This is the second in a series of posts titled ‘Judgments without tears’ where we try to make complex judgments accessible and fun. A guest post by my dear friend and super talented Vishal Vyas.
Let me try unpacking Satish Chander Ahuja vs. Sneha Ahuja delivered on 15.10.2020. A 151 page judgment but a well-reasoned judgment under the Domestic Violence Act. The Apex Court in this path breaking, progressive judgment has overruled it’s previous judgment in S.R Batra and Ors. Vs. Taruna Batra and has clearly espoused that a wife is also entitled to claim a right to residence in a shared household belonging to relatives of the husband.
Judgement dealt with the important questions of law pertaining to the interpretation and working of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
One of the questions, for instance, was about interpretation of the definition of “shared household” under Section 2(s) of Act, 2005. Whether it has to be read to mean that shared household can only be that household which is household of joint family or in which husband of the aggrieved person has a share?
Another question was about the law laid down in S.R. Batra and Ors. Vs. Taruna Batra, which also interpreted the provision of Section 2(s) of Act, 2005.
These were some of the important issues that the court had to adjudicate upon.
To understand the judgment better, let me demonstrate facts of the case with the help of a story. Suppose, there is a father who purchased a house. After few years of the purchase, his son got married. Now, the father and the mother both are residing at the ground floor of the premises. Son and the daughter-in-law are residing at the first floor of the premises. Later, the son shifted to the ground floor owing to certain marital discord with his wife. Wife started a separate kitchen in the first floor of the house. Son, 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 had treated him with cruelty. After this divorce petition, the wife filed an application under Section 12 of Act, 2005 against the whole family on the ground of emotional and mental abuse.
These proceedings were there on one side but the real complexity came when the father, who pleaded that he is the sole owner of the house & filed a suit of mandatory injunction against his daughter-in-law to vacate the premise. He also filed a permanent injunction suit restraining her to enter and reside in the house. Daughter-in-law pleaded that that the suit property is a shared household where she has right to reside. On this, the father contested that the premises is not a shared household since his son neither has any share in the suit premises nor suit premises is a joint family property. In support of his submission, he relies on judgment of this Court in S.R. Batra and Ors. Vs. Taruna Batra.
It becomes important now to have a look at the definition of “shared household” under section 2(s) of Act, 2005 which says that a
“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 household 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.
Clearly, the definition uses both the expressions “means and includes”. It is a settled law that whenever the use of the word “means” followed by the word “includes” is used in a definition, it is an exhaustive definition. (Bharat Coop. Bank (Mumbai) Ltd. Vs. Coop. Bank Employees Union,(2007) 4 SCC 685) Therefore, use of both the expressions “means and includes” clearly indicate the legislative intent that the definition is exhaustive and shall cover only those which fall within the purview of definition and no other.
Having understood that, let’s break down the definition of Section 2(s), the definition can be divided in two parts, first, which follows the word “means” and second which follows the word “includes”.
The first part reads “shared household means a household where the person aggrieved has lived or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship either singly or along with the respondent”. Thus, first condition to be fulfilled for a shared household is that person aggrieved lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship.
The second part which follows “includes” can be further sub-divided in two parts.(a) includes such a household whether owned or tenanted either jointly by the aggrieved person and the respondent and 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(b) 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.
From the above definition, following is clear:- (i) it is not requirement of law that aggrieved person may either own the premises jointly or singly or by tenanting it jointly or singly; (ii) the household may belong to a 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; and (iii) the shared household may either be owned or tenanted by the respondent singly or jointly.
Now, the previous decision of the Apex Court in S.R Batra Vs. Tarun Batra, which is sheet anchor of the submission of the appellant, in the present case, needs to be noticed. In the above case, it was not disputed that the house belonged to mother-in-law and her son, i.e., husband of respondent had no share. Husband had filed a divorce petition against respondent whereas respondent filed a criminal case under Sections 406, 498A, 506 and 34 of Indian Penal Code. Respondent shifted to her parents’ residence because of the dispute with her husband. She when later tried to enter the house, she found the main entrance locked hence, she filed suit to grant mandatory injunction to enable her to enter the house.
Counsel for the respondent submitted that the definition of shared household includes a household where the person aggrieved lives or at any stage had lived in a domestic relationship. He also contended that since admittedly the respondent had lived in the property in question in the past, hence the said property is her shared household. Disagreeing with this, Court said that if the aforesaid submission is accepted, then it will mean that wherever the husband and wife lived together in the past that property becomes a shared household. This interpretation shall lead to chaos and would be absurd.
So, Court observed that the house in question cannot be said to be a “shared household” within the meaning of Section 2(s) of the Act, 2005. It belongs to the mother-in-law of Smt Taruna Batra and it does not belong to her husband.
Accordingly, Smt Taruna Batra cannot claim any right to live in the said house.
Clearly, laying down the law here that “wife is only entitled to claim a right to residence in a shared household and a shared household would only mean the house belonging to or taken on rent by the husband, or the house which belongs to the joint family of which the husband is a member.”
Coming back to the present case, court expressed following thoughts and in the process, overturning it’s previous thoughts:
- The use of the expression “at any stage has lived” immediately after words “person aggrieved lives” has been used for object different to what has been apprehended by this Court in S.R. Batra Vs. Taruna Batra. It was only with intent of not denying the protection to aggrieved person merely on the ground that aggrieved person is not living in the house as on the date of the application.
- Shared household referred to in Section 2(s) is the shared household of aggrieved person where she was living at the time when application was filed or in the recent past had been excluded from the use or she is temporarily absent.
- This was neither the object nor the legislative intent that wherever the aggrieved person has lived with the relatives of husband, all such houses shall become shared household.
- Also, looking at the whole scheme of the Act, the words “lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship” have to be given it’s normal and purposeful meaning.
Therefore, The Apex Court made it clear, in the present case, that the interpretation of definition of shared household as put by this Court in S.R. Batra Vs. Taruna Batra is not correct interpretation and the said judgment does not lay down the correct law.
The definition of shared household does not indicate that a shared household shall be one which belongs to or taken on rent by the husband. Also, the “respondent” in a proceeding under Domestic Violence Act can be any relative of the husband. If the shared household belongs to any relative of the husband with whom in a domestic relationship the woman has lived & the conditions mentioned in Section 2(s) are satisfied, the said house will become a shared household.
Accordingly, appeal was dismissed and the Daughter-in-law was “welcomed” in her “shared household”. 🙂This is what the judgment broadly seeks to clarify. A very welcome judgment- indeed. Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed demystifying it.
About the Author:
Vishal Vyas graduated in law in 2018 and cleared the Rajasthan Judicial Service Examination 2019 & currently undergoing his training at Rajasthan State Judicial Academy. He also Completed his LL.M in criminology in the year 2019. Vishal has a keen interest in academics and is extremely passionate about teaching, motivating & mentoring young law students and Judicial Services aspirants.