The SC stated that even if their household is owned by her in laws, the woman have a right of residence under the Domestic Violence Act even if the house is owned by in-laws. The judgement overrules the SR Batra verdict, and will come as a relief for women facing domestic abuse.
In the judgement, the bench held that under the protection of women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, “shared household” includes houses owned by the joint family or the husband’s relatives, provided she is a long-term resident “in a domestic relationship”, ie, has lived in the house since marriage.
Previously, in the SR Batra and Anr. v. Taruna Batra case, the court held that since the house belonged to the wife’s mother-in-law, and not her husband, the wife could not claim any right to live in the said house. According to the older judgement, “shared household” only extended to a 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.
Background of the Judgement
In this case, Satish Chander Ahuja filed a Suit against his daughter in law for mandatory and permanent injunction and for mesne profits as her landlord. He pleaded that defendant has filed a complaint under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. According to him, since he was the sole owner of their residence, and her husband had no share in the property, the woman had no right to residence and therefore had to pay dues.
The trial court passed an order in favour of the in-laws, but this was overruled by the Delhi High court, which held that the woman did have the legal right to claim the right of residence. The High Court’s decision was also upheld by the Supreme Court.
Conditions on “Shared Residence” for Domestic Abuse Survivors
However, the court ruled that relief for the daughter-in-law depends on whether the allegation of domestic violence can be proved in the trial, especially in cases where father or mother-in-laws own the house. They stated:
“senior citizens in the evening of their life are also entitled to live peacefully not haunted by marital discord between their son and daughter-in-law”
While this addition could be concerning as it provides security for the husband but not wife, the judgement can nevertheless be considered a positive for women’s rights in India. As the the bench observed that the Domestic Violence Act 2005 was a “step to secure social justice by legislation.” However, even though domestic violence is rampant and “several women encounter violence in some form or the other almost every day” it is one of the least reported crimes and “majority prefer to suffer in silence.”
This is because reporting abuse can lead to great social and material loss for women. Many could become homeless and have no legal claim to the house as many times they are owned by the husband’s parents, or in bigger joint families one of his siblings or cousins. In the concerned case itself, the family was attempting to use legislations that exist to protect victims of domestic violence against the abused woman. Though the judgement cannot solve all the issues that stop women from reporting domestic abuse, it is one step to assuring legal recurse.