SATISH CHANDER AHUJA vs SNEHA AHUJA

By – Pragya Shukla

In the Supreme Court of India

NAME OF THE CASESATISH CHANDER AHUJA vs SNEHA AHUJA
CITATIONAIR 2020, SC 2483
JURISDICTIONTHE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
DATE OF THE CASE15th OCTOBER,2020
PETITIONERSATISH CHANDER AHUJA
DEFENDANTSNEHA AHUJA
BENCH/ JUDGEJUSTICE ASHOK BHUSHAN, JUSTICE SHUBHASH REDDY& JUSTICE MR SHAH  
STATUTES/ CONSTITUTION INVOLVEDDOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT,2005 & CODE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE, 1908
IMPORTANT SECTIONS INVOLVED  SECTIONS  2(f), 2(q), 2(s), 12, 17, 19 OF THE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT, 2005, ORDER XI,  RULE 14 OF CPC, ORDER XII, RULE 6 OF CPC

ABSTRACT:

This case raised the issue of interpretation of the word “Shared family” under Section 2(s) of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. Satish Chander Ahuja vs Sneha Ahuja clearly held that a wife is entitled to claim the right of residence in a shared house belonging to her husband’s relatives. This means that the wife has the right to obtain a residence order in respect of the property which belongs to her in-laws if she lives in such a house with her husband after her marriage. The decision was passed by a full bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice Shubhash Reddy, and  Justice Mr Shah.

The widely acclaimed decision of the Supreme  Court struck down the more than a decade old jurisprudence adopted in India with respect to ‘shared family’ under the Domestic Violence Act in the infamous case of  S.R. Batra vs. Taruna Batra.

INTRODUCTION: –

Domestic violence is one of the most minacious and dangerous crimes emancipating India. It is committed by someone in the victim’s domestic circle and tends to harm the victim physically, mentally, psychologically or sexually. It ruptures one’s mental stability and affects the behaviour, thoughts, feelings and emotions significantly to a great extent. Evidence suggests that India ranked 112 out of 153 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index rankings 2020, which place it in the bottom 1/4th of the countries in the entire world.

The term “Shared family” has been defined under section 2(s) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. The right of residence granted to women who are evicted or prevented from entering the house under the Act is envisaged only as a “shared household”. Therefore, it is safe to say that as per this Act, a shared family shall mean the house in which the aggrieved person resides or is in a domestic relationship with the respondent at any stage i.e. the relation between two members is homogeneous (by blood), lived together by reason of being related through marriage, adoption or a relationship as the member of the family.

The immediate cause was a civil appeal filed by the appellant Shri Satish Chander Ahuja against the order passed by the Delhi High Court, quashing the compulsory and permanent injunction against his daughter-in-law Sneha Ahuja. . It was the contention of the appellant that being the sole owner of the residence at the time of marriage, his daughter-in-law cannot be treated as a shared house. He further stated that according to Section 2(s) of the Domestic Violence Act 2005, the said property was not the property of the joint family and they had sole ownership and interest thereon. On the other hand, the respondent had claimed the right of retainer against the property of her father-in-law even though her husband was alive at that time. Respondent’s contention was that the disputed property was purchased by his father-in-law from the money relating to the joint property and not from the money acquired by himself. Therefore, the respondent had contended that the said property was a shared family and had the right of residence under the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act 2005.

BACKGROUND OF THE CASE: –

Indian history itself has been witness to the persistence of the male domination that acted as oxygen for patriarchy, a concept not even recognized since that time. From time immemorial men domination have been a self-fulfilling theory that is built on the abuse and cruelty of women along with domestic violence. However, patriarchy has faced a tough challenge due to the flourishing movements of education, awareness and women empowerment. But it always returns in a new glass because social inequalities are yet to be eradicated. The enactment of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 has served a great purpose in protecting women from such domestic abuses faced mainly due to narrow and patriarchal mindset, where it is believed that harassing the woman is a way to straighten her out. Similarly, the abuse of the process of law in the hands of women has also been an open secret. That is to say, there has been a flood of malicious lawsuits against innocent men who are victims of the system. Courts have often found and observed that in matrimonial discord, neither the husband nor the wife is white in colour i.e. entirely innocent and both the parties try to extort laws to hurt each other.

