On May 9, 2017, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justice R Banumathi and Justice Kurian Joseph confirmed the order of the Family Court in Mumbai directing the husband to remove himself from the matrimonial home of which he is a co-owner. The said order was passed under Section 19(1)(b) of the Protection of Women Domestic Violence Act.
The wife moved the Family Court for divorce and also sought an interim direction to remove the husband from their shared household in view of the mental and physical violence she was subjected to. The parties had two adult daughters who also filed affidavits supporting their mother. Both daughters were living with the mother in the shared household. The husband owned another property close to the shared household where he could live. In light of the evidence adduced, a prima facie case of domestic violence was made out, the husband was directed to move out of the matrimonial home even though he was a joint owner of the property. The interim order of the Family Court was challenged in the Bombay High Court and later at the Supreme Court. Both Appellate Courts dismissed the appeals and allowed the interim direction to stand.
This case is a refreshing change from the routine handling of matrimonial matters in courts. The Domestic Violence Act is an important legislation that strives to provide urgent relief to victims of domestic violence. It enables victims of domestic violence to seek residence orders, protection order, monetary orders and child custody orders. The statute says that all applications should be disposed of within 60 days of filing. However, cases under this law don’t receive urgent attention and are adjourned for various reasons, thereby resulting in delay. It is not uncommon for these interim applications to take years together for disposal, especially when appeals are being filed in the interim stage itself.
Orders of this nature from the Supreme Court give some solace to the women victims of domestic violence who are fighting marathon battles to secure even safe residence. Cases under the Domestic Violence Act and similar protectionist legislations are not dealt with sensitively by most courts. The mainstream narrative about these legislations is that they ‘break families’, unduly favour women and oppress men. Unfortunately, a significant number of judges seem to believe this narrative and do not take into account the spirit of the Domestic Violence Act.
This Act was legislated since there were no effective remedies available for women victims of domestic violence when thrown out of their matrimonial homes. They were often left with no shelter or any means of sustenance. Battered and exploited women were forced to stay in abusive relationships because they could not afford to step out.
The Domestic Violence Act, enacted in 2005, is a progressive legislation that offered these urgent remedies and thus empowered women. The aforementioned order is a valuable precedent that will hopefully compel courts to interpret and enforce the Domestic Violence Act in letter and spirit.
— The writer is Senior Advocate, Madras High Court