Right to Residence

The Domestic Violence Act was enacted with the intent “to protect women against violence of any kind especially that occurring within the family” and provides for the “rights of women to secure housing”. The cases cited below are precedents, which can be used in obtaining the equitable relief of “residence orders” (Section 17 & 19) in favor of an aggrieved person in respect of a “shared household” (Section 2(s)) under the DV Act.

“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 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. (Section 2(s))

“Domestic relationship” means a relationship between two persons who live or have, at any point in 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. (Section 2(f))

The following judgments pertain to the right to residence in a “shared household” and define the scope of the right.

Right to residence is independent of any legal right over the property

Manmohan Attavar v. Neelam Manmohan Attavar, 2017 (8) SCC 550 [Supreme Court of India, 2 Judge Bench]

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It is claimed by the respondent that she developed a relationship with the appellant and that the appellant made her stay in various residences between 2002-2008. Thereafter, the relationship between the parties soared. In 2013, the respondent filed an application under Section 12 of the DV Act seeking various reliefs. Upon the dismissal of a number of her applications, the respondent approached the High Court under Article 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India for transfer of her appeal to the High Court. The High Court by an ex-parte order stayed all proceedings and permitted the respondent to occupy the residential premises belonging to the appellant. This order came to be challenged before the Supreme Court in a Special Leave Petition.

The Supreme Court while examining if an interim order could have been passed permitting the respondent to occupy the premises of the appellant, looked at provisions of Section 17 & 19 of the DV Act and held that these provisions create an entitlement in favor of the woman of the right to residence under the “shared household” irrespective of her having any legal interests in the same. Further, it held that the direction, inter alia, can include an order restraining dispossession or a direction to remove himself on being satisfied that domestic violence had taken place. On the facts in controversy the Supreme Court held that the respondent has never stayed with the appellant in the premises in which she has been directed to be inducted.

Eveneet Singh v. Prashant Chaudhri & Ors., 2011 (179) DLT 598 [Delhi High Court, Single Judge]

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The mother-in-law filed an eviction suit seeking mandatory injunction against her son and daughter-in-law to prohibit them from occupying the suit premises as well as a maintenance suit on the ground that she is the sole owner of the suit premises and that they are merely licensees. The daughter-in-law apart from filing a suit seeking maintenance also filed a complaint against her husband and mother-in-law under the DV Act seeking residence orders and other reliefs. The daughter-in-law alleged that the mother-in-law and husband have colluded to oust her. The High Court was concerned with appeals in regard to interim relief applications of the daughter-in-law.

The High Court in this case distinguished the decision of the Supreme Court in S.R. Batra & Anr v. Taruna Batra (“Batra”). The High Court in distinguishing Batra held that, the dispute did not emerge or emanate from any provisions of the DV Act; the wife was not in possession of the suit property (unlike the present case) and that the court did not have the benefit or occasion to consider the definition of “respondent”, “domestic relationship” and explore the link between these two vital concepts with the definition of “shared household”. The court categorically held that the definition of “shared household” emphasizes the factum of a domestic relationship and no investigation into the ownership of the said household is necessary as per the definition.

In the facts of the case the Court held that the daughter-in-law indeed has a right of residence. However, keeping in mind that the mother-in-law suffered from a serious illness, the court held that the wife is entitled to residence in a property commensurate with her lifestyle and her current residence. The husband was ordered to provide an alternate accommodation to the wife in compliance with Section 19(1)(f) of the DV Act.

Eveneet Singh v. Prashant Chaudhri & Ors., 2011 SCC OnLine Del 4651 [Delhi High Court, Division Bench]

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The daughter-in-law preferred an appeal against the decision of the Single Judge dated 20th December 2010 seeking a right to residence in the premises in question owing to it being a “shared household”.

The Division Bench dismissed the appeal and held that: “We must emphasise once again that the right of residence which a wife undoubtedly has does not mean the right to reside in a particular property. It may, of course, mean the right to residence in a commensurate property.” In doing so, it held that upon adequate circumstances being manifestly and objectively disclosed by the opposite party, an order under Section 19(1)(f) of the DV Act to provide alternative accommodation could be made.

Preeti Satija v. Raj Kumari and Anr., 2014 (207) DLT 78 [Delhi High Court, Division Bench]

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The mother-in-law being the plaintiff filed a suit for possession, permanent injunction and mesne profits against her daughter-in-law and disowned son. The suit property belonged to the father-in-law who died in 2008 leaving behind a registered will bequeathing the property in the name of the plaintiff making her the absolute owner. The trial court rejected the reliance of the daughter-in-law on provisions of the DV Act and passed its orders under Order 12 Rule 6 of CPC on the grounds that the daughter-in-law admitted to the Will as she had not contested the same. The daughter-in-law preferred an appeal before the High Court against this order. Crucially, the husband had not entered appearance and it was alleged that he had colluded with the plaintiff.

