act, 2005.  The husband is a proper party, and one of the rights that can be granted under Section 19 is the right to substitute housing. According to the terms of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, the spouse has the right to maintenance, hence he may be a proper party in circumstances where the Court is considering the respondent’s claim under Sections 17 and 19 read with Section 26 of the Act, 2005. The order I Rule 10 of the Civil Procedure Code empowers the Court to add a party as a plaintiff or defendant at any stage of the proceedings, either on an application or suo moto, whose presence before the Court may be required for the Court to effectively and completely adjudicate and settle all of the questions involved in the suit. As a result, the court determined that the defendant’s husband was not a necessary party, but that he was a legitimate party based on the pleadings in the written statement.

While overturning the verdict in S.R. Batra, the Court distinguished it on numerous points, holding that the language “at any time has lived” is added for the woman’s protection, i.e., she was expelled from the residence or was temporarily absent on the date the application was filed. It was never the intention of the legislature to include all of the houses where the injured person had lived that belonged to the husband’s relatives. The essential criteria for determining whether a premise can be classified as a shared household or not is whether the parties intended for the premise to be treated as such. It was never the intention of the legislature to include all of the houses where the injured person had lived that belonged to the husband’s relatives.

CONCLUSION:

The very concept that women in our society must suffer in silence is deeply disturbing, and in such circumstances, a decision like Satish Chandra Ahuja offers some glimmering hope. The Ahuja decision will come to the aid of many people and will help to shatter the chains of injustice that have enslaved society for years. It gives a lady who has left her house some sense of security when she returns to her matrimonial home. However, there is a drawback to the decision if it is not effectively applied: it is quiet on the problems and harassment suffered by older in-laws in circumstances when the daughter-in-law is abusive and twists welfare regulations to her benefit. The courts, in granting orders based on the Ahuja decision, must keep such an undesirable potential in mind and carefully consider whether the wife’s claims are genuine or not.


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