The Supreme Court of India in Satish Chander Ahuja vs Sneha Ahuja faced a dilemma in passing the judgement. It served as a guardian and ultimately turned to the wife, to fulfil the vision and purpose behind the Domestic Violence Act, 2005, which, was enacted to protect a woman from homelessness at the hands of her abusive husband or in-laws.

    FACTS OF THE CASE: –

  • Appellant Satish Chandra Ahuja was father-in-law of respondent Sneha Ahuja. His son Raveen Ahuja and the respondent got married in 1995 and started living on the first floor of a house purchased by the appellant in 1983.
  • Due to marital discord in July 2014, Raveen moved out and started living with his parents on the ground floor.
  • On 28 November 2014, Raveen filed a petition for divorce against Sneha on the ground of cruelty.
  • On 20 November 2015, Sneha filed an application under section 12 of the Domestic Violence Act implicating Raveen, the appellant and her mother-in-law Premkant. She complained of serious emotional and mental abuse by the defendants and approached the court for several reliefs under the Domestic Violence ,2005.
  • The trial court passed an interim order restraining the defendants from isolating her from the common household.
  • The appellant filed a separate suit for a compulsory and permanent injunction against Sneha.

ISSUES RAISED BEFORE THE COURT:-

Subsequent issues were raised before the Court:-

  • Whether the definition of shared family under section 2(s) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, should be read in the sense that a shared family can only be a household which is a joint family or in which the husband serves as the part of the victim?
  • Whether the High Court had properly concluded that the suit filed by the appellant could not be decreed under  Order XII , Rule 6, CPC?
  • Whether the plaintiff giving rise to this appeal could be called as respondent according to the Section 2(q) of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 or not?
  • Whether the husband of the aggrieved party (the defendant) is a necessary party in the suit filed by the plaintiff against the defendant or not?
  • What is the effect of orders passed under section 19 of the  Domestic Violence Act, 2005?
  •  Whether the interim or final  proceedings initiated in the Civil Court  were of competent jurisdiction or not ?

ARGUMENTS: –

ARGUMENTS RAISED BY THE PETITIONER-

  • The petitioner contended that the condition of possession of the respondent as daughter-in-law during the subsistence of the marriage with the son can be termed as permissible in nature and the defendant is not entitled to claim the right of residence against the petitioner. The in-laws have no obligation to maintain the husband during his lifetime.
  • The petitioner further objected by stating that the property owned by him is not a shared home, thus the son has no right in the property.
  • It was further contended that the son and daughter-in-law were only free license holders. Thus, the defendant could claim the right of residence only in the property of the joint family and was not entitled to right to the property of the husband’s father.
  • In the suit, the petitioner prayed for a decree for compulsory injunction against the defendant to remove her from the first floor of the property and for a decree of permanent injunction in favor of the petitioner and against the defendant whereby the defendant, her agents, employees can be stopped, from interfering in any way with or obstructing the petitioner’s right in the suit property, and preventing him from interfering in the petitioner’s peaceful possession of the ground floor of the property.
  • It was submitted that the overarching interpretation of shared household will lead to anarchy in the society which would serve as a threat to the peace and harmony of the society.
  • It was also submitted that harmonized construction should be adopted by interpretation in the suit so that the rights of the parties could be balanced.

ARGUMENTS RAISED BY THE RESPONDENT-

  • The respondent referred to the definition of domestic relationship under Section 2(f) of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and stated that she was in such a kind of domestic relationship with the appellant and the appellant was the respondent within the meaning of section 2(q) and against him the charge of domestic violence was made in the petition.
  • The respondent also filed a complaint case under Section 12 of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
  • The defendant filed an application Order XI for production of documents under Rule 12 and  Rule 14 of CPC.
  • The respondent claimed that the suit property is a shared house as per the provision of Section 2(s) of the Act, 2005 and she had the right to reside in the shared house.

