Ms. Indra Sarma, an unmarried woman, left her job and began a “live-in” relationship with Mr. V.K.V. Sarma for a period as long as 18 years, despite knowing that he was married. Mr. Sarma abandoned Ms. Sarma in a state where she could not maintain herself. Under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, failure to maintain a woman involved in a “domestic relationship” amounts to “domestic violence.” Two lower courts held that Mr. V.K.V. committed domestic violence by not maintaining Ms. Sarma, and directed Mr. Sarma to pay a maintenance amount of Rs.18,000 per month. Thereafter, on appeal, the High Court of Karnataka set aside the orders of the lower courts on the ground that Ms. Sarma was aware that Mr. Sarma was married and thus her relationship with him would fall outside the protected ambit of “relationship in the nature of marriage” under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. On further appeal, the Supreme Court, while affirming the High Court’s order, created an exception to the general rule. The Supreme Court clarified that a woman who begins to live with a man who is already married to someone else, without knowing that he is married, will still be considered to be in a “domestic relationship” under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005; thus, the man’s failure to maintain her will amount to “domestic violence” within the meaning of the Act and she will be eligible to claim reliefs such as maintenance and compensation. This case is important because it established for the first time such an exception and calls for legislative action to protect women like Ms. Sarma whose contributions in a joint household are often overlooked.
Women and Justice: Keywords
The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 (MWPRDA, 1986) seemed to overrule the Supreme Court’s decision in Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum. Pursuant to a prima facie reading of the MWPRDA, 1986, a Muslim husband was responsible to maintain his divorced wife only for the iddat period and after such period the onus of maintaining the woman would shift on to her relatives. The matter resurfaced before the Supreme Court in Danial Latifi v. Union Of India when the constitutional validity of the MWPRDA, 1986 was challenged on the grounds that the law was discriminatory and violative of the right to equality guaranteed under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution as it deprived Muslim women of maintenance benefits equivalent to those provided to other women under Section 125 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. Further, it was argued that the law would leave Muslim women destitute and thus was violative of the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court, on a creative interpretation of the MWPRDA, 1986, upheld its constitutionality. It held that a Muslim husband is liable to make reasonable and fair provision for the future of his divorced wife extending beyond the iddat period. The Court based this interpretation on the word “provision” in the MWPRDA, 1986, indicating that “at the time of divorce the Muslim husband is required to contemplate the future needs [of his wife] and make preparatory arrangements in advance for meeting those needs” (at 11). This case is important because, it established for the first time that a Muslim husband’s liability to provide maintenance to his divorced wife extends beyond the iddat period, and he must realize his obligation within the iddat period, thereby striking a balance between Muslim personal law and the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.
The petitioner-wife sought dissolution of her marriage on the grounds of abuse by the respondent-husband, who repeatedly physically abused her and threatened her with physical force when she tried to stop him from drinking. She also asked for maintenance for the couple's daughter. The Court granted the dissolution of marriage and noted that the types of mistreatment the petitioner suffered at the hands of her husband constituted gender-based violence as defined by the Declaration of the Elimination of Violence Against Women because it was based on the unequal power relations between the husband and wife and caused the petitioner serious psychological suffering.
In this divorce proceeding, the court reiterated that in situations in which one of the two parents, most commonly the mother, stays at home and thereby forfeits the opportunity to develop a career and earn a living wage, she is entitled to economic assistance from her husband if the marriage ends. This was especially relevant in this case, given that the husband had previously abused his wife, and after initially leaving him, she was forced to return to the marriage for economic reasons.