The Appellant having lost the battle for getting her Stridhan back from her husband, the first Respondent herein, before the learned Magistrate on the ground that the claim preferred Under Section 12 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
Criminal Appeal No. 1545 of 2015 (Arising out of SLP (Crl.) No. 10223 of 2014)
Decided On: 20.11.2015
Krishna Bhatacharjee Vs. Sarathi Choudhury and Ors.
Dipak Misra and Prafulla C. Pant, JJ.
1. Leave granted.
2. The Appellant having lost the battle for getting her Stridhan back from her husband, the first Respondent herein, before the learned Magistrate on the ground that the claim preferred Under Section 12 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (for short, 'the 2005 Act') was not entertainable as she had ceased to be an "aggrieved person" Under Section 2(a) of the 2005 Act and further that the claim as put forth was barred by limitation; preferred an appeal before the learned Additional Sessions Judge who concurred with the view expressed by the learned Magistrate, and being determined to get her lawful claim, she, despite the repeated non-success, approached the High Court of Tripura, Agartala in Criminal Revision No. 19 of 2014 with the hope that she will be victorious in the war to get her own property, but the High Court, as is perceivable, without much analysis, declined to interfere by passing an order with Spartan austerity possibly thinking lack of reasoning is equivalent to a magnificent virtue and that had led the agonised and perturbed wife to prefer the present appeal, by special leave.
3. Prior to the narration of facts which are essential for adjudication of this appeal, we may state that the 2005 Act has been legislated, as its Preamble would reflect, to provide for more effective protection of the rights of the women guaranteed under the Constitution who are victims of violence of any kind occurring within the family and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. The 2005 Act is a detailed Act. The dictionary clause of the 2005 Act, which we shall advert to slightly at a later stage, is in a broader spectrum. The definition of "domestic violence" covers a range of violence which takes within its sweep "economic abuse" and the words "economic abuse", as the provision would show, has many a facet.
4. Regard being had to the nature of the legislation, a more sensitive approach is expected from the courts where under the 2005 Act no relief can be granted, it should never be conceived of but, before throwing a petition at the threshold on the ground of maintainability, there has to be an apposite discussion and thorough deliberation on the issues raised. It should be borne in mind that helpless and hapless "aggrieved person" under the 2005 Act approaches the court under the compelling circumstances. It is the duty of the court to scrutinise the facts from all angles whether a plea advanced by the Respondent to nullify the grievance of the aggrieved person is really legally sound and correct. The principle "justice to the cause is equivalent to the salt of ocean" should be kept in mind. The court of law is bound to uphold the truth which sparkles when justice is done. Before throwing a petition at the threshold, it is obligatory to see that the person aggrieved under such a legislation is not faced with a situation of non-adjudication, for the 2005 Act as we have stated is a beneficial as well as assertively affirmative enactment for the realisation of the constitutional rights of women and to ensure that they do not become victims of any kind of domestic violence.
5. Presently to the narration of the facts. The marriage between the Appellant and the Respondent No. 1 was solemnised on 27.11.2005 and they lived as husband and wife. As the allegations proceed, there was demand of dowry by the husband including his relatives and, demands not being satisfied, the Appellant was driven out from the matrimonial home. However, due to intervention of the elderly people of the locality, there was some kind of conciliation as a consequence of which both the husband and the wife stayed in a rented house for two months.
6. Before the learned Magistrate it was contended by the Respondent that the application preferred by the wife was barred by limitation and that she could not have raised claim as regards Stridhan after the decree of judicial separation passed by the competent court. The learned Magistrate taking into consideration the admitted fact that Respondent and the Appellant had entered into wedlock treated her as an "aggrieved person", but opined that no "domestic relationship" as defined Under Section 2(f) of the 2005 Act existed between the parties and, therefore, wife was not entitled to file the application Under Section 12 of the 2005 Act.
7. The aggrieved wife preferred criminal appeal No. 6(1) of 2014 which has been decided by the learned Additional Sessions Judge, Agartala holding, inter alia, that the object of the 2005 Act is primarily to give immediate relief to the victims; that as per the decision of this Court in Inderjit Singh Grewal v. State of Punjab MANU/SC/0988/2011 : (2011) 12 SCC 588 that Section 468 of the Code of Criminal Procedure applies to the proceedings under the 2005 Act and, therefore, her application was barred by time. Being of this view, the appellate court dismissed the appeal.