 RELATED PROVISIONS: –

    Domestic Violence Act, 2005

  • Section 2(f)-

Section 2(f) of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 underlines as follows-

Domestic Relationship” means a relationship between two people who, at any time, life or have lived together in a shared household, by consensus, marriage, or through a relationship in the nature of marriage, adoption, or have sustained as family members living together in a joint family.

  • Section 2(s)-

Section 2(s) of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 underlines as follows-

“Shared household” means a family where the aggrieved person resides or at any stage is in a domestic relationship with the defendant. It basically means a household whether owned or rented jointly by the aggrieved person and the defendant, or owned or rented by any of them in respect of which either the aggrieved person or the defendant or both jointly or alone has any right, title, interest or equity and includes such house that may belong to a joint family of which the defendant is a member, even if the defendant or the aggrieved person has any right, title or interest in the shared family.

  • Section 2(q)-

Section 2(q) encompasses the definition of the respondent as follows-

 “Respondent” means any adult male person who is or has been in a domestic relationship with the aggrieved person and against whom the aggrieved person has sought any relief under the DV Act,2005,  provided that an aggrieved person is a wife or female. A complaint can also be filed against any relative of the husband or the male partner in relation to the nature of the adversities arising in marriage.

  • Section 12(a)

It permits a person to be brought to the hospital for evaluation against his will.

  •  Section 12(b)

It allows a person to be admitted to a psychiatric unit against the person’s will or without the person’s consent for up to three business days.

  • Section 17-

It incorporates the right to live in a shared household. —

  • (1) Every woman in a domestic relationship shall have the right to live in a shared household, whether she has or not any right to title or beneficial interest.
  • (2) The aggrieved person shall not be evicted from the common household or any part thereof by the defendant in accordance with the procedure established by law.
  • Section 19

Section 19 of the Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (Domestic Violence Act) provides for the remedy of a residence order. It states that a magistrate may, on being satisfied that domestic violence has taken place, pass a residence order.

  • Order XI, Rule 14 of CPC-

Order XI, Rule 14 of CPC  deals with the production of documents.

The plain and grammatical meaning of the said rule is that a party to a lawsuit, who has the right or power or is entitled to hold any document, may be directed to present the documents before the court during the pendency of the trial.

  • Order XII Rule 6 of CPC-

The object of the Code of Civil Procedure is to avoid waiting for the part of the decree by the plaintiff when the defendant has a  clear, unequivocal and unconditional admission of the defendant’s claim.

JUDGEMENT: –

It was held that the term shared family should be interpreted in a way that is consistent with the general implication of the law. Therefore, the term shared family shall mean, within its limits, any household in which the victim of domestic violence has lived during a specified period, regardless of the original title and interest on the said property to the holder and without giving any effect to such types of construction. The Supreme Court granted relief to the respondent and adopted the literal rule of interpretation to decide what a shared family is or what it can be taking into consideration the basic laws of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

The Bench held that Section 2(s) was an all-inclusive definition and read with Section 17 and Section 19 of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005. It conferred the right of residence in favour of the aggrieved woman even though she didn’t possess any interest or title. It basically emphasized that even though the matrimonial house was in the name of the husband or his relatives, the woman was entitled to make a valid claim on the same under the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

CONCLUSION:-

Women in India have been traumatized since ancient times. They have been crushed by the patriarchal society and have been marginalized in each and every field. They have been forced to face the ravages prevailing in the society in spite of having equal potential as men.

Therefore, to improve the status of women in the country, our judiciary is constantly trying to amend the provisions so that the status of women can be equal to that of men. The Supreme Court’s decision provided a great relief to the women who are abused and tortured by their in-laws. It served as a guardian to the daughters-in-law providing them with the right to claim the shared family under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

Though this decision uplifted the status of the women it failed miserably in the case of elderly parents, especially those who are caught in a myriad of failed relationships between husband and wife. Thus, this judgment should have encountered the increasing misuse of various provisions included to protect the rights of women in our country instead of granting more weapons in the hands of the women to harass the opposition. The need of the hour is to adopt a balanced approach by the judiciary while dealing with such issues so that the rights of all the parties involved are balanced and protected.

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