The year 2005 marked the enactment of The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act by the law makers of India which contemplated a special legislation on the domestic violence for the first time. The Act brought a ray of optimism in the dark life of victims of domestic abuse. One of the notable rights enshrined in the act is “RIGHT TO RESIDE IN SHARED HOUSEHOLD”. The shared household is defined under Section 2(s) of the Act. The objective of the legislature to introduce an all-encompassing definition of the “shared household” in Act was two-fold i.e. the concept of ownership and possession had been distinguished to protect aggrieved person from removal or threats of removal from house in which she has no title and it was done keeping in mind the family structure in Indian households, where sons, even after their marriage, continue to live with their parents.
However, the narrow interpretation of the definition of “shared household” by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case S.R Batra and Another v. Taruna Batra (2007) 3 SCC prevented the victims to claim their right to reside in the shared household as envisaged by the law makers.
The above - mentioned judgment can be studied as follow:
· ‘at any stage has lived’: The contention that the wife had lived in the property in question in the past, hence the said property is her household cannot be accepted because this would mean that all the houses where both husband and wife lived including the relative’s place even for visit would lead to chaos and absurdity.
· Shared household: According to Section 17(1) of the DV Act, the aggrieved person i.e. the wife is only entitled to claim a right to residence in a shared household and a shared household would mean the house belonging to or taken on rent by the husband or the house which belongs to the joint family of which the husband is a member.
Recently, the above given definition has been overruled by the Apex Court in Satish Chandra Ahuja v. Sneha Ahuja dated 15th October 2020. The crucial points of the judgment are:
· The definition of shared household in Section 2(s) of the DV Act is an exhaustive definition. The first part of definition begins with expression “means” which is undoubtedly an exhaustive definition and second part of definition, which begins with word “includes” is explanatory of what was meant by the definition. The use of both the expressions “means and includes” in Section 2(s) of Act, 2005, thus, clearly indicate the legislative intent that the definition is exhaustive and shall cover only those which fall within the purview of definition and no other.
Conditions to be satisfied for a shared household (Section 2(s) of the Act)
o (i) person aggrieved lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship.
o (ii) (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.
· “At any stage has lived’
o The use of the expression “at any stage has lived” immediately after words “person aggrieved lives” has been used to protect the women from denying the benefit of right to live in a shared household on the ground that on the date when application is filed, she was excluded from possession of the house or temporarily absent. The shared household is contemplated to be the household, which is a dwelling place of aggrieved person in present time. The shared household referred to in Sec 2(s) is the shared household of the aggrieved person where she was living at the time when the application was filed or in the recent past had been excluded from the use or she is temporarily absent.
o The words “lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship” must be given its normal and purposeful meaning. The living of woman in a household refers to a living which has some permanency. 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 household need to be looked into to find out as to whether the parties intended to treat the premises as shared household or not.
· The definition of shared household as noticed in Section 2(s) does not indicate that a shared household shall be one which belongs to or taken on rent by the husband. The court has noticed the definition of “respondent” under the Act. The respondent in a proceeding under Domestic Violence Act can be any relative of the husband. In event, the shared household belongs to the husband or to any relative of the husband with whom in a domestic relationship the woman has lived, the conditions mentioned in Section 2(s) are satisfied and the said house will become a shared household. Hence, in the present case the daughter in law was granted right to reside in the shared household owned by the father in- law.
To sum up, the Apex court giving liberal interpretation to the definition of shared household reading it in the light of definition of respondent has given a new vision to the Act in question. Hence the scope of the term ‘shared household’ has widened. It is pertinent to mention that the court has also emphasised on the need to balance the rights of daughter-in- law against the aged parents living in the same house. The right to reside is, therefore, not absolute as the Act also provides for alternate accommodation to the aggrieved person or the removal from the shared household according to the procedure established by law, if the justice and equity so requires.
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