In the last few decades, increasing awareness about domestic violence against women in India has enabled the implementation of several statutory and policy measures to combat the same. The Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (hereinafter referred to as the Domestic Violence Act) was drafted for women empowerment and for protection of women against all acts which amount to domestic violence in. The scope of this legislation has been expounded in a plethora of judgments by Indian High Courts and the Supreme Court of India.
In common parlance, it has always been presumed that the maintenance is only to be paid by the husband/male partner of the victim, to which there has been an interesting addition in a recent Supreme Court judgement. In Ajay Kumar vs. Lata alias Shruti, it was directed that the brother-in-law of the complainant had to pay maintenance under Section 2(q) of the Domestic Violence Act. It was held that the Act provides for the liability of maintenance on any adult male person who has been in a domestic relationship (in the nature of a marriage) with the complainant.1
FACTS OF THE CASE
The present appeal arose from a judgment of a learned Single Judge of the High Court of Punjab and Haryana in which the Court dismissed a petition against the judgment of the Additional Sessions Judge, Panipat confirming an interim order for the award of maintenance to the complainant and her minor child, from the complainant's brother in law, under the provisions of the 2005 Act.
JUDGEMENT AND ANALYSIS
In the present case, the Supreme Court has analysed the scope and object of various definitions under the Act with emphasis on "domestic relationship" and "shared household", as provided Sections 2(f) and (s) respectively.
It is the respondent's case that after her marriage, the complainant and her spouse, Vijay Kumar Jindal, resided at a house which constitutes an ancestral Hindu Joint Family Property. She and her husband resided on the ground floor of the residential accommodation. The appellant and the deceased spouse jointly carried on the business of a kirana (grocery) store at Panipat from which, each had an income of about Rs 30,000 per month. After the death of her husband, the Respondent gave birth to their child some time in 2013. The concerns of the Respondents are commenced after the death of her spouse when she was no longer permitted to reside in her matrimonial home.
The complainant then filed a petition under Section 12 the Domestic Violence Act, for the purpose of seeking an award for maintenance since she had no other source of income. She along with her children were not being permitted to reside in her matrimonial home after the death of her husband.
The learned Trial Judge granted monthly maintenance to her and to the child born out of the said marriage. The award of maintenance was directed against the Appellant/brother in law who was carrying on the above business together with the deceased spouse of the Respondent. This order of the JMFC was confirmed by the Additional Sessions, Judge. The High Court, in a petition filed by the appellant, affirmed the view. Hence these proceedings came to be instituted under Article 136 of the Constitution of India, as a Special Leave Petition, before the Apex Court.
It was the submission of the Appellant that there was no basis under the provisions of the Act to fasten liability on the appellant/brother of the deceased spouse of the Respondent. It was submitted that the liability has been fastened upon the Appellant solely on the fact that he and his deceased brother carried on a joint business. It was urged that this could not furnish any lawful basis to direct the Appellant to meet the award of maintenance.
It was the observation of the Apex Court after referring to Sections 2(f), 2(q), 2(s), 12 and 20 of the Act, that the width and amplitude of the definitions indicated the intent of Parliament in creating both an obligation and a remedy. It stated that there were sufficient averments in the complaint to sustain the order for the award of interim maintenance. Paragraph 10 of the complaint prima facie indicates that the case of the Complainant is that the house where she and her spouse resided, belonged to a joint family.
The Appellant and his brother (who was the spouse of the First Respondent and father of the Second Respondent) carried on a joint business. The appellant resided in the same household. Ultimately, whether the requirements of Section 2(f); Section 2(q); and Section 2(s) were fulfilled adequately.
The Apex court stated that there was enough material to justify the issuance of the maintenance order. The Court, therefore, dismissed the appeal. The court held that domestic relationships, under the law, could amount to any form of relationship where the two persons, at any point in time, have resided in a shared house. This judgment thus endeavours to clarify and thus widen the scope of payment of maintenance where maintenance could be paid by any person who came within the ambit of 'domestic relationship' as well as 'shared household', according to the facts and circumstances of the case; the scope of the same would not be limited simply to the husband.
1. (2019) 15 SCC 352.
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