According to a landmark judgement by the Supreme Court an estranged daughter-in-law has the right to live in her in-laws’ home and can therefore not be thrown out by her husband or his family.
A three-judge bench judgement of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy and M.R. Shah overrides a two-judge verdict in S.R. Batra vs Taruna Batra (2007) that denied such a right of residence to a woman in an estranged relationship.
The judgement said The Domestic Violence Act, 2005, grants such a right to the woman whether or not she has legal rights over the property — which can even be rented premises — as long as the in-laws live there.
Petitioner Satish Chander Ahuja had challenged a Delhi High Court judgment of 2019 that had said his daughter-in-law Sneha had the right of residence despite a pending divorce dispute between her and husband Raveen.
Ahuja’s contention was that even Raveen had no share in the house, which belonged to the petitioner.
While passing Thursday’s judgment, based on interpretations of Sections 2 (shared household) and 17 (right of residence) of the Domestic Violence Act, the court dismissed Ahuja’s appeal.
“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,” the judgment, written by Justice Bhushan, said.
“It is not requirement of law that aggrieved person (daughter-in-law) may either own the premises jointly or singly or by tenanting it jointly or singly…. The household may belong to a joint family of which the respondent (father-in-law in the present case) is a member irrespective of whether the respondent or the aggrieved person has any right, title or interest in the shared household; and the shared household may either be owned or tenanted by the respondent singly or jointly.”
The bench said that under Section 17 of the Act, “every woman in a domestic relationship shall have the right to reside in the shared household, whether or not she has any right, title or beneficial interest in the same”.
The judgment said that while the personal law (Hindu Marriage Act) gave the woman the right to maintenance, “the right of residence… recognised by sub-section (1) of Section 17 (of the Domestic Violence Act) is new and higher right conferred on every woman”.
However, the court clarified that the woman’s “living” in a household had to have some permanency for the right of residence to apply. Fleeting or casual living at different places do not make for a shared household, it said.
“The intention of the parties and the nature of living including the nature of household have to be looked into to find out whether the parties intended to treat the premises as shared household or not,” it said.
On Ahuja’s claim that his son had no share in the property in Delhi’s upscale New Friends Colony, the court said: “Even if the house is in the name of the (father-in law) and even if we accept… (that) Raveen has no share in the house… whether the (daughter-in-law) is entitled to reside in the premises in question as shared household is the question to be answered.”
The bench noted that despite domestic violence being rampant in the country, with many women facing violence in some shape almost every day, it was 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,” it said.
“This non-retaliation by women coupled with the absence of laws addressing women’s issues, ignorance of the existing laws enacted for women and societal attitude makes the women vulnerable. The reason why most cases of domestic violence are never reported is the social stigma… and the attitude of the women themselves, where women are expected to be subservient, not just to their male counterparts but also to the male’s relatives.”