By Saumya Dhyani ~ Army Institute of Law, Mohali
The Supreme Court had recently in the case of Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma passed a judgement giving equal coparcenary rights to daughters. Following this judgment came the judgement of Satish Chander Ahuja vs Sneha Ahuja, which secured the rights of women in general and the rights of women fighting divorce cases in particular. The judgement was delivered on 15-10-2020 by a bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah. The apex court also remarked that domestic violence in the country is rampant, and several women encounter violence in some form or the other every day. The court while providing residential rights to women fighting divorce cases against their husband held that they could not be dispossessed from the marital household on the ground that the husbands do not wholly or partly own the property. The Supreme Court in this judgement overruled 2006 judgment of SR Batra vs Smt Taruna Batra.
FACTS OF THE CASE
- The matter arose out of a matrimonial dispute between Raveen Ahuja and Sneha Ahuja. Satish Chandra, who happens to be the father-in-law of Sneha and also the appellant in this case, had purchased house no. D-1077 in Friends Colony, New Delhi. Appellant’s wife, son (Raveen) and daughter-in-law (Sneha) were living in the said Premises. The appellant and his wife resided on the Ground Floor, and his son and daughter-in-law resided on the First Floor of the Premises.
- Later Raveen moved out of the first floor and started staying in the guest room of the ground floor and filed a Divorce Petition on 28.11.2014 under Section 13 (1) (ia) and (iii) of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 on the ground that Sneha had treated him with cruelty. Subsequent to this Sneha filed an application under Sec 12 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 alleging that she had been subjected to severe emotional and mental abuse.
PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE METROPOLITAN MAGISTRATE
The Learned Magistrate in an interim order passed on 26-11-2016 directed the In-laws and the husband to neither alienate Sneha from the shared household nor dispossess her from the Premises until further orders.
PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE TRIAL COURT
- Aggrieved by order of Metropolitan Judge, Satish Chandra filed a Suit in the Trial Court against Sneha seeking her removal from the house so that they could lead a peaceful life. He also pleaded that the complaint was false and frivolous and was filed with mala fide intentions because Raveen had already filed a Divorce Petition. It was further alleged that the in-laws, on the contrary, had been subjected to violence by Sneha on many occasions.
- The Magistrate’s Order was further challenged on the ground that Satish being the Father-in-Law is not responsible for maintaining Sneha during the lifetime of her husband. The Trial Court on 08-04-2019 passed an order whereby the Daughter-in-Law, i.e. Sneha, was asked to vacate the physical possession of the premises.
PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE DELHI HIGH COURT
Sneha filed an appeal before the Delhi High Court who reverted the matter to the Trial Court for proper adjudication. The High Court observed since the matter was pending before domestic violence Magistrate, the Trial Court’s Order which directed Sneha to vacate the premises, where she had allegedly been subjected to domestic violence, would cause serious prejudice against her.
The High Court further reiterated that persons affected by domestic violence should have a right to reside in a shared household, irrespective of the fact whether or not they are the owner of the shared household, as long as they can prove that they had endured domestic violence while being in a domestic relationship with the owner of such premises. The court further held that under Section 19 (1) (f) of the 2005 Act Sneha should be given an alternate accommodation till the time her matrimonial relationship subsists.
PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT
The Supreme Court observed that the objective of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 was to secure the rights of aggrieved persons in a domestic relationship in a shared household. Domestic relationships would not just mean the relationships between a husband and a wife it would also include relationships arising out of adoption, consanguinity, etc as enumerated in Section 2 (f) of the D.V Act. In the present case it was beyond doubt that Raveen and Sneha were in a domestic relationship. They were husband and wife and thus were covered under the Section 2 (f).
The next discussion that the court took up was to see if Raveen and Sneha were living in a shared household. Section 2 (s) of the D.V Act enumerates as to what constitutes as a shared household. The court held that the right of occupation of matrimonial home, which was earlier not part of any statutory law in India, was recognized in the D.V Act of 2005. The court referred to the judgement Attavar vs. Neelam Manmohan Attavar wherein the Supreme Court held that the Act was intended to give an entitlement in favor of the women with regards to the right of residence under the shared household irrespective of her having any legal interests in the same. The court observed that even if the house belonged to her father-in-law and Raveen had no share in the house belongings but Sneha had been living in the first floor of the house since her marriage in a domestic relationship.
The Court finally held that a wife is entitled to claim the right to residence in a shared household belonging to either the husband or the relatives of the husband where he stays during the divorce proceedings.
 Appeal (Civil) 5837 of 2006
 “Domestic relationship” means a relationship between two persons who live or have, at any point of time, lived together in a shared household, when they are related by consanguinity, marriage, or through a relationship in the nature of marriage, adoption or are family members living together as a joint family.
 “shared household” means a household where the person aggrieved lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship either singly or along with the respondent and includes such a household whether owned or tenanted either jointly by the aggrieved person and the respondent, or 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 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.
 (2017) 8 SCC 550.