A domestic relationship means a relationship between two persons who live or have at any point of time, lived together in a shared household. The relationship may be by (i) consanguinity, (ii) marriage or, (iii) through a relationship in the nature of a marriage, (iv) adoption or (v) are family members living together as a joint family. The expression ‘domestic relationship’ is a comprehensive one. Hence, every woman in a domestic relationship in whatever manner the said relationship may be founded as stated above has a right to reside in a shared household, whether or not she has any right, title or beneficial interest in the same. Thus, a daughter, sister, wife, mother, grand-mother or great grand-mother, daughter-in-law, mother- in-law or any woman having a relationship in the nature of marriage, an adopted daughter or any member of joint family has the right to reside in a shared household.
In Satish Chander Ahuja vs. Sneha Ahuja – [(2021) 1 SCC 414], a Three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court, considered the expressions ‘lives or have at any point of time lived’ appearing in Section 2 (s) of the D.V. Act. This Court while considering the correctness of the law laid down in S.R.
Batra vs. Taruna Batra – [(2007) 3 SCC 169], concluded that the said case had not correctly interpreted Section 2(s) of the D.V. Act and that the said judgment does not lay down a correct law and observed as under :
“66. ……….The expression ‘at any stage has lived’ occurs in Section 2(s) after the words ‘where the person aggrieved lives’. The use of the expression ‘at any stage has lived’ immediately after words ‘person aggrieved lives’ has been used for object different to what has been apprehended by this Court in paragraph 26. The expression ‘at any stage has lived’ has been used to protect the women from denying the benefit of right to live in a shared household on the ground that on the date when application is filed, she was excluded from possession of the house or temporarily absent. The use of the expression ‘at any stage has lived’ is for the above purpose and not with the object that wherever the aggrieved person has lived with the relatives of husband, all such houses shall become shared household, which is not the legislative intent. The shared household is contemplated to be the household, which is a dwelling place of aggrieved person in present time………………
67. ……………. The entire Scheme of the Act is to provide immediate relief to the aggrieved person with respect to the shared household where the aggrieved person lives or has lived. As observed above, the use of the expression ‘at any stage has lived’ was only with intent of not denying the protection to aggrieved person merely on the ground that aggrieved person is not living as on the date of the application or as on the date when Magistrate concerned passes an order under Section 19. The apprehension expressed by this Court in paragraph 26 in S.R. Batra v. Taruna Batra [(2007) 3 SCC 169], thus, was not true apprehension and it is correct that in event such interpretation is accepted, it will lead to chaos and that was never the legislative intent. We, thus, are of the considered opinion that shared household referred to in Section 2(s) is the shared household of aggrieved person where she was living at the time when application was filed or in the recent past had been excluded from the use or she is temporarily absent.
68. The words ‘lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship’ have to be given its normal and purposeful meaning. The living of woman in a household has to refer to a living which has some permanency. Mere fleeting or casual living at different places shall not make a shared household. The intention of the parties and the nature of living including the nature of household have to be looked into to find out as to whether the parties intended to treat the premises as shared household or not. As noted above, Act 2005 was enacted to give a higher right in favour of woman. The Act, 2005 has been enacted to provide for more effective protection of the rights of the woman who are victims of violence of any kind occurring within the family. The Act has to be interpreted in a manner to effectuate the very purpose and object of the Act. Section 2(s) read with Sections 17 and 19 of Act, 2005 grants an entitlement in favour of the woman of the right of residence under the shared household irrespective of her having any legal interest in the same or not.
69. ………… The definition of shared household as noticed in Section 2(s) does not indicate that a shared household shall be one which belongs to or taken on rent by the husband. We have noticed the definition of ‘Respondent’ under the Act. The Respondent in a proceeding under Domestic Violence Act can be any relative of the husband. In the event, the shared household belongs to any relative of the husband with whom in a domestic relationship the woman has lived, the conditions mentioned in Section 2(s) are satisfied and the said house will become a shared household.” Analysis:
22- Section 12 of the D.V. Act states that an aggrieved person or a Protection Officer or any other person on behalf of the aggrieved person may present an application to the Magistrate seeking one or more reliefs under the D.V. Act. The proviso, however, states that before passing any order on such an application, the Magistrate shall take into consideration any Domestic Incident Report received by him from the Protection Officer or the service provider. The expression ‘aggrieved person’ as defined under Section 2(a) means any woman who is, or has been, in a domestic relationship with the respondent and who alleges to have been subjected to any act of domestic violence by the respondent. Domestic relationship as defined in Section 2(f), means 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. Domestic violence has the same meaning as assigned to it in Section 3.
