'Denying wife access to marital home is domestic violence'
Depriving one's wife of financial support and access to the matrimonial home constitutes domestic violence, the Bombay high court has ruled in an important order. Dismissing a petition filed by Buldhana resident Salim Khan, Justice A P Bhangale upheld a lower court's order that the man's estranged wife Meherunissa, who was thrown out of the house in 2001, could file a complaint under the Domestic Violence Act.
Salim's lawyers had argued that the allegations of harassment and abuse were prior to 2006, which is when the Act came into force. The high court said in Meherunissa's case, there was a "continuous cause of action as she was still his wife".
Salim and Meherunissa married in 1993 and they have two daughters. According to Meherunissa, she faced constant harassment and demands for money and was finally driven out of the house in 2001. She and her parents were threatened when they could not pay the money demanded by Salim in 2002. When the financial condition of Meherunissa's parents grew worse and she was unable to meet their medical expenses, she lodged a domestic violence complaint in 2009. She sought Rs 5,000 as monthly maintenance for herself and their two daughters and a lump sum payment of Rs 3 lakh towards compensation, medical expenses and litigation costs. Salim challenged the petition saying that the application was not maintainable, but the lower court dismissed his plea. He then approached the high court.
Salim's lawyers claimed that all the incidents of alleged abuse relate to incidents prior to 2005, and the DV Act cannot be given a retrospective effect. Meherunissa's lawyers contended that as the marriage had not yet been dissolved, the cause of action still continued. They also pointed out that the court had powers to restrain the husband from alienating the matrimonial household and the wife continued to have a right over the shared household.
The HC agreed. "Denial of access to shared household to the wife took place prior to the Act coming into force, but such denial continued even thereafter," said the judge. "Giving relief to the wife for continuous breach of the legal right would not amount to giving retrospective effect to the provisions of the Act," the judge said.
(Names of the couple changed to protect their identities)