Matrimonial laws form an integral aspect of personal laws. With the transformation in the socio-economic status of women and the revolutionary changes in the institution of marriage, availing pragmatic solutions such as divorce rendered by modern statutes for the resolution of marital disputes has risen. Prior, the concept of divorce was not an acceptable solution but today, the difference is the new Doxa.This postmodern wave in personal laws has brought in the concepts of gender equity with it. The concepts of alimony and maintenance have also seen a change wherein there seems to be a gender-neutral approach being taken, as seen in the recent judgment by the Bombay High Court which upheld that the husband was entitled to maintenance by the wife under Sections 24 and 25 of the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 after the decree of divorce. A concept that is seldom seen.
FACTS OF THE CASE
In the Bhagyashri Jaiswal v Jagdish Sajjanlal Jaiswal &Anr. The petitioner’s wife had approached the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court aggrieved by the order of the lower court on the grounds that since the relationship had been terminated by the decree of divorce, the husband was not entitled to permanent alimony/maintenance. The said couple had dissolved the marriage of 23 years by the decree of divorce in 2015. The husband had filed an application under Sections24 and 25 of the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. Section 24 of the Act deals with maintenance pendente lite and Section 25 deals with interim maintenance till the disposal of the case and permanent alimony/maintenance. This was being sought by the husband on the grounds that the husband had no livelihood and source of income and neither possessed any immovable or moveable property.
PETITIONER- WIFE’S ARGUMENTS
The petitioner argued that the claim of maintenance was not maintainable, firstly as the husband owned a grocery shop and ran an auto rikshaw and had a source of income by leasing out the same. Moving on to the question of law, the contention was that the words in Section 25 specified husband and wife for the proceedings of permanent alimony/maintenance. Since the marriage between the couple was dissolved by the decree of marriage the claim for the same would-be ultra-virus of the statute would be a travesty of justice.
RESPONDENT- HUSBAND ARGUMENTS
The respondent-husband submitted that the source of income for him during the course of the marriage was earned by working for the parents of his wife and had no source of income since the divorce. Per contra to the petitioners the respondents relied on the argument stating the usage of the word“at any time subsequent thereto” in Section 25 infers that the provisions contained in the Act do not restrain its applicability upon the outcome of the divorce rather can be applied after the decree of divorce as well.
The court held the reading of Sub-sections (2) and (3) of Section 25 indicates that the application can be made at the time of passing the decree of divorce or at any time after it. A restrictive understanding of Section 25 would make the legislation redundant. Since the application under Section 25 is not only restricted to a decree of divorce but can even be made applicable in cases regarding, restitution of conjugal rights under (Section 9), judicial separation under (Section 10), divorce under (Section 13) of the decree can also be for a divorce by mutual consent under (Section 13B). Even if no request for alimony was made at the time of passing the decree the same relief could be sought subsequently on an application. Therefore it was held that the husband was entitled to interim as well as monthly alimony/maintenance.
ANALYSIS OF MAINTENANCE LAWS
Uncontrolled urbanisation and rapid industrialization in the country have contributed to the disintegration of the joint Hindu family and the emergence of the nuclear family. With the disintegration of the joint family, the emotional, as well as financial support after the disruption of marriage, has thrown light on the concepts of alimony and maintenance. Indian law is particularly women-centric to provide relief for women, as there are three concurrent jurisdictions for the wife to claim maintenance under the Hindu Adoption Maintenance Act, 1956, Hindu Marriage Act 1955, and the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. A fragment of gender equity can be seen in the Hindu Marriage Act which lays down provisions for a husband to claim maintenance. One of the reasons for such an imbalance in the law can be associated with the general vulnerability of women and the susceptibility of the gender to the mix-norms of the patriarchal and misogynistic society. The other is the meagre amount of maintenance provided by courts to the wife because of which it becomes inevitable to provide provisions for further relief. The above judgment has brought in a transpose to maintenance law which has been concomitant to women. This judgment has shattered the stereotypical idea of a man being the breadwinner and maintaining the family but through the proviso, it reiterates the idea of egalitarianism.
The institution of marriage has been considered integral in preserving the accepted values of society. Through the legalization of this social arrangement, the sacramental nature of marriage has found a contractual nature as well. The hesitancy of the concept of divorce has been mitigated over the years. The postmodernity of the judiciary in providing gender-neutral laws in alimony is a form of social engineering. While this has reduced the disparity in the Indian and Western concepts of marriage from the legal perspective, the transformation in the social values, frequency, and acceptability of such unconventional judgments can only be seen in time.
Author(s) Name: Sumana Satyamurthy (KLE Society’s Law College)
Bhagyashri Jaiswal v Jagdish Sajjanlal Jaiswal &Anr, WP NO.2527 OF 2021
The Hindu Marriage Act,1955,Section 24, 25
The Hindu Marriage Act,1955, S. 13B
Chand Dhawan v. Jawaharlal Dhawan, (1993) 3 SCC 406
B.N Sampath,Hindu Law(Vol. I, Indian Institute of Legal Literacy 2013) 556