In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court has widened the scope of the Domestic Violence Act by ordering deletion of the words “adult male” from it, paving the way for prosecution of women and even non-adults for subjecting a woman relative to violence and harassment. The apex court has ordered striking down of the two words from section 2(q) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, which deals with respondents who can be sued and prosecuted under the Act for harassing a married woman in her matrimonial home.
Referring to earlier verdicts, the apex court said “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.”
Section 2(q) of the Act reads: “‘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 DV Act.”
A bench of Justices Kurian Joseph and R F Nariman paved way for prosecution of any person irrespective of gender or age under the DV Act, ordered deletion of the words “adult male” from the statute book saying it violated right to equality under the Constitution.
The bench said that the words “adult male person” were contrary to the object of affording protection to women who have suffered from domestic violence “of any kind”.
“We, therefore, strike down the words ‘adult male’ before the word ‘person’ in Section 2(q), as these words discriminate between persons similarly situated, and far from being in tune with, are contrary to the object sought to be achieved by the 2005 Act,” it said.
The major verdict came on an appeal against the Bombay High Court judgement, which had resorted to the literal construction of the term ‘adult male’ and discharged four persons, including two girls, a woman and a minor boy, of a family from a domestic violence case on the ground that they were not “adult male” and hence cannot be prosecuted under the DV Act.
The bench in its 56-page judgement, said the remaining part of the legislation has been kept untouched and would be operative.
“We, therefore, set aside the impugned judgment of the Bombay High Court and declare that 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 (superfluous), also stands deleted. We may only add that the impugned judgment has ultimately held, in paragraph 27, that the two complaints of 2010, in which the three female respondents were discharged finally, were purported to be revived, despite there being no prayer in Writ Petition…for the same,” the court said.
Dealing with the term ‘adult’, the bench said “it is not difficult to conceive of a non-adult 16 or 17-year-old member of a household who can aid or abet the commission of acts of domestic violence, or who can evict or help in evicting or excluding from a shared household an aggrieved person.
“Also, a residence order which may be passed under Section 19(1)(c) can get stultified if a 16 or 17-year-old relative enters the portion of the shared household in which the aggrieved person resides after a restraint order is passed against the respondent and any of his adult relatives…”.
The bench said that the term “adult male” contained in the Act was “discriminatory”.