In a landmark judgment under the Domestic Violence Act that aims to ensure in-laws treat daughters-in-laws well, the Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that once a woman lodges a complaint under the 2005 law, she will have the right to residence in the shared house even if it was rented or owned by the in-laws and the husband had no ownership right over it.
In an important widening of the term ‘shared household’ to protect hapless women at risk of being thrown out of marital homes, the court ruled that the aggrieved woman can claim right of residence in any house that she had lived in with her husband or live-in partner even if that house belonged to the parents-in-law, the husband’s relatives, or was even a tenanted premise where they lived together. To remove her from the house, the only option with the owner of the house is to file an eviction suit, it said.
Setting aside an earlier ruling that a distressed woman could have right to residence only if the house where she resided after marriage or during a live-in relationship was owned by the husband or if he had shared ownership right over it (such as a family home), a bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R S Reddy and M R Shah gave a wider meaning to ‘shared household’ concept to offer foolproof protection to women or live-in partners from being summarily thrown out of the house by the husband or the in-laws during pendency of her complaint under DV Act.
The bench explained the meaning of ‘living together’ and said there should be some permanency attached to it. “Mere fleeting or casual living at different places shall not make a shared household. The intention of the parties and the nature of living, including the nature of the household, have to be looked into to find out as to whether the parties intended to treat the premises as a shared household or not,” it said.
But it held the DV Act as a milestone in ensuring rights of women, noting that they were often unable to register a complaint due to adverse social equations.
In a 151-page judgment ironing out important issues in applicability of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, Justice Bhushan said, “Definition of shared household given in Section 2(s) cannot be read to mean that shared household can only be that household which is household of the joint family of which the husband is a member or in which the husband of the aggrieved person has a share.”
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