Evidence Act, 1872 – S.112 – Maternity – When a court is called upon to decide the question of maternity, it has no other go, but, to examine the materials placed and to enter a finding thereof.
# 2011 (1) KLT 925 : 2011 (1) KLJ 754 : ILR 2011 (1) Ker. 993 : 2011 (1) KHC 720 : 2011 (1) KLD 754
IN THE HIGH COURT OF KERALA AT ERNAKULAM
The Hon’ble MR. Justice S.S.SATHEESACHANDRAN
Dated this the 16th day of February, 2011
RSA.No. 418 of 2005(G)
MALAYIMMAL RAVEENDRAN, … Petitioner Vs 1. MALAYIMMAL M.VIMALA D/O. KUMARAN … Respondent
2. SISTER MALAYIMMAL O.K., USHA
For Petitioner :SRI.K.V.SOHAN; For Respondent :SRI.B.KRISHNAN
J U D G M E N T
King Solomon renowned for his wisdom, when called upon to decide the rival claims of maternity over a new born baby by two harlots, adopting a clever tactic based on his profound knowledge of human nature, resolved the literally unsolvable dispute with ease. The decision rendered by King Solomon identifying the true mother from the two rival claimants and handing over the infant to her, acclaimed as “The Judgment of Solomon”, showing his outstanding wisdom, depicted in Kings 3:16-28, most probably may be the first case over an issue of maternity. Certainly, it is not the last, though the factual scenario over the dispute may be different, as seen from the present case. King Solomon was blessed with the “Wisdom of God”, but the courts manned by little mortals, not endowed with the wisdom of King Solomon nor of having his profound human knowledge, cannot follow or adopt any tactic to resolve the issue, but have to determine and render a decision applying the settled legal principles, but, necessarily having due regard to the human course of conduct while evaluating the evidence and pleadings of the parties to the case.
2. Plaintiff is the appellant. Suit was one for partition. His claim for division and separate possession of the suit property claiming equal share with the two defendants alleging that all of them are the children of late Madhavi, to whom, admittedly, the suit property belonged, was resisted by the defendants/respondents contending that the plaintiff is not the son of Madhavi. Negativing that contention, the trial court passed a preliminary decree and judgment holding that he is entitled to equal share with the defendants in the suit property, which was directed to be divided into three equal shares, and, allotting one such share to him. However, in the appeal preferred by the defendants, that decree was set aside and the plaintiff was non-suited. Feeling aggrieved, he has preferred this appeal.
3. Before the trial court, plaintiff was examined as PW2 and a lady, who lived next door when he was brought up by his parents at Bombay, as PW1. A family photograph of the plaintiff while he was an infant, in which, PW1 and her husband also joined, was exhibited through that witness, apart from tendering Exts.A2 to A7 documents to sustain the suit claim for partition. On the side of the defendants, the 2nd defendant was examined as DW1 and another witness, a retired police personnel, as DW2, and Exts.B1 and B2 were exhibited. The trial court, mainly relying upon the evidence of PW1, whose sworn testimony was found trustworthy and credible, accepted the case of the plaintiff that he is the son of Madhavi through Kumaran, which had been challenged by the defendants contending that his progenitress was a Maharashtrian lady with whom Kumaran, their father, had an illicit affair. The conclusion so formed by the trial court to pass a preliminary decree declaring that the plaintiff is entitled to an equal share with the defendants in the suit property, which belonged to Madhavi, was interfered with in the appeal preferred by the defendants by the lower appellate court, which after considering the materials tendered in the case, took a different view on the disputed issue of maternity of the plaintiff. Non-production of the hospital records relating to the birth of the plaintiff, voters list or ration card showing that his mother is Madhavi and non-examination of the close relatives of Madhavi in the case appeared to the lower appellate court as decisive and fatal to the claim of the plaintiff based on his status as the son of Madhavi. PW1, who was examined as a closeby neighbour was unable to give an unequivocal answer, but, feigned ignorance when she was confronted with the question that the plaintiff was born through a Maharashtrian lady to Kumaran, according to that court, rendered her evidence as wholly unacceptable. Challenge raised by the defendants that the trial court lacked pecuniary jurisdiction to entertain the suit, which was raised as one among the two points for determination in the appeal, the other being the dispute over the status of the plaintiff as the son of Madhavi, was also found to be appealing to the lower appellate court, to conclude that the claim of the plaintiff was not entertainable, with the result of non-suiting him, reversing the decision of the trial court, by allowing the appeal.
4. The following substantial questions of law have been formulated for hearing in the appeal:
(a) Whether the court can draw a presumption in law regarding the maternity of the child if the paternity is admitted or proved and the birth of the child is during the period of subsistence of living together and a legal marriage between the alleged mother and the father ?
(b) Whether the court is entitled to draw a presumption under 112 of the Evidence Act regarding conclusive proof of maternity also if the child is born during the continuous of the valid marriage between his father and the alleged mother ?
