The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that a woman can live in her husband’s family home even if she is estranged from him, Live Law reported.

A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah overruled the top court’s verdict from 2006, which denied an estranged woman the right of residence in her husband’s home.

In 2006, a bench of Justices SB Sinha and Markandey Katju had ruled that a woman was only entitled to claim the right to residence in a “shared household”. They said the term referred to a house belonging to or rented by the husband or the house owned by a joint family, of which he is a member. The judges added that a claim for “alternative accommodation” can only be made against the husband and not his relatives.

During Thursday’s hearing, the Supreme Court said that “shared household does not only mean a household of the joint family of which husband is a member or in which husband of the aggrieved person has a share”, according to Bar and Bench. “The judgment of this Court in SR Batra Vs. Taruna Batra (supra) has not correctly interpreted Section 2(s) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.”

The top court’s judgement dismissed a petition filed by a man named Satish Chander Ahuja against a Delhi High Court order, which said that his daughter-in-law Sneha Ahuja had the right of residence even though she was about to divorce her husband. Ahuja had argued that his son had no share in the house and the property was solely his, according to NDTV.

“It is not requirement of law that aggrieved person [the daughter-in-law] may either own the premises jointly or singly or by tenanting it jointly or singlyThe household may belong to a joint family of which the respondent [father-in-law in the present case] is a member irrespective of whether the respondent or the aggrieved person has any right, title or interest in the shared household; and the shared household may either be owned or tenanted by the respondent singly or jointly.”      

— Supreme Court

The court said, under Section 17 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, “every woman in a domestic relationship shall have the right to reside in the shared household, whether or not she has any right, title or beneficial interest in the same.”

The top court also noted that domestic violence was prevalent in the country, according to Bar and Bench. “The domestic violence in this country is rampant and several women encounter violence in some form or the other or almost every day, however, it is the least reported form of cruel behavior,” it added. “A woman resigns her fate to the never ending cycle of enduring violence and discrimination as a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a partner or a single woman in her lifetime.”

The court said that domestic violence cases went largely unreported due to the society’s expectations that women stay subservient to their husbands and in-laws.

“This non-retaliation by women coupled with the absence of laws addressing women’s issues, ignorance of the existing laws enacted for women and societal attitude makes the women vulnerable. The reason why most cases of domestic violence are never reported is due to the social stigma of the society and the attitude of the women themselves, where women are expected to be subservient, not just to their male counterparts but also to the male’s relatives.”   

— Supreme Court