In appeal it was noted by the High Court that there was unequivocal denial of the plaintiff’s claim of absolute ownership. While dealing with the provisions of the DV Act, the court relied on the judgments passed in Eveneet Singh v. Prashant Chaudari & Ors both by the Single Judge and the Division Bench. It held that the intent of the DV Act was to secure the rights of aggrieved persons in the shared household, which could be tenanted by the respondent (including relative of the husband) or in respect of which the respondent had jointly or singly any right, title, interest, or “equity”. Further, the court opined that in case the mother-in-law is the owner of the property, the obligation to allow the daughter-in-law to live in the shared household, as long as the matrimonial relationship between her and the husband subsists, continues. Thus, excluding the right to residence against properties where the husband has no right, share, interest or title, would severely curtail the extent of the usefulness of the right to residence and run contrary to the objects of the Act. The fact that the husband had disappeared and was “disowned” by his mother was a termed as a classic case of the husband seeking to evade his responsibilities.

Ishpal Singh Kahai v. Mr. Ramanjeet Kahai, 2011 (3) MahLJ 849 [Bombay High Court, Single Judge]

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Though the petition was not filed under the provisions of the DV Act, the trial court had impliedly treated the interim applications as one under the DV Act and granted reliefs. The court under Section 19(2)(b) ordered the husband to remove himself from the suit house and restrained him from creating nuisance by attempting to enter the house until final disposal of the petition. This order of the trial court was challenged before the High Court by the husband.

Upholding the order of the trial court, the High Court held that the DV Act provides for security and protection of a wife irrespective of her proprietary rights in her residence and that the statute is an extension of the deeper and profounder principles of Women’s Rights as a part of Human Rights. The High Court held that the statute expressly excludes the consideration of ownership rights as a condition for determining whether or not a particular property is a “shared household” and that the very consideration of ownership rights when adjudicating the right to residence would put materialism before matrimony.

The High Court in regard to the removal of the husband held: “notwithstanding the law relating to ownership of immovable property any victim of domestic violence in a domestic relationship would require to be granted the protective right of residence in the shared household, including the protection against dispossession therefrom “whether or not she has any legal or equitable interest therein”. This right to reside contains within itself not only an injunction for protection against her dispossession, but statutorily follows as a matter of corollary, the order of injunction of the Court for removal of the violator from such household and thereafter restraining him from entering thereupon. The order of removal of the violator and an order of injunction restraining him from entering upon the shared household is, therefore, conditioned upon his abusive behaviour violating the person of his wife or any other woman in domestic relationship and not upon his proprietary rights therein. Consequently, the right to reside without having any title to the property contains within itself the right to reside peaceably and to the exclusion of the violator. Further since the Act puts the woman’s personal rights above proprietary interest, even if the Respondent who is the violator has title to the property, he would be restrained by a Court from exercising unrestrained domain over his ownership property by an order of injunction restraining him from alienating or disposing of or encumbering the shared household or the matrimonial home in which the victim has been granted the right of peaceful residence for her protection. This further brings within its sway, the servants, agents, assigns, who may be the relatives of the violator since what cannot be done directly also cannot be allowed to be done indirectly. This, of course, would be until and subject to the violator securing the same level of alternate accommodation for the victim as was enjoyed by her in the shared household and upon he paying for the same. Consequently, reading sub-sections (a), (b), (c), (d) and (f) of section 19(1) together, a holistic view of the protection of the victim is granted under the beneficial social legislation which seeks to remedy the malice of domestic violence in a domestic relationship.”

The phrase “at any point of time” in the definition of domestic relationship explained

“Domestic relationship” means a relationship between two persons who live or have, at any point in 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. (Section 2(f)).

The phrase “at any point of time” has been read narrowly in the Vijay Verma judgment, below.

Indra Sarma v. V.K.V. Sarma, 2013 (15) SCC 755 [Supreme Court of India, 2 Judge Bench]

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Here the court was concerned with the question whether a “live-in relationship” would amount to a “relationship in the nature of marriage” falling within the definition of “domestic relationship” under Section 2(f) of the DV Act.

The court laid down guidelines to determine the “relationship in the nature of marriage”, one of them being: “Duration of period of relationship.—Section 2(f) of the DV Act has used the expression “at any point of time”, which means a reasonable period of time to maintain and continue a relationship which may vary from case to case, depending upon the fact situation.”

Dhananjay Ramakrishna Gaikwad v. Sunanda Dhanjay Gaikwad, 2016 (1) AIR Bom R (Cri) 590 [Bombay High Court, Single Judge]

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The husband here preferred a revision application against the dismissal of an appeal which was preferred against the order of protection granted to the wife and child under Section 18 of the DV Act. One of the contentions of the husband in the revision application was that the at the relevant time when application under the DV Act was filed before the Trial Court, the domestic relationship was not in existence at all as parties were residing separately since the year 2003 i.e. within a few months or a year after marriage and hence the application is not maintainable.