(c) Whether Section 112 of the Indian Evidence Act violates Article 14 of the Constitution of India to the extent of not treating a husband and wife equally, who are parties to the marriage and are equally placed unequally with respect to the presumption regarding legitimacy of children born during the continuance of valid marriage ?
(d) Is not the finding of the lower court perverse when there are overwhelming evidence to conclude that the appellant is the son of Madhavi born in the lawful wedlock ?
(e) Is not the lower appellate court committed error of law in not drawing the presumption and placing the burden of proof on the appellant even after it is proved that he is a child born to one of the parties during the subsistence of a valid marriage ?
(f) Is the lower appellate court correct in holding that the Munsiff Court has no pecuniary jurisdiction to try the suit when the suit is for partition and the plaintiff has shown the value of his share only below the pecuniary limits of the court and the Commissioner also reported that the value of the share if below the limit ?
5. The learned counsel for the appellant assailed the judgment of the lower appellate court, by which, it interfered with the decree passed by the trial court to non-suit the plaintiff as based on totally misconceived notions and mis-appreciation of the pleadings and evidence of the case. Pecuniary jurisdiction of the trial court to entertain the suit which was raised as a challenge to its decree based on the valuation of the property involved had never been pressed into service before the parties proceeded with the trial of the case, and when that be so, the point for determination raised in the appeal on the above ground, its consideration and the adverse finding entered thereof to unsettle the decision of the trial court was totally unjustifiable, is the submission of the counsel. So far as the disputed question involved in the case as to whether the plaintiff and the defendants are progenies from a common mother late Madhavi, the legal evidence tendered in the case by the plaintiff was brushed aside and the finding rendered in his favour by the trial court was interfered with by the lower appellate court even without looking into the improbability of the defence set up by the defendants, which remained unsubstantiated by any evidence worthy of consideration, is the submission of the counsel. Per contra, while practically conceding that the finding made by the lower appellate court over the question of pecuniary jurisdiction cannot be sustained under law, the learned counsel for the defendants/respondents contended that the finding entered that the plaintiff is not the son of Madhavi does not suffer from any infirmity as he had miserably failed to tender any legal evidence to prove his maternity as claimed. PW1, the only other witness examined by the plaintiff, over and above the examination of himself as PW2 to substantiate his case canvassed that he was born to Madhavi, when confronted with the challenge that the plaintiff was born to one Maharashtrian lady could not refute it, and when that be so, the conclusion formed by the lower appellate court that the plaintiff had failed to establish his claim as the son of Madhavi, according to the counsel, does not at all warrant any interference. No scrap of paper other than a photograph was produced by the plaintiff to show that he is the son of Madhavi despite the specific challenge raised by the defendants disputing his maternity contending that he was born to a Maharashtrian lady to their father, and that being so, on the evidence of the plaintiff as PW2 and his witness as PW1, that alone, his claim cannot be sustained and it was so rightly found by the lower appellate court interfering with the decision of the trial court holding otherwise. The finding so entered to non-suit the plaintiff does not call for any interference, is the submission of the counsel.
6. Suit property belonged to late Madhavi, who was married to Kumaran. Plaintiff is the son of Kumaran is admitted to by the defendants, but his claim for partition of the property as the son of Madhavi along with the defendants, the other children, is resisted contending that he was born to Kumaran through a Maharashtrian lady. Kumaran is the father of the plaintiff and also the defendants. Admittedly, Kumaran and Madhavi with their children resided in Bombay. Madhavi had passed way when plaintiff was aged below three years. After the death of Madhavi, Kumaran married her younger sister, namely, Kallyani, and, thereafter, plaintiff then an infant was taken care of and brought up by the sister of Kumaran in their native place. Kumaran with his second wife and her children and also the defendants, his two daughters in the first wife, continued to reside in Bombay. Plaintiff married a close relative of Madhavi, the daughter of her brother. The factual aspects as stated above are undisputed.
