Domestic Violence Act; Hiral P. Harsora Vs. Kusum Narottamdas Harsora [Supreme Court of India, 06-10-2016]

Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 – Section 2(q) – Constitutional Validity of – the microscopic difference between male and female, adult and non adult, regard being had to the object sought to be achieved by the 2005 Act, is neither real or substantial nor does it have any rational relation to the object of the legislation – the words “adult male person” are contrary to the object of affording protection to women who have suffered from domestic violence “of any kind” – therefore, strike down the words “adult male” before the word “person” in Section 2(q), as these words discriminate between persons similarly situate, and far from being in tune with, are contrary to the object sought to be achieved by the 2005 Act – the words “adult male” in Section 2(q) of the 2005 Act will stand deleted since these words do not square with Article 14 of the Constitution of India. Consequently, the proviso to Section 2(q), being rendered otiose, also stands deleted.



(Kurian Joseph) and (R.F. Nariman) JJ.

October 6, 2016


1. Leave granted.

2. The present appeal arises out of a judgment dated 25.9.2014 of a Division Bench of the Bombay High Court. It raises an important question as to the constitutional validity of

Section 2(q) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005

(hereinafter referred to as “the 2005 Act”).

3. On 3.4.2007, Kusum Narottam Harsora and her mother Pushpa Narottam Harsora filed a complaint under the 2005 Act against Pradeep, the brother/son, and his wife, and two sisters/daughters, alleging various acts of violence against them. The said complaint was withdrawn on 27.6.2007 with liberty to file a fresh complaint.

4. Nothing happened for over three years till the same duo of mother and daughter filed two separate complaints against the same respondents in October, 2010. An application was moved before the learned Metropolitan Magistrate for a discharge of respondent Nos. 2 to 4 stating that as the complaint was made under Section 2(a) read with Section 2(q) of the 2005 Act, it can only be made against an adult male person and the three respondents not being adult male persons were, therefore, required to be discharged. The Metropolitan Magistrate passed an order dated 5.1.2012 in which such discharge was refused. In a writ petition filed against the said order, on 15.2.2012, the Bombay High Court, on a literal construction of the 2005 Act, discharged the aforesaid three respondents from the complaint. We have been informed that this order has since attained finality.

5. The present proceedings arise because mother and daughter have now filed a writ petition, being writ petition No.300/2013, in which the constitutional validity of Section 2(q) has been challenged. Though the writ petition was amended, there was no prayer seeking any interference with the order dated 15.2.2012, which, as has already been stated hereinabove, has attained finality.

6. The Bombay High Court by the impugned judgment dated 25.9.2014 has held that Section 2(q) needs to be read down in the following manner:- “In view of the above discussion and in view of the fact that the decision of the Delhi High Court in Kusum Lata Sharma’s case has not been disturbed by the Supreme Court, we are inclined to read down the provisions of section 2(q) of the DV Act and to hold that the provisions of “respondent” in section 2(q) of the DV Act is not to be read in isolation but has to be read as a part of the scheme of the DV Act, and particularly along with the definitions of “aggrieved person”, “domestic relationship” and “shared household” in clauses (a), (f) and (s) of section 2 of the DV Act. If so read, the complaint alleging acts of domestic violence is maintainable not only against an adult male person who is son or brother, who is or has been in a domestic relationship with the aggrieved complainant- mother or sister, but the complaint can also be filed against a relative of the son or brother including wife of the son / wife of the brother and sisters of the male respondent. In other words, in our view, the complaint against the daughter-in-law, daughters or sisters would be maintainable under the provisions of the DV Act, where they are corespondent/s in a complaint against an adult male person, who is or has been in a domestic relationship with the complainant and such corespondent/s. It must, of course, be held that a complaint under the DV Act would not be maintainable against daughter-in-law, sister-in- law or sister of the complainant, if no complaint is filed against an adult male person of the family.”

