This article has been authored by Nandini Gupta a 4th year student at University Institute of Legal Studies, Panjab University
A three judge bench of the Supreme Court in the landmark judgement of Satish Chander Ahuja v Sneha Ahuja answered a significant question of law and gave a daughter-in-law the right to residence, irrespective of her husband’s share or right in the property. Up until this judgement, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (“2005 Act”) did guarantee women a right to shared household under Section 17 of the Act. But the definition of ‘shared household’ was not clear. The only judgement available in this context was the S.R. Batra v Taruna Batra, (2007) 3 SCC 169 which stated that a wife only has a right to reside in those properties in which her husband’s hold any interest or title. Certain guidelines were laid down in Vinay Verma v. Kanika Pasricha & Anr. as to who would be under obligation to provide an accommodation to a daughter-in-law in cases where the ‘shared household’ is the exclusive property of the father-in-law. But even this judgement didn’t provide a right to residence to the daughter-in-law. This is where the Satish Chander Ahuja v Sneha Ahuja judgement given by Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice R Subhash Reddy and Justice M.R. Shah makes a change.
Background of the case
The plaintiff, Satish Chander Ahuja purchased a property bearing No. D-1077, New Friends Colony, New Delhi (“property”). Years later, his son Raveen Ahuja and daughter-in-law Sneha Ahuja (the defendant in the present case) inhabited the first floor of the said property. Due to some marital discord, Raveen started living in the guest room on the ground floor, where his parents resided and the defendant started a separate kitchen in the 1st floor accommodation. On 28 November 2014, Raveen Ahuja filed a divorce petition under Section 13(1)(ia) and Section 13(1)(iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 on the ground that he was subjected to cruelty by his wife i.e. the defendant. The defendant then filed a petition under Section 12 of 2005 Act on 20 November 2015 against Raveen Ahuja and his parents on the grounds of mental and emotional abuse. The divorce petition is still pending but with respect to the petition u/S 12, the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate passed an interim order that the respondents shall not alienate the property and would not deprive the complainant or her children from the same.
The real case began when the plaintiff filed a suit of mandatory injunction against the defendant to vacate the property and a permanent injunction suit restraining her to enter and reside in the house. He also asked for recovery of damages/mesne profits. He pleaded that the defendant has filed false and frivolous cases against his family causing them emotional and mental stress. He also pleaded that the defendant subjected him and his wife to domestic violence, and he was not liable to maintain her during the lifetime of her husband. The plaintiff contends while relying on the SC Judgment S.R. Batra v Taruna Batra that the respondent can only claim a right to reside in a house which is either a joint family property or the husband has a share in it.
In the written statement, the defendant claimed that she was the one who was actually subjected to domestic violence and that she has a right to reside in the property, it being a shared household under Section 2(s) of the 2005 Act.
Judgement of the Court
The court in this case mainly analyses two important questions of law – firstly, the extent of the definition of shared household u/s 2(s) of the Act and secondly, has the law been laid correctly in the judgement of S.R. Batra and Anr. Vs. Taruna Batra?
The SC in the case of Bharat Coop. Bank (Mumbai) Ltd. Vs. Coop. Bank Employees Union, (2007) 4 SCC 685 explained the term “means and includes”. The court held that when a provision used the term “means”, it would be considered as a hard and fast definition and no other interpretation can be assigned to it. When the term “includes” is used, the legislature has made the definition enumerative. Therefore, using the term “means and includes” indicated that the legislature intended to make the definition exhaustive. The court while interpreting the extent of the definition of shared household broke the definition in two parts - 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.
Therefore, the court is of the view that definition of shared household is an exhaustive definition.
The court stated that “mere fleeting or casual living” doesn’t constitute a shared household. The intention of the parties has