|KICK THE HABIT: A scene from Monster-in-Law, a romantic comedy about a
mother-in-law (Jane Fonda) and her daughter-in-law
New Delhi, March 14: The Supreme Court today set aside one of its own judgments, passed in 2009, which said a mother-in-law kicking her daughter-in-law or threatening her with divorce did not amount to cruelty.
Today’s ruling is a victory for advocates of women’s rights, who have argued that the July 2009 judgment has often prompted high courts to overlook charges of cruelty by in-laws.
A curative petition moved by the National Commission for Women and the daughter-in-law concerned, Monica, had challenged the 2009 judgment by Justices S.B. Sinha and Cyriac Joseph, who have both retired.
The bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justices P. Sathasivam and G.S. Singhvi said it was recalling the judgment and posting the matter before “an appropriate bench” for fresh hearing.
Unusually, the order came in an open-court hearing. Curative petitions are heard in judges’ chambers and not in the open court, with rare exceptions such as a curative petition the Centre filed last year on the Bhopal gas tragedy.
Besides, there are very few instances of the Supreme Court setting aside its own judgment. The apex court had last year dismissed the women’s commission’s review petition against the 2009 judgment.
The bench to which the matter will now go will also examine the commission’s locus standi in the case, the apex court said.
U.U. Lalit, representing the mother-in-law, had argued the commission had no locus to challenge the judgment as it was not a party to the original dispute between Monica and her in-laws.
Counsel Indu Malhotra, appearing for the commission, however, argued that the 2009 judgment was flawed and left room for exploitation by in-laws. Solicitor-general Mohan Parasaran, appearing for the Centre, endorsed the commission’s stand.
Monica told The Telegraph she was even now keen on going back to her husband and did not want a divorce.
The 2009 judgment had said the husband and his relatives could not be prosecuted for cruelty under Section 498A of the penal code merely because the mother-in-law had:
Kicked the daughter-in-law and “told her that her mother is a liar”. This, it said, “may make out some other offences but not the one punishable under Section 498A”.
“Poisoned the ears of her son” against the daughter-in-law and given her “two used lady suits” belonging to her daughter.
Delivered constant sermons to her daughter-in-law.
Threatened “that her son may be divorced for the second time”. (The husband had divorced his first wife before marrying Monica.)
However, the 2009 judgment said, if the mother-in-law took away the couple’s wedding gifts, it amounted to “breach of trust” under Section 406 of the penal code.
The trial court had issued summons against the accused, and Delhi High Court rejected their appeal against the issuance of summons. They had then moved the apex court.