7. The claim of the plaintiff as the son of Madhavi while accepting his paternity with Kumaran, is disputed by the defendants contending that he was born to Kumaran through a Maharashtrian lady. In the written statement, strangely enough, other than setting forth such a contention to dispute the maternity of the plaintiff, no specific particulars as to how the plaintiff came under the parental care of Kumaran are spelt out. Perusing the written statement, it is seen, a specific contention was also advanced that the plaintiff never resided with Madhavi, the mother of the defendants. That case so projected, it is seen, was given a go by when the 2nd defendant, who alone among the defendants was examined as DW1 in the case. When examined before the court, she gave a version that her father Kumaran brought a child, a ten day old infant, and handed it over to her mother Madhavi confessing that he had committed a mistake. Her father Kumaran, according to the witness, told Madhavi, that the mother of the child was no more. That child, the plaintiff, was, thereafter, taken care of by Madhavi, who passed away when he was two years old, is her version. So, Madhavi, the mother of the defendants, took care of the child (plaintiff) in his infancy, is admitted to by the 2nd defendant, which was against the version of the defendants in the written statement that the plaintiff never resided with Madhavi. Her version that Kumaran brought the infant to home and confessed to Madhavi that the child was born to him through a Maharashtrian lady, and also of her death, necessarily has to be viewed in the background of normal human nature and conduct whether any such confession could have been made in the presence of the children of spouses. If we reckon the age of the 2nd defendant at the time of the aforesaid incident canvassed to dispute the maternity of plaintiff, with reference to the entries as to the date of birth of the plaintiff under Ext.A4, and, thereby, the date of death of Madhavi two or three years after his birth, and the date of examination of DW1 before the court with her age recorded in the deposition statement, it could be seen that she was then hardly six years old. As already indicated, no particulars of the above incident are stated in the written statement. The trial court had rightly held that her version as to her father confessing before her mother that the plaintiff was born to him through a Maharashtrian lady is highly improbable and unacceptable. The only other witness examined by the defendants is a pensioner, who retired from police department. That witness would state that Kumaran had told him that plaintiff was born to him through a Maharashtrian lady. He would also state that Kumaran had taken custody of the infant immediately after his birth. His version that Kumaran had told him as above 35 years ago where the age of the plaintiff even when he was examined before the court is shown to be 34 years, does not require any further comment. Even the 2nd defendant examined as DW1 had no case that the child was brought to home and handed over to Madhavi immediately after his birth, but, only when the child was ten days old.
8. The plaintiff has examined a closeby neighbour, PW1, who had close acquaintance and relationship with Kumaran and his family to meet the challenge raised by the defendants disputing his maternity. A photograph (Ext.A1), wherein Kumaran and his family, with the plaintiff on his lap, and PW2 and her husband, was exhibited in evidence through this witness. She had asserted that plaintiff was born to Madhavi in a hospital in Bombay and she had direct knowledge of his birth. She also stated that Madhavi died at Bombay when plaintiff was two to three years old. The fact that she resided next door to the family of Madhavi at Bombay is not disputed. Ext.A1 evidences the close relationship between the family of the witness with that of Kumaran and Madhavi. Her version that plaintiff was born to Madhavi in a hospital in Bombay, which was found trustworthy to the learned Munsiff, who had the opportunity to watch her demeanour and deportment, was discarded and held to be not acceptable by the lower appellate court for the sole reason that to a question put in cross examination, whether plaintiff was born to Kumaran through a Maharashtrian lady she had pleaded ignorance. In the light of her assertion that plaintiff was born to Madhavi in a hospital at Bombay viewed in the backdrop that she was living next door to the house of Madhavi and also the close acquaintance of the two families, which is corroborated by Ext.A1 as well, the answer culled out from her during the cross examination, as stated above, is totally devoid of any value. At any rate, that answer does not in any way affect the worth of her testimony, which was found credible and trustworthy to the court, which had the opportunity to record her evidence. Evidence of PW1, which remained unshaken is more than sufficient to negative the frivolous contention taken by the defendants to dispute the maternity of the plaintiff contending that he was not born to Madhavi.
9. In the matter of deciding a disputed question over paternity, the presumption under Section 112 of the Evidence Act would shift the burden to prove non-access where the subsistence of a valid marriage is admitted or established. However, in the case of a dispute over maternity, no such presumption is carved out since it could normally never be a matter of dispute. ‘Maternity’ is almost accepted as an undisputed fact, whereas, ‘paternity’ is a matter of opinion; and, when a court is called upon to decide the question of maternity, it has no other go, but, to examine the materials placed and to enter a finding thereof. In cases of this nature, conclusion formed on appreciation of the evidence tendered by the Judge, who had the advantage of seeing the demeanour of the witness in the box, ordinarily, is not to be interfered with, except upon grounds, which clearly prove that his view was wrong (See
# Nand Kishwar Bux Roy v. Gopal Bux Rai and others AIR 1940 Privy Council 93
wherein a similar question of maternity arose for decision).
10. The contention taken by the defendants to resist the claim for partition by the plaintiff disputing his maternity, was apparently frivolous. It could also be stated that such a defence was canvassed by the defendants having no regard for the sisterly concern to a younger brother, but, solely blinded by the avaricious and fanatic desire to have the suit property exclusively for themselves. Still, the issue cast thereof has to be adjudged on the materials placed, but, with due regard to the human course of conduct. Unfortunately, the reasoned judgment rendered by the trial court, after meticulously appreciating the materials tendered in the case with reference to the pleadings involved, without any justification, was unsettled by the lower appellate court on wholly irrelevant and inconsequential circumstances, which have no bearing on the disputed question involved in the case. The reasonings expressed and the finding entered by the lower appellate court to reverse the judgment of the trial court are perverse, totally discarding the proved facts and circumstances of the case. The decree passed by the trial court, in such circumstances, is liable to be restored, setting aside the impugned judgment rendered by the lower appellate court.
In the result, the appeal is allowed, and reversing the judgment of the lower appellate court the judgment rendered by the trial court is restored with costs realisible from the respondents.