New Delhi: The Supreme Court exponentially expanded the ambit of ‘shared household’ definition under the DV Act and ruled that a woman belonging to any religion — be she a mother, daughter, sister, wife, mother-in-law, daughter-in-law or from any other category — in a domestic relationship has the right to reside in a shared household. In a 79-page judgment analysing the ‘shared household’ provision under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (DV Act), a bench of Justices M R Shah and B V Nagarathna said, “A woman in a domestic relationship who is not aggrieved, in the sense that who has not been subjected to an act of domestic violence, has a right to reside in a shared household. Thus, a mother, daughter, sister, wife, mother-in-law and daughterin-law or such other categories of women in a domestic relationship have the right to reside in a shared household dehors a right, title or beneficial interest in the same”. Writing the judgment, Justice Nagarathna said right of residence of the aforesaid categories of women and such other categories of women in a domestic relationship is guaranteed under Sub-Section (1) of Section 17 and she cannot be evicted, excluded or thrown out from such a household even in the absence of there being any form of domestic violence.
The bench said, “In the Indian societal context, the right of a woman to reside in the shared household is of unique importance. In India, most women are not educated nor are they earning; neither do they have financial independence so as to live singly”.
Giving a secular character to the DV Act, the SC made it applicable to women irrespective of the faith professed by them as in the case of IPC, CrPC and CPC.
The bench said the expres- sion ‘the right to reside in a shared household’ cannot be restricted to actual residence. “If a woman gets married, she acquires the right to reside in the household of her husband which then becomes a shared household within the meaning of the DV Act. In India, it is asocietal norm for a woman, on her marriage to reside with her husband, unless due to professional, occupational or job commitments, or for other genuine reasons, the husband and wife decide to reside at different locations. Even in a case where the woman in a domestic relationship is residing elsewhere. . . , she has the right to reside in a shared household”.
“If a woman in a domestic relationship seeks to enforce her right to reside in a shared household, irrespective of whether she has resided therein at all or not, then that right can be enforced under Section 17(1) of the DV Act. If her right to reside in a shared household is resisted or restrained. . . then she becomes an aggrieved person and she cannot be evicted, if she has already been living in the shared household or excluded from the same if she is not actually residing therein,” the SC said.