8. On a revision being preferred, the High Court, as is demonstrable from the impugned order, after referring to the decision in Inderjit Singh Grewal (supra), has stated that the wife had filed a criminal case Under Section 498(A) Indian Penal Code in the year 2006 and the husband had obtained a decree of judicial separation in 2008, and hence, the proceedings under the 2005 Act was barred by limitation. That apart, it has also in a way expressed the view that the proceedings under the 2005 Act was not maintainable.
12. Section 18 deals with passing of protection orders by the Magistrate. Section 19 deals with the residence orders and Section 20 deals with monetary reliefs. Section 28 deals with procedure and stipulates that all proceedings Under Sections 12, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23 and offences Under Section 31 shall be governed by the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. Section 36 lays down that the provisions of the 2005 Act shall be in addition to, and not in derogation of the provisions of any other law, for the time being in force.
13. Having scanned the anatomy of the 2005 Act, we may now refer to a few decisions of this Courts that have dealt with the provisions of the 2005 Act. In V.D. Bhanot v. Savita Bhanot MANU/SC/0115/2012 : (2012) 3 SCC 183 the question arose whether the provisions of the 2005 Act can be made applicable in relation to an incident that had occurred prior to the coming into force of the said Act. Be it noted, the High Court had rejected the stand of the Respondent therein that the provisions of the 2005 Act cannot be invoked if the occurrence had taken place prior to the coming into force of the 2005 Act.
14. In Saraswathy v. Babu MANU/SC/1193/2013 : (2014) 3 SCC 712 a two-Judge Bench, after referring to the decision in V.D. Bhanot (supra), reiterated the principle. It has been held therein:
We are of the view that the act of the Respondent husband squarely comes within the ambit of Section 3 of the DVA, 2005, which defines "domestic violence" in wide terms. The High Court made an apparent error in holding that the conduct of the parties prior to the coming into force of the DVA, 2005 cannot be taken into consideration while passing an order. This is a case where the Respondent husband has not complied with the order and direction passed by the trial court and the appellate court.
15. In the instant case, as has been indicated earlier, the courts below as well as the High Court have referred to the decision in Inderjit Singh Grewal (supra). The said case has to be understood regard being had to the factual expose therein. The Court had referred to the decision in D. Velusamy v. D. Patchaiammal MANU/SC/0872/2010 : (2010) 10 SCC 469 wherein this Court had considered the expression "domestic relationship" Under Section 2(f) of the Act and judgment in Savitaben Somabhai Bhatiya v. State of Gujarat MANU/SC/0193/2005 : (2005) 3 SCC 636 and distinguished the said judgments as those cases related to live-in relationship without marriage.
18. The core issue that is requisite to be addressed is whether the Appellant has ceased to be an "aggrieved person" because of the decree of judicial separation. Once the decree of divorce is passed, the status of the parties becomes different, but that is not so when there is a decree for judicial separation. A three-Judge Bench in Jeet Singh and Ors. v. State of U.P. and Ors. MANU/SC/0436/1993 : (1993) 1 SCC 325 though in a different context, adverted to the concept of judicial separation and ruled that the judicial separation creates rights and obligations. A decree or an order for judicial separation permits the parties to live apart. There would be no obligation for either party to cohabit with the other.
22. In view of the aforesaid pronouncement, it is quite clear that there is a distinction between a decree for divorce and decree of judicial separation; in the former, there is a severance of status and the parties do not remain as husband and wife, whereas in the latter, the relationship between husband and wife continues and the legal relationship continues as it has not been snapped. Thus understood, the finding recorded by the courts below which have been concurred by the High Court that the parties having been judicial separated, the Appellant wife has ceased to be an "aggrieved person" is wholly unsustainable.
