The Supreme Court today clarified that a woman has the right to live in a shared household where she has lived with the husband even if the house is owned by the husband's relative. The verdict could be further interpreted to mean that a wife is entitled to live in a shared household belonging to her husband's relative, irrespective of whether either spouse has any right title or interest in the shared household.
However, this does not mean that a woman has the right to live in any property owned by a husband's relative. The condition here is, that she must live or at any stage have lived in a shared household in a domestic relationship.
The top court's verdict came on a dispute between a father-in-law and his daughter-in-law who is embroiled in divorce proceedings with her husband.
In a significant development for women's rights, the top court overruled its 2006 verdict passed by a division bench in SR Batra vs Taruna Batra where it was held that the wife is entitled only to claim a right to reside in a shared household only if the house belonged to or was taken on rent by the husband, or the house which belongs to the joint family of which the husband is a member.
The three-judge bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan said this court had incorrectly interpreted section 2(s) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence (DV) Act, 2005.
"The Hon'ble SC while overruling SR Batra ruling held that the respondent can mean any member of in-laws family with whom there was a shared household. This judgment is in a right direction for the rights of women embroiled in matrimonial disputes as earlier the in-laws used to create a smokescreen of disowning their sons in order to prevent the daughters-in-law from laying claim to the household thus excluding her from right to residence. Now with this judgment, ownership of the house will not be of much consequence," advocate Anas Tanwir said.
What is a shared household?
According to section 2(s) of the DV Act, a "shared household" means a household where the wife lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship either singly or with the husband. This household includes property owned or rented by either one of the spouses or jointly. A shared household may also include such a household which may belong to the husband's family of which he is a member, irrespective of whether he or the wife have any right, title or interest in the shared household.
To illustrate the point in the present case, the top court said that a "shared household is contemplated to be the household, which is a dwelling place of the aggrieved person (the wife in this case) in present time", the court said simplifying the issue.
"The words "lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship" have to be given its normal and purposeful meaning. The living of a woman in a household has to refer to a living which has some permanency. Mere fleeting or casual living at different places shall not make a shared household," the apex court said clearing up the issue in the present case.
"The DV Act, which was enacted to achieve social justice, recognized a woman's right to residence as sacrosanct, advocate Trideep Pais said. "Unfortunately, the interpretation provided in the 2006 judgment significantly diluted this right creating a lot of confusion. In overruling the 2006 judgment, the Supreme Court has clarified the issue and interpreted the definition of the shared household in a manner that fulfils the true spirit and essence of the beneficial provision," advocate Sanya Kumar added.
DV Act enacted to give higher right in favour of women: SC
The supreme court noted that the 2005 act was enacted to give a higher right in favour of the woman. Its intent was to provide for more effective protection of women's rights where they are victims of violence of any kind occurring within the family. The Act has to be interpreted in a manner to effectuate the very purpose and object of the Act. Section 2(s) read with Sections 17 and 19 of Act, 2005 grants an entitlement in favour of the woman of the right of residence under the shared household irrespective of her having any legal interest in the same or not."
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