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In a judgment passed last week, the Madras High Court reiterated that an unmarried daughter can claim maintenance from her father even beyond the age of majority if she is unable to maintain herself.
Placing reliance on a catena of judgments passed over the years on the issue, Justice N Anand Venkatesh highlighted,
“It is very clear from the above judgments that even though Section 125 restricts the payment of maintenance to the children till they attain majority, when it comes to the daughter, Courts have taken a consistent stand that even though the daughter has attained majority, she will be entitled for maintenance till she remains unmarried by virtue of Section 20(3) of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956.”
Generally, Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) only provides for the grant of maintenance to minor daughters. An exception to this general provision is that major daughters can also claim maintenance under Section 125 if they are unable to maintain themselves owing to some “physical or mental abnormality or injury.”
However, over the years, courts have recognised enabling laws in Muslim and Hindu personal law that would allow major unmarried daughters to claim maintenance, if they are unable to maintain themselves, regardless of such disablement.
In the case of the Hindu daughter before the Court, it was noted that Section 20 (3) of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 would apply. This Section obligates a father to maintain his unmarried daughter even though she has attained majority.
In the case at hand, the 18-year old unmarried daughter had sought monthly maintenance from her father citing her inability to pay for her education. The lower court had rejected her claim on the ground that she had attained majority. However, in view of the law recalled above, Justice Venkatesh concluded that the daughter’s claim ought not to have been rejected. He ruled,
“The Court below has not taken into consideration the march of law that has taken place by virtue of the above judgments and had committed an error by rejecting the petition at the threshold on the ground of maintainability and the same requires interference by this Court in exercise of its jurisdiction under Section 482 of Cr.Pc.”
Further, the Court also noted that the claimant-daughter should not be inconvenienced by rejecting her claim on technical grounds, only because she filed the same by invoking Section 125, CrPC. As noted in the judgment,
“In order to avoid multiplicity of proceedings, the Courts have taken a consistent stand that the petition under Section 125 of Cr.PC can be entertained without pushing her to file an independent petition seeking for maintenance under Section 20(3) of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956.“
In any case, it was also noted that the denial of her claim, which could be viewed as a violation of her legal right, could also be view as a mental injury under Section 125 of CrPC.
“That apart, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has also held that mental injury is nothing but malice in law which can be gathered on the basis of violation of a legal right to claim maintenance vested under any law for the time being in force including Section 125 of Cr.PC. If the right to claim maintenance of the daughter is infringed, definitely it can be called as a injury which can very well be fit into the definition of mental injury.“
With these observations, the Court set aside the lower court’s judgment. The claimant daughter was directed to re-present her claim before the lower court, upon which the court is expected to deal with the claim in accordance with law.
The High Court had passed a similar ruling in February this year as well.