23. The next issue that arises for consideration is the issue of limitation. In the application preferred by the wife, she was claiming to get back her stridhan. Stridhan has been described as saudayika by Sir Gooroodas Banerjee in "Hindu Law of Marriage and Stridhan" which is as follows:
First, take the case of property obtained by gift. Gifts of affectionate kindred, which are known by the name of saudayika stridhan, constitute a woman's absolute property, which she has at all times independent power to alienate, and over which her husband has only a qualified right, namely, the right of use in times of distress.
24. The said passage, be it noted, has been quoted Pratibha Rani v. Suraj Kumar and Anr. MANU/SC/0090/1985 : (1985) 2 SCC 370. In the said case, the majority referred to the stridhan as described in "Hindu Law" by N.R. Raghavachariar and Maine's "Treatise on Hindu Law". The Court after analyzing the classical texts opined that:
It is, therefore, manifest that the position of stridhan of a Hindu married woman's property during coverture is absolutely clear and unambiguous; she is the absolute owner of such property and can deal with it in any manner she likes--she may spend the whole of it or give it away at her own pleasure by gift or will without any reference to her husband. Ordinarily, the husband has no right or interest in it with the sole exception that in times of extreme distress, as in famine, illness or the like, the husband can utilise it but he is morally bound to restore it or its value when he is able to do so. It may be further noted that this right is purely personal to the husband and the property so received by him in marriage cannot be proceeded against even in execution of a decree for debt.
26. The decision rendered in the said case was referred for a fresh look by a three-Judge Bench. The three-Judge Bench Rashmi Kumar (Smt.) v. Mahesh Kumar Bhada MANU/SC/1052/1997 : (1997) 2 SCC 397 while considering the issue in the said case, ruled that: 9. A woman's power of disposal, independent of her husband's control, is not confined to saudayika but extends to other properties as well. Devala says: "A woman's maintenance (vritti), ornaments, perquisites (sulka), gains (labha), are her stridhana. She herself has the exclusive right to enjoy it. Her husband has no right to use it except in distress....."
27. After so stating the Court proceeded to rule that stridhana property is the exclusive property of the wife on proof that she entrusted the property or dominion over the stridhana property to her husband or any other member of the family, there is no need to establish any further special agreement to establish that the property was given to the husband or other member of the family. Further, the Court observed that it is always a question of fact in each case as to how the property came to be entrusted to the husband or any other member of the family by the wife when she left the matrimonial home or was driven out therefrom.
28. Having appreciated the concept of Stridhan, we shall now proceed to deal with the meaning of "continuing cause of action". In Bhagirath Kanoria and Ors. vs. State of M. P. MANU/SC/0338/1984 : (1984) 4 SCC 222 the Court while dealing with the continuous offence opined that the expression "continuing offence" is not defined in the Code but that is because the expressions which do not have a fixed connotation or a static import are difficult to define.
29. The Court further observed: This passage shows that apart from saying that a continuing offence is one which continues and a non-continuing offence is one which is committed once and for all, the Court found it difficult to explain as to when an offence can be described as a continuing offence. Seeing that difficulty, the Court observed that a few illustrative cases would help to bring out the distinction between a continuing offence and a non-continuing offence. The illustrative cases referred to by the Court are three from England, two from Bombay and one from Bihar.
30. Thereafter, the Court referred to the authorities and adverted to Deokaran Nenshi (supra) and eventually held:
The question whether a particular offence is a continuing offence must necessarily depend upon the language of the statute which creates that offence, the nature of the offence and, above all, the purpose which is intended to be achieved by constituting the particular act as an offence.
31. Regard being had to the aforesaid statement of law, we have to see whether retention of stridhan by the husband or any other family members is a continuing offence or not. There can be no dispute that wife can file a suit for realization of the stridhan but it does not debar her to lodge a criminal complaint for criminal breach of trust. We must state that was the situation before the 2005 Act came into force. In the 2005 Act, the definition of "aggrieved person" clearly postulates about the status of any woman who has been subjected to domestic violence as defined Under Section 3 of the said Act.
32. Consequently, the appeal is allowed and the orders passed by the High Court and the courts below are set aside. The matter is remitted to the learned Magistrate to proceed with the application Under Section 12 of the 2005 Act on merits.
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