7. The present appeal has been filed against this judgment. Shri Harin P. Raval, learned senior advocate appearing on behalf of the appellants, assailed the judgment, and has argued before us that it is clear that the “respondent” as defined in Section 2(q) of the said Act can only mean an adult male person. He has further argued that the proviso to Section 2(q) extends “respondent” only in the case of an aggrieved wife or female living in a relationship in the nature of a marriage, in which case even a female relative of the husband or male partner may be arraigned as a respondent. He sought to assail the judgment on the ground that the Court has not read down the provision of Section 2(q), but has in fact read the proviso into the main enacting part of the said definition, something that was impermissible in law. He has argued before us that the 2005 Act is a penal statute and should be strictly construed in the event of any ambiguity. He further argued that in fact there was no ambiguity because the expression “adult male person” cannot be diluted in the manner done by the High Court in the impugned judgment. He cited a large number of judgments on the golden rule of literal construction, on how reading down cannot be equated to re-reading in constitutional law, and on how a proviso cannot be introduced into the main part of a provision so as to distort its language. He also cited before us judgments which stated that even though a statute may lead to some hardship, that would not necessarily render the provision unconstitutional nor, in the process of interpretation, can a Court mend or bend the provision in the face of the plain language used. He also cited judgments before us stating that given the plain language, it is clear that it is only for the legislature to make the changes suggested by the High Court.

8. Ms. Meenakshi Arora, learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of the respondents, countered each of these submissions. First and foremost, she argued that the 2005 Act is a piece of social beneficial legislation enacted to protect women from domestic violence of all kinds. This being the case, it is clear that any definition which seeks to restrict the reach of the Act would have to be either struck down as being violative of Article 14 of the Constitution or read down. According to her, given the object of the statute, which is discernible clearly from the statement of objects and reasons, the preamble, and various provisions of the 2005 Act which she took us through, it is clear that the expression “adult male person” is a classification not based on any intelligible differentia, and not having any rational relationship with the object sought to be achieved by the Act. In fact, in her submission, the said expression goes contrary to the object of the Act, which is to afford the largest possible protection to women from domestic violence by any person, male or female, who happens to share either a domestic relationship or shared household with the said woman. In the alternative, she argued that the High Court judgment was right, and that if the said expression is not struck down, it ought to be read down in the manner suggested to make it constitutional. She also added that the doctrine of severability would come to her rescue, and that if the said expression were deleted from Section 2(q), the Act as a whole would stand and the object sought to be achieved would only then be fulfilled. She referred to a large number of judgments on Article 14 and the doctrine of severability generally. She also argued that within the definition of “shared household” in Section 2(s) of the Act, the “respondent” may be a member of a joint family. She has adverted to the amendment made to the Hindu Succession Act in 2005, by which amendment females have also become coparceners in a joint Hindu family, and she argued that therefore the 2005 Act is not in tune with the march of statutory law in other areas. She also countered the submission of Shri Raval stating that the 2005 Act is in fact a piece of beneficial legislation which is not penal in nature but which affords various remedies which are innovative in nature and which cannot be availed of in the ordinary civil courts. She added that Section 31 alone was a penal provision for not complying with a protection order, and went on to state that the modern rule as to penal provisions is different from that sought to be contended by Shri Raval, and that such rule requires the court to give a fair interpretation to the provisions of these statutes, neither leaning in favour of the accuser or the accused. She also added that given the beneficial statute that we have to strike down/interpret, a purposive construction alone should be given, and as the offending expression “adult male person” is contrary to such purpose and would lead to absurdities and anomalies, it ought to be construed in tune with the Act as a whole, which therefore would include females, as well, as respondents. She also pointed out that, at present, the sweep of the Act was such that if a mother-in-law or sister-in-law were to be an aggrieved person, they could only be aggrieved against adult male members and not against any opposing female member of a joint family – for example, a daughter-in-law or a sister-in-law. This will unnecessary stultify what was sought to be achieved by the Act, and would make the Act a dead letter insofar as these persons are concerned. She also argued that the Act would become unworkable in that the reliefs that were to be given would only be reliefs against adult male members and not their abettors who may be females.

9. Ms. Pinky Anand, learned Additional Solicitor General for India, more or less adopted the arguments of the counsel who appeared for the Union of India in the Bombay High Court. It was her submission that in view of the judgment in