Press Trust of India

Husband has no control over wife’s ‘stridhan’: SC

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New Delhi: A husband has no control over his wife’s ‘stridhan’ (woman’s property) and while he may use it during the time of his distress, he has a moral obligation to return it to his wife, the Supreme Court has reiterated while directing a man to pay Rs 25 lakh to a woman in return for her lost gold.

The woman in this case claimed that 89 sovereigns of gold were gifted to her by her family at the time of marriage. Additionally, after the wedding, her father gave a cheque for Rs 2 lakh to her husband.

According to the woman, on the first night of their marriage, the husband took custody of all her jewellery and entrusted the same to his mother under the garb of safekeeping. She alleged that all the jewellery was misappropriated by the husband and his mother to discharge their pre-existing financial liabilities.

The Family Court, in 2011, held that the husband and his mother had indeed misappropriated the appellant’s gold jewellery and that she was entitled to recoup the loss caused to her by the said misappropriation.

The Kerala High Court, while partly setting aside the relief granted by the family court, held that the woman had not been able to establish misappropriation of gold jewellery by the husband and his mother.

The woman then moved the Supreme Court against the high court order.

A bench of justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta said ‘stridhan’ property does not become a joint property of the wife and the husband, and the husband has no title or independent dominion over the property as its owner.

“Properties gifted to a woman before marriage, at the time of marriage or at the time of bidding farewell or thereafter are her stridhan properties. It is her absolute property with all rights to dispose at her own pleasure.

“The husband has no control over her stridhan property. He may use it during the time of his distress but nonetheless he has a moral obligation to restore the same or its value to his wife,” the bench said, while referring to an earlier judgment on the issue.

The apex court said matters of matrimony can rarely be said to be simple or straightforward hence, human reaction according to a mechanical timeline before the sacred bond of marriage is severed is not what one would expect.

“Divorce, majorly, in Indian society is still considered a stigma, and any delay in commencement of legal proceedings is quite understandable because of the attempts made to have the disputes and differences resolved; more so, in a case of the present nature, when the appellant was faced with the imminent prospect of termination of her second marriage.

” Even otherwise, the appellant did not present before the Family Court a time barred claim. Doubting the bona fide of the appellant, on facts and in the circumstances, was thus not called for,” the bench said.

The top court said the very concept of marriage rests on the inevitable mutual trust of the spouses, which conjugality necessarily involves and to assume that the woman from day one did not trust the husband is rather improbable.

“The High Court, thus, failed to draw the right inference from facts which appear to have been fairly established. That apart, we have neither been shown nor do we know of any binding precedent that for a claim of return of stridhan articles or money equivalent thereof to succeed, the wife has to prove the mode and manner of such acquisition.

“It was not a criminal trial where the chain of circumstances had to be complete and conclusively proved, without any missing link. Undisputedly, the appellant had brought to the matrimonial home sufficient quantum of jewellery, which she wore during the marriage and as is evidenced from photographs,” the bench said.

The apex court said the woman had successfully initiated action towards recovery of money in lieu of 89 sovereigns of gold, which in the year 2009 was valued at Rs 8.90 lakh.

“Mere upholding of the decree of the Family Court at this distance of time, without anything more, would bring about injustice to her. Bearing in mind the passage of time, the escalation in cost of living, and in the interest of equity and justice, we deem it fit in exercise of power conferred by Article 142 of the Constitution of India to award to the appellant a sum of Rs 25,00,000,” the bench said.

Press Trust of India

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