Woman In Domestic Relationship When Subjected To Domestic Violence Is Aggrieved Person, Entitled To Remedy Under DV Act - SC
The Supreme Court in its recent judgment upheld a judgment of Judicial Magistrate - I and set aside the judgment of Additional Sessions Judge and Uttarakhand High Court holding that a woman who is in a domestic relationship and is subjected to domestic violence, is an aggrieved person, entitled to a remedy under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
The Bench comprising Justice MR Shah and Justice BV Nagarathna in this context observed -
"...when any woman is in a domestic relationship as discussed above, is subjected to any act of domestic violence and becomes an aggrieved person, she is entitled to avail the remedies under the D.V. Act."
In this case, the family of the appellant had given dowry to the family of the husband and stridhan to the appellant. The appellant started residing at her husband's ancestral home along with her mother-in-law (respondent), six sisters-in-law, wife of the elder brother of the husband, and two brothers-in-law. Thereafter the appellant had moved along with her husband and the respondents to the village Jhabreda the husband died in a car accident but immediately before the accident the appellant had conceived a child. After the tehravin ceremony, the appellant was initially constrained to reside at her father's house in Delhi. On 30th March 2006 the appellant gave birth to a daughter but due to the torture and harassment meted out to her at the place of her in-laws she moved to Dehradun where she started working as a teacher to support herself and her daughter. She was never allowed to enjoy the stridhan given to her and even after she moved out of her matrimonial house, her in-laws kept the stridhan in their position. She sent a legal notice on 22nd November 2006 asking for the Sreedharan to be returned to her but no response was given to her.
The appellant then approached the Court of the Special Judicial Magistrate under Section 12 and sought protection orders, residence orders and compensation orders, and various other orders under Section 22 to be passed under various provisions of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
In response to the application moved by the appellant, the respondents filed a joint written statement stating that no dowry or streedhan had been given at the time of the marriage so the question of returning the same does not arise, as regarding the daughter of the appellant there respondents had stated that it is unnatural that the appellant could have conceived a child within a span of 28 days from the marriage. The Respondents refuted all the claims of the appellant.
The respondents had in their written statement submitted that they had not done any act of torture a harassment on the appellant and prayed that the trial court may dismiss the matter.
The Special Judicial Magistrate - I partly allowed the application filed by the appellant directing that an amount of Rs. 10,000 was to be paid by the respondents to the appellant for maligning her reputation. All the properties that the appellant had received as stridhan with the exception of the Maruti car were to be returned to the appellant, the court also directed that the appellant and her daughter would be allowed to enjoy all the rights and benefits of her husband with regards to the property without any obstruction from the Respondent.
Aggrieved by the order of the special judicial magistrate the respondent approached the Additional Sessions Judge where the judgment of the Special Judicial Magistrate was set aside. The appellant approached the High Court in a criminal revision petition which was dismissed and the judgment of the Additional Sessions Judge was upheld. The Appellant then approached the Supreme Court against the judgment of the Additional Sessions Judge and the High Court of Uttarakhand.
The points that were outlined before the Supreme Court for adjudication were:
(i) Whether the consideration of the Domestic Incident Report mandatory before initiating the proceedings under D.V. Act, in order to invoke substantive provisions of Sections 18 to 20 and 22 of the said Act?
(ii) Whether it is mandatory for the aggrieved person to reside with those persons against whom the allegations have been leveled at the point of commission of violence?
(iii) Whether there should be a subsisting domestic relationship between the aggrieved person and the person against whom the relief is claimed?
The Apex Court while pondering over the first question held that "it cannot be held that the Magistrate is not empowered to make any order interim or final, under the provisions of the D.V. Act, granting reliefs to the aggrieved persons. The Magistrate can take cognizance of the complaint or application filed by the aggrieved person and issue notice to the respondent under Section 12 of the D.V. Act even in the absence of Domestic Incident Report under Rule 5. Thus, the Magistrate has jurisdiction to take cognizance of the complaint under Section 12 of the D.V. Act in the absence of a Domestic Incident Report under Rule 5 when the complaint is not filed on behalf of the aggrieved person through a Protection Officer or service provider. Such a purposeful interpretation has to be given bearing in mind the fact that the immediate relief would have to be given to an aggrieved person and hence the proviso cannot be interpreted in a manner which would be contrary to the object of the D.V. Act which renders Section 12 bereft of its object and purpose."
Answering the second question the court held, "It is held that it is not mandatory for the aggrieved person to have actually lived or resided with those persons against whom the allegations have been levelled at the time of seeking relief. If a woman has the right to reside in a shared household, she can accordingly enforce her right under Section 17(1) of the D.V. Act. If a woman becomes an aggrieved person or victim of domestic violence, she can seek relief under the provisions of the D.V. Act including her right to live or reside in the shared household under Section 17 read with Section 19 of the D.V. Act."
Adjudicating the third question it was observed by the Court that, "the expression 'family members living together as a joint family' is not relatable only to relationship through consanguinity, marriage or adoption. The expression 'joint family' does not mean a joint family as understood in Hindu Law. It would mean persons living together jointly as a family. It would include not only family members living together when they are related by consanguinity, marriage or adoption but also those persons who are living together or jointly as a joint family such as foster children who live with other members who are related by consanguinity, marriage or by adoption. Therefore, when any woman is in a domestic relationship as discussed above, is subjected to any act of domestic violence and becomes an aggrieved person, she is entitled to avail the remedies under the D.V. Act."
Considering the second part of the question that whether such a domestic relationship should be subsisting between the aggrieved person and the respondent against whom relief is claimed at the time of claiming the relief, the Court opined that, "In our view, the question raised about a subsisting domestic relationship between the aggrieved person and the person against whom the relief is claimed must be interpreted in a broad and expansive way, so as to encompass not only a subsisting domestic relationship in presentia but also a past domestic relationship. Therefore, the Parliament has intentionally used the expression 'domestic relationship' to mean a relationship between two persons who not only live together in the shared household but also between two persons who 'have at any point of time lived together' in a shared household."
The Court held that there should be a subsisting domestic relationship between the aggrieved person and the person against whom the relief is claimed vis-à-vis the allegation of domestic violence. However, it is not necessary that at the time of filing an application by an aggrieved person, the domestic relationship should be subsisting. In other words, even if an aggrieved person is not in a domestic relationship with the respondent in a shared household at the time of filing of an application under Section 12 of the D.V. Act but has at any point of time lived so or had the right to live and has been subjected to domestic violence or is later subjected to domestic violence on account of the domestic relationship, is entitled to file an application under Section 12 of the D.V. Act.
The Court thus went on to allow the appeal upholding the judgment of the Special Judicial Magistrate and setting aside the judgment of the Additional Sessions Judge and the High Court.