In a judgment of the High Court of Madras in Vandhana vs. T. Srikanth and Krishnamachari – [2007 SCC Online Mad 553], authored by Ramasubramanian, J., it was held that Sections 2(f), 2(s) and 17 of the D.V. Act ought to be given the widest interpretation possible. The Court, after observing various instances and situations, held that many a woman may not even enter into the matrimonial home immediately after marriage. Therefore, it was concluded that a healthy and correct interpretation to Sections 2(f) and 2(s) of the D.V. Act would be that the words ‘live’ or ‘have at any point of time lived’ would include in its purview ‘the right to live’ as interpreted above. It would be useful to quote from the said judgment as under:-
“20. In a society like ours, there are very many situations, in which a woman may not enter into her matrimonial home immediately after marriage. A couple leaving for honeymoon immediately after the marriage and whose relationship gets strained even during honeymoon, resulting in the wife returning to her parental home straight away, may not stand the test of the definition of domestic relationship under Section 2(f) of the Act, if it is strictly construed. A woman in such a case, may not live or at any point of time lived either singly or together with the husband in the ‘shared household’, despite a legally valid marriage followed even by its consummation. It is not uncommon in our society, for a woman in marriage to be sent to her parental home even before consummation of marriage, on account of certain traditional beliefs, say for example, the intervention of the month of Aadi. If such a woman is held to be not entitled to the benefit of Section 17 of the Act, on account of a strict interpretation to Section 2(f) of the Act that she did not either live or at any point of time lived together in the shared household, such a woman will be left remediless despite a valid marriage. One can think of innumerable instances of the same aforesaid nature, where the woman might not live at the time of institution of the proceedings or might not have lived together with the husband even for a single day in the shared household.
A narrow interpretation to Sections 2(f), 2(s) and 17 of the Act, would leave many a woman in distress, without a remedy. Therefore, in my considered view a healthy and correct interpretation to Sections 2(f) and 2(s) would be that the words ‘live’ or ‘have at any point of time lived’ would include within their purview ‘the right to live’. In other words, it is not necessary for a woman to establish her physical act of living in the shared household, either at the time of institution of the proceedings or as a thing of the past. If there is a relationship which has legal sanction, a woman in that relationship gets a right to live in the shared household. Therefore, she would be entitled to protection under Section 17 of the Act, even if she did not live in the shared household at the time of institution of the proceedings or had never lived in the shared household at any point of time in the past. Her right to protection under Section 17 of the Act, co-exists with her right to live in the shared household and it does not depend upon whether she had marked her physical presence in the shared household or not. A marriage which is valid and subsisting on the relevant date, automatically confers a right upon the wife to live in the shared household as an equal partner in the joint venture of running a family. If she has a right to live in the shared household, on account of a valid and subsisting marriage, she is definitely in ‘domestic relationship’ within the meaning of Section 2(f) of the Act and her bodily presence or absence from the shared household cannot belittle her relationship as anything other than a domestic relationship.
The expression ‘family members living together as a joint family’ is not relatable only to relationship through consanguinity, marriage or adoption. As observed above, the expression ‘joint family’ does not mean a joint family as understood in Hindu Law. It would mean persons living together jointly as a family. It would include not only family members living together when they are related by consanguinity, marriage or adoption but also those persons who are living together or jointly as a joint family such as foster children who live with other members who are related by consanguinity, marriage or by adoption. Therefore, when any woman is in a domestic relationship as discussed above, is subjected to any act of domestic violence and becomes an aggrieved person, she is entitled to avail the remedies under the D.V. Act. [Supreme Court in Prabha Tyagi vs Kamlesh Devi in Criminal Appeal No. 511 OF 2022]
Again in Satish Chander Ahuja vs. Sneha Ahuja – [(2021) 1 SCC 414] wherein the phrase ‘lives or at any stage has lived’, as appearing in Section 2 (s) of the D.V. Act was interpreted to mean such household which the aggrieved person shared with the respondents, at the time of filing the application under the D.V. Act or a household which the aggrieved person had been excluded from in the recent past. In light of the said decision, it was urged that it is not necessary that the respondents must have been living with the aggrieved person at the time when the alleged acts of domestic violence were perpetuated as there is no statutory requirement to this effect. That subject to the caveat that an aggrieved person, has, at some point, shared a household with the persons who have allegedly committed acts of domestic violence, then any act of domestic violence committed by such persons during the period in which the parties were living in the shared household, or even subsequent to such period, would entitle the aggrieved person to approach a competent Court under Section 12 of the D.V. Act.
The expression ‘shared household’ in relation to the definition of domestic relationship as per the definition in Section 2(s) 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 a 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. The definition of shared household is thus an inclusive one.