Whether women could be made respondents in the cases under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence  Act, 2005 (the DV Act) has been settled by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Sou. Sandhya  Manoj Wankhade  Vs. Manoj  Bhimrao Wankhade and Ors. (CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.271 OF 2011 (Arising out of SLP (Crl.) No.2854 of 2010)). The Supreme Court held following:

12. From the above definition it would be apparent that although Section 2(q) defines a respondent to mean any adult male person, who is or has been in a domestic relationship with the aggrieved person, the proviso widens the scope of the said definition by including a relative of the husband or male partner within the scope of a complaint, which may be filed by an aggrieved wife or a female living in a relationship in the nature of a marriage.

13. It is true that the expression “female” has not been used in the proviso to Section 2(q) also, but, on the other hand, if the Legislature intended to exclude females from the ambit of the complaint, which can be filed by an aggrieved wife, females would have been specifically excluded, instead of it being provided in the proviso that a complaint could also be filed against a relative of the husband or the male partner. No restrictive meaning has been given to the expression 12 “relative”, nor has the said expression been specifically defined in the Domestic Violence Act, 2005, to make it specific to males only.

14. In such circumstances, it is clear that the legislature never intended to exclude female relatives of the husband or male partner from the ambit of a complaint that can be made under the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005. 

Earlier the two judge bench of Hon’ble Delhi High Court in  Varsha Kapoor vs Uoi & Ors (WP (Crl.) No. 638 of 2010) had also held that the complaint   is maintainable even against a woman in the situation contained in proviso to Section 2(q) of the DV Act. Similarly other High Court has also held that female can be made as respondent under proviso clause of section 2(q) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence  Act, 2005.

However, there is gap in understanding of the judgement of apex court as well as the High Court. Whether all category of female can be made respondent in a DV case ?

The answer lies in the section 2 (q) of the DV, Act.

(q) “respondent” means any adult male person who is, or has been, in a domestic relationship with the aggrieved person and against whom the aggrieved person has sought any relief under this Act:

Provided that an aggrieved wife or female living in a relationship in the nature of a marriage may also file a complaint against a relative of the husband or the male partner.

The “aggrieved wife or female in living  relationship in nature of marriage” as complainant can only make female relative of her husband or male partner as respondent. It flows from here that the complainant or aggrieved wife or female  in living relationship must implicate her husband  or male partner as one of respondent, so as to establish herself as aggrieved wife or female in live in relationship. Incidentally the supreme court judgement and High Court judgement cited above has essential ingredient of husband or male partner as one of the respondent.

In view of above, the popular perception that all category of female  can be made respondent is misplaced. Even though both the  judgement do not deal in this aspect, it is sine qua non  that complainant must be  “aggrieved wife or female in living  relationship in nature of marriage” and not all category of “aggrieved person” as defined in section 2(a) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence  Act, 2005.

In case of Kusum Lata Sharma vs State & Anr , Crl. M.C. No. 725/2011 & Crl. M.A. No.2797/2011 (Stay), the Hon’ble Delhi High Court has stated following:

9. As a matter of fact, para ‘4(i)’clarifies that even those women who are sisters, widows, mothers, single woman or living with the abuser are entitled to legal protection under the proposed legislation. A mother who is being maltreated and harassed by her son would be an “aggrieved person”. If the said harassment is caused through the female relative of the son i.e. his wife, the said female relative will fall within the ambit of the „respondent‟. This phenomenon of the daughters-in-law harassing their mothers-in-law especially who are dependent is not uncommon in the Indian society. 

In this case also the ‘aggrieved person’ is mother -in-law (Respondent No.-2) and has complained against daughter-in-law (Petitioner) due to property dispute between mother and son. Thus primary case of domestic violence is against son through daughter in law.

There are plethora of cases pending before various competent authority where a female has complained against only another female i.e without implicating her husband. The majority of this complaint is by mother in law against daughter in law only (without implicating her husband) or vice versa. These cases need to be treated as infructuous.

Rajni Sinha (Advocate, Bombay High Court), Mobile No. 7738080174

B-3/13:04, Sector-3, Vashi, Navi Mumbai-400703.

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