09 Jan YEAR IN REVIEW 2020: FAMILY LAW
Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma: Exploring the Prospective Dimensions of Family Law through its Retroactive Application
- The ambiguities and uncertainties in the law as well as the disputes pertaining to the provisions of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, were settled in this case to a large extent, wherein the court observed the constitutional values of gender equality in family law matters, namely, inheritance.
- The question before the court involved the interpretation of Section 6 of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, which primarily deals with devolution of interest in case of coparcenary properties; and its retrospective or prospective applicability. The ambiguities faced in several cases, such as Prakash v. Phulavati, which was overruled subsequently in this case, and Danamma v. Amar. The court held that the Act was retroactive in its application.
- It was contended that exclusion of a female successor from the coparcenary was discriminatory in nation, and violated the fundamental rights of women. Further, the Hindu law was historically analysed, in order to understand concepts such as Joint Hindu Family, and the formation of coparcenary, and accordingly arrive at a just conclusion.
- It was held that the amendment makes the benefit of succession available to female successors, as with the male successors, that is, female successors hold equal coparcenary rights on properties in a Hindu Undivided Family, irrespective of their birth, or their father’s death, having occurred prior to the amendment.
- The verdict has certainly been a landmark in taking the right steps towards making the law of inheritance more inclusive, and has the potential to make women more financially independent and empowered. The judgement will have a significant impact on pending disputes of similar nature and subject matter.
Satish Chander Ahuja v. Sneha Ahuja: Certain Important Interpretations
- Satish Chander Ahuja v. Sneha Ahuja is one of the most significant judgements of 2020, particularly in the context of women’s matrimonial rights. Here, the Supreme Court, in a judgement delivered by Justices Ashok Bhushan, Subhash Reddy and M.R. Shah, reinterpreted the words ‘shared household’ as defined by Section 2(s) of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (DV Act).
- Prior to this judgment, in S. R. Batra v. Taruna Batra, the Supreme Court had interpreted the term ‘shared household’ to mean a house that belongs to or has been taken on rent by the woman’s husband or a house in which the husband has a share or is a member of the joint family residing in the house.
- In this case, the plaintiff had filed a suit for mandatory and permanent injunction in addition to a suit for recovery of damages and mesne profits, against his daughter-in-law. In a complaint under the DV Act, the defendant daughter-in-law had earlier obtained an interim order barring the plaintiff from alienating and dispossessing her until the Court passed its final order. The defendant argued that she was entitled to reside in the house as per the definition of a ‘shared household’ under S. 2(s) of the Act.
- Conversely, the plaintiff claimed that as a father-in-law, he had no obligation to maintain the defendant during the lifetime of her husband. However, the Supreme Court held that even though the ‘shared household’ belongs to a relative of the husband with whom the wife has lived in a domestic relationship, it fulfills the condition specified under S. 2(s) of the Act, and the wife has a right of residence in such a household.
- Recognizing the pervasiveness of domestic violence in Indian society, the Court decreed that the interpretation of the term ‘shared household’ in the Batra case frustrated the purpose of the DV Act, and thus must be denounced. Importantly, the Court also held that any relief available under Sections 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22 of the Act can also be sought by the aggrieved person before a civil, criminal or family court.
Although this judgment has set a crucial precedent for securing the rights of married women, many connected issues remain to be resolved. For e.g., the right of a divorced (woman who is aggrieved under the DV Act) to seek residence in a household belonging to the husband’s relatives is still being contemplated by the Courts, and even though the Supreme Court has delivered judgments in its favour, many High Courts have expressed incongruous opinions in the absence of a clear answer.