Term “Adult male” from the definition of “respondent” under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, struck down

Supreme Court: Dealing with an important question as to the constitutional validity of Section 2(q) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 that provides that the word “respondent” will only mean an adult male, the Bench of Kurian Joseph and R.F. Nariman, JJ said that the words “adult male” in Section 2(q) of the Act should stand deleted since these words do not square with Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

Taking note of various sections of the Act, the Court held that it is clear that such violence is gender neutral. It is also clear that physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse and economic abuse can all be by women against other women. Even sexual abuse may, in a given fact circumstance, be by one woman on another. Also, if “respondent” is to be read as only an adult male person, it is clear that women who evict or exclude the aggrieved person are not within its coverage, and if that is so, the object of the Act can very easily be defeated by an adult male person not standing in the forefront, but putting forward female persons who can therefore evict or exclude the aggrieved person from the shared household. This again is an important indicator that the object of the Act will not be sub-served by reading “adult male person” as “respondent”.

Regarding the word “adult”, the Court said that 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. It was held that even the expression “adult” in the main part is Section 2(q) is restrictive of the object sought to be achieved by the kinds of orders that can be passed under the Act and must also be, therefore, struck down, as this word contains the same discriminatory vice that is found with its companion expression “male”.

The Court said that 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. Consequently, the proviso to Section 2(q), being rendered otiose, also stands deleted which was provided only to carve out an exception to a situation of “respondent” not being an adult male. [Hiral P. Harsora v. Kusum Narottamdas Harsora, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 1118, decided on 06.10.2016]

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