Concerns left lingering on Domestic Violence by Delhi District Court Judgment

Concerns left lingering on Domestic Violence by Delhi District Court Judgment

Meera Emmanuel

The Delhi District Court at Saket recently delivered a judgment that reiterated the limited connotation of the term “domestic relationship” for the purpose of the Protection of Women under Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

In passing the judgment, Additional Sessions Judge Lokesh Kumar Sharma has also made some intriguing comments raising questions on the interpretation of emotional, verbal and economic abuse as understood in the Domestic Violence Act.

The case arose as a matter of appeal against notice issued by the Metropolitan Magistrate to the husband and father-in-law of a complainant under Section 12 of the Domestic Violence Act. The appellant/father-in-law had approached the District Court to discharge him from the case on the primary ground that he did not share a domestic relationship with the complainant to attract any form of liability under the said Act.

Advocate Uday Gupta appeared for the appellant in the case. The original complainant/first respondent was represented by Senior Advocate Mahesh Jethmalani and Advocate Manali Singhal. The complainant’s husband/second respondent, a practicing advocate, appeared in-person.

The complainant and her husband had moved out of the house of the appellant back in 2014, after which the appellant had no right in the living premises of the complainant.

It was pointed out that, in order to attract liability under the Domestic Violence Act, a domestic relationship has to subsist between the aggrieved person/complainant and the prospective offender. In this regard, section 2 (f) defines a domestic relationship as,

“…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.”

In this context, it was noted that the phrase at any point of time, does not refer to any point of time for the past period irrespective of the survival of right to live together. The domestic violence complained of ought to have taken place while living in the same shared household.

This interpretation has been supported by at least three Delhi High Court judgments viz. Vijay Verma v State of NCT Delhi & Anr., Harbans Lal Malik & Ors v Payal Mali and Hima Chugh v Pritam Ashok Sadaphule & Ors.

Hence, it was held that when the complainant and her husband left the appellant’s premises voluntarily to move into new shared premises, the appellant was also discharged of any prospective liability under the Domestic Violence Act. This ground by itself may have discharged the appellant from the case at hand.

However, the learned single judge goes on to make certain interesting observations regarding the reliability of the case proposed by the complainant, prompting questions on the contours of verbal, emotional and economical abuse for the purpose of the DV Act.

Several acts complained of as constituting abuse by the complainant were found to be vague and unreliable. These included allegations of public ridicule as well as incidents where the complainant was referred to as a bad omen.

The tenor of the judgement gradually moves from evidence-based to sermon-like.

On allegations made, that the complainant was often told to stay at home as a dutiful Hindu wife, the judge first points out that the role of the appellant is comparatively less than the alleged role of her husband:

“…the same are primarily against the respondent no. 2 herein and only role scribed to the conduct of the appellant herein is that supporting of his son and telling the respondent no. 1 that being a duty full Hindu wife, it was her duty to listen to her husband and fulfill all his wishes, needs and demands.”

The judge then proceeds to remark,

Even if, it is presumed that the contents of this para are correct per se, then also, I have no hesitation in holding that in each and every family of Hindu society, it is the duty of elders of the family to apprise the younger generation about the social ethics, moral values, customs, culture and traditions. Thus, any such preaching of elders of the family, could not be construed as having caused any kind of abuse to younger members of the family.

On another allegation that the complainant was told to quit her job so that she could look after the appellant’s ailing wife, the judge had this to say,

“…once it is presumed in our society that taking care of ailing or old parents is a pious obligation of the son, then, it also becomes the joint obligation of daughter-in-law as well after her marriage to contribute in discharging of this pious obligation of her husband. Thus, even if, it is presumed that respondent no. 1 herein was ever called upon by respondent no. 2 to take care of his ailing mother, then also, I do not find it to be a such harsh or unreasonable demand which could have constituted any kind of abuse upon her.”

Regarding allegations that the complainant was pressurised to quit her job, the judge observes,

As observed earlier, when the respondent no. 1 had continued her working since marriage, it shows that even if any such advice was rendered to her either by the appellant or by respondent no. 2 herein but she had not paid any heed to the same. The kind of abuse (if any), she had suffered by the said words is beyond any logic and understanding of a prudent mind.”

As regards the complainant in this case, the judge found no reason to believe that she had been mentally abused into submission by her husband or the appellant. The court also made reference to WhatsApp messages (treated as documentary evidence) between the appellant and the complainant, to allude to an alternate narrative that they had shared a cordial relationship prior to the case.

These observations, of course, aided the judge in discerning that the appellant did not have history of ill will towards the complainant, making it unlikely that he would have contributed in any abuse.

The court then goes on to lament on behalf of the appellant that,

The only sin appears to have been committed by the appellant was marrying his son with respondent no. 1 and later on, firstly, trying to pacify their tensions and grievances and when the situation could not be controlled by him, then giving up his efforts and letting the parties to live in their own fashion, style and manner, due to which fact, he had faced wrath from her daughter-in-law (respondent no. 1 herein) who had dragged him into this litigation.

While discharging the appellant from this case, the judge concludes his judgement by opining,

…due to heavy work load and paucity of time available in MM’s Courts, it seems that all those facts appear to have lost sight of the Ld. MM accidently while passing the impugned order qua the appellant herein. Thus, without going through the entire material available on record, the impugned order was passed by her.”

Image taken from here.

Read Judgment below.

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