A woman is not a chattel to be forced to live with her husband, observed the Supreme Court on Tuesday, hearing a case where a man sought an order from the court to his spouse to start living with him again. Chattel means slave or a tangible piece of property. While hearing the man's petition, the SC bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hemant Gupta asked, is a woman a chattel to pass such an order? Is a wife a chattel that she can be directed to go with you?
At the core of the dispute is an April 2019 order on the restitution of conjugal rights, passed in favour of the man under Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act passed by a family court at Gorakhpur. The woman maintained that her husband was tortured over dowry after their marriage in 2013, compelling her to move out. In 2015, after she filed a case seeking maintenance, a Gorakhpur court asked the husband to pay her INR 20,000 a month. The husband filed his plea for restoration of conjugal rights in the family court after this.
Once the Gorakhpur family court issued its restitution order, the man went to court, questioning the maintenance payment when he is willing to live with her. He raised a law point on his obligation to keep paying maintenance even after obtaining an order restoring his conjugal rights. The Allahabad high court refused this, following which he appeared in the Supreme Court.
In her defence, through her lawyer Anupam Mishra, the woman said the husband's entire "game" was to avoid paying maintenance and pointed out that he approached the family court only after being ordered to do so. In Tuesday's hearing, the man's lawyer said the top court should persuade the woman to go back to her husband, especially since the family court has ruled in the man's favour. Mishra, representing the wife, countered that an appeal on that order is pending before the Allahabad high court.
The bench declined the husband's request to enforce conjugal rights, reminding him that his appeal before the top court arose from the dismissal of his petition by the Allahabad high court against the order to pay maintenance.
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