The court held: “…as laid down in Section 2(a) clearly provided that any women, who is or has been in domestic relationship with the respondent. The definition of ‘Domestic Relationship’ also means relationship between two persons, who live or have, at any point of time, lived together in shared household. The definition of ‘Shared Household’ also means where the person aggrieved lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship. Therefore, none of the definitions contemplate that on the date of filing such application for the reliefs under Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, the parties should be actually residing or living together. The very words “has lived together at any point of time” necessarily cover even the past co-habitation or past living together. Otherwise, these words would not have appeared in the definition. Giving any other interpretation would be making these words nugatory. So till the time the marital tie subsists and the party, at any point of time, had lived together, the application or proceedings under Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act can survive and are very much maintainable so as to grant the necessary relief.”

Vijay Verma v. State of Delhi & Anr., ILR (2011) 1 Delhi [Delhi High Court, Single Judge]

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The petition seeking residential orders under the DV Act in her parental house was filed by the woman who is residing in the USA from the year 2000. She went to her parental house in 2008 and was not allowed to enter it. The trial court and the first appellate court observed that the whole dispute seemed to be a property dispute between parties and there were no grounds to pass residence orders. The same was challenged under Section 482 of CrPC before the High Court.

The High Court dismissed the petition and interpreting the phrase “at any point in time” held: “A perusal of this provision makes it clear that domestic relationship arises in respect of an aggrieved person if the aggrieved person had lived together with the respondent in a shared household. This living together can be either soon before filing of petition or ‘at any point of time’.

The problem arises with the meaning of phrase “at any point of time”. Does that mean that living together at any stage in the past would give right to a person to become aggrieved person to claim domestic relationship? I consider that “at any point of time” under the Act only means where an aggrieved person has been continuously living in the shared household as a matter of right but for some reason the aggrieved person has to leave the house temporarily and when she returns, she is not allowed to enjoy her right to live in the property.

However, “at any point of time” cannot be defined as “at any point of time in the past” whether the right to live survives or not. For example if there is a joint family where father has several sons with daughters-in-law living in a house and ultimately sons, one by one or together, decide that they should live separate with their own families and they establish separate household and start living with their respective families separately at different places; can it be said that wife of each of the sons can claim a right to live in the house of father-in-law because at one point of time she along with her husband had lived in the shared household. If this meaning is given to the shared household then the whole purpose of Domestic Violence Act shall stand defeated. Where a family member leaves the shared household to establish his own household, and actually establishes his own household, he cannot claim to have a right to move an application under Section 12 of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act on the basis of domestic relationship. Domestic relationship comes to an end once the son along with his family moved out of the joint family and established his own household or when a daughter gets married and establishes her own household with her husband. Such son, daughter, daughter-in-law, son-in-law, if they have any right in the property say because of coparcenary or because of inheritance, such right can be claimed by an independent civil suit and an application under Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act cannot be filed by a person who has established his separate household and ceased to have a domestic relationship. Domestic relationship continues so long as the parties live under the same roof and enjoy living together in a shared household. Only a compelled or temporarily going out by aggrieved person shall fall in phrase ‘at any point of time’, say, wife has gone to her parents house or to a relative or some other female member has gone to live with her some relative, and, all her articles and belongings remain within the same household and she has not left the household permanently, the domestic relationship continues. However, where the living together has been given up and a separate household is established and belongings are removed, domestic relationship comes to an end and a relationship of being relatives of each other survives. This is very normal in families that a person whether, a male or a female attains self sufficiency after education or otherwise and takes a job lives in some other city or country, enjoys life there, settles home there. He cannot be said to have domestic relationship with the persons whom he left behind. His relationship that of a brother and sister, father and son, father and daughter, father and daughter-in-law etc. survives but the domestic relationship of living in a joint household would not survive & comes to an end.”

Distinguishing the Supreme Court’s judgment in S R Batra v. Taruna Batra

S.R. Batra & Anr v. Taruna Batra, (2007 (3) SCC 169) [Supreme Court of India, 2 Judges Bench]

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The decision of the Supreme Court in this case is distinguishable from the others on four aspects:

  1. The dispute between the parties did not emerge or emanate from any provisions of the DV Act, it was only during arguments that the advocate for the wife mentioned the provisions of the DV Act.
  2. Factually, the wife was not in possession of the suit property.
  3. The court did not have the benefit to consider the definition of “respondent”, “domestic relationship” and explore the link between these two vital concepts.
  4. The court did not have the occasion to consider the argument that the right to residence of an aggrieved woman is an equitable right to residence and not a legal right to property.

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