Women Have Rights to In-Laws’ Home Even if Estranged from Husband. Why this Supreme Court Ruling is Significant


Women Have Rights to In-Laws’ Home Even if Estranged from Husband. Why this Supreme Court Ruling is Significant

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

The Supreme Court took a significant step toward reinforcing the protections offered to women under the Domestic Violence Act yesterday, 15 October. A three-judge bench, composed of Justices MR Shah and Subhash Reddy, and headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan passed an important judgement that recognises a woman’s right to continue to reside in a house, even if it is not owned by her husband but by her in-laws or her husband’s relatives.

The court was hearing a case filed by a father-in-law arguing that since his son did not own his Delhi property, his daughter-in-law had no right to reside there after initiating divorce proceedings. However, the bench held that the definition of “shared household” under the Domestic Violence Act was not limited to property owned only by the husband, but to any house the couple had lived in together, whether it was owned by the husband, his family, or was even a leased property. The bench also noted that in cases where the husband did not own the property, the legal owners of the residence could pursue a civil suit of eviction.

The bench also overruled a 2006 judgement from the Supreme Court that disallowed a woman from claiming any right to live in a house, because it was owned by her mother-in-law and not her husband. “The progress of any society depends on its ability to protect and promote the rights of its women,” the bench said while passing its ruling.

In its judgement, the Supreme Court noted that the purpose of the Domestic Violence Act of 2005 was to ensure protection to women in troubled marriages. “A woman resigns her fate to the never ending cycle of enduring violence and discrimination as a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a partner or a single woman in her lifetime. This non-retaliation by women coupled with the absence of laws addressing women’s issues, ignorance of the existing laws enacted for women and societal attitude makes the women vulnerable,” the bench said in its ruling.

This progressive ruling by the Supreme Court marks another victory for women’s rights in India.