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Case Analysis: Smt.Saroj Rani v/s Sudarshan Kumar Chadha [Air 1984 Sc 1562] Constitutionality Of Conjugal Rights

Conjugal Rights refers to the right to reside with one's spouse and engage in sexual relations with them.[1] Living together is the most fundamental requirement of marriage. Each spouse who has been wronged has the legal right to recommence cohabitation against a wife or husband who left the relationship without cause (also known as "Restitution of Conjugal Rights").

This legal provision is commonly viewed as a means to preserve the institution of marriage and is primarily associated with traditional and conservative views of marriage, in which cohabitation and the maintenance of a marital relationship are viewed as fundamental obligations for spouses.

In modern times, the concept of restitution of marriage is heavily debated and criticized for infringing upon the personal autonomy and individual rights of spouses, particularly in societies that place a greater emphasis on personal liberty and gender equality within marriage.[2]

Case Analysis: Smt. Saroj Rani v/s Sudarshan Kumar Chadha
[Air 1984 Sc 1562]

The appellant, who is the wife, filed a suit against the respondent, who is the husband, in accordance with Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955[3], seeking the restoration of their marital obligations. Following a period of one year, the husband, acting as the respondent, filed a petition under Section 13 of the Act against the appellant, seeking a divorce.

The grounds for this petition were based on the fact that despite the passage of one year since the decree of restitution of conjugal rights was issued, no physical cohabitation had occurred between the parties involved. The appellant, who is the wife in this case, said that she was brought to the residence of the husband, who is the respondent, by her parents approximately one month after the decree. It was stated that they resided together in the house for a duration of two days, following which she was once again expelled from the premises.

The district judge determined that the husband - respondent, was not eligible for a divorce decree due to the absence of renewed cohabitation between the parties. Instead, a prior decree was issued with the agreement of both parties, in accordance with section 23. The respondent, feeling aggrieved by the situation, decided to file an appeal in the High Court. The High Court determined that a decree for restitution of conjugal rights could not be granted with the consent of both parties, as this would prevent the husband from obtaining a divorce decree.

Consequently, the High Court referred the matter to the Chief Justice in order to establish a division bench. Additionally, the High Court noted that according to Section 23, the husband (respondent) was not prohibited from obtaining a decree if the court had attempted to mediate the dispute and had ordered conciliation. The appeal was upheld, resulting in the granting of the divorce to the spouse. This is an appeal for the same. [4]

Issues Raised:
  • Whether the husband was entitled to the decree of divorce or not?
  • What was the Constitutional Validity of Section 9 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955?
Relevant Rules:
  • Article 13, 14 and 21 of Constitution of India, 1950.
  • Section 9, 13 and 23(1)(a) of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
  • Order 21, Rule 32 of Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.

Appellants Contention(s)
  1. The primary contention put forth by the appellants was that it was erroneous to assert that there had been no restoration of conjugal rights between the parties subsequent to the issuance of the decree. This argument was based on the fact that the wife was brought to the husband's residence by her parents one month after the decree, and the husband accommodated her in the house for a period of two days before she was subsequently expelled.
  2. The appellant additionally contended that the husband, who is the respondent in this case, had consistently desired the issuance of a decree for the restitution of conjugal rights from the outset. Hence, he did not intentionally defy the decree. With the intention of ultimately obtaining a divorce, husband - respondent allowed the wife a decree for the restitution of conjugal rights, fully aware that they had no intention of honoring said decree. This act of deception misled both the wife and the court, as the individual subsequently refused to cohabit with the wife. Consequently, it would be unjust to allow the individual to benefit from their own wrongful actions.
  3. The appellant referenced the significant legal precedent in T. Sareetha v. Venkata Subbaiah[5] case, wherein it was established that the restitution of marital rights infringed upon the individual's right to privacy, choice, and autonomy as guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution. The aforementioned case formed the foundation for the appellant's argument about the legality of Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955.

Respondent Contention (s)
  1. The respondent in this case disputed the petition, arguing that he did not expel the wife (referred to as the appellant) from their shared residence nor did he withdraw from her society, which are necessary conditions for the application under Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955.
  2. In order to substantiate his assertions, the Respondent referred to the judgment of the Delhi High Court in the case of Smt. Harvinder Kaur v. Harmander Singh Choudhry[6], whereby it was argued that Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 did not infringe against the provisions of Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India.

Findings Of The Court
  1. In the case of the wife-appellant's petition for the restitution of conjugal rights, it was discovered that the husband-respondent acknowledged the existence of the marital union between the parties. However, he refuted the claim made by the petitioner regarding any demands made by her, withdrawal from her society, or eviction from their shared residence. He was even willing to take his wife back. The decree was passed by the only upon the respondent's assertion that the petitioner's application under Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 should be approved as well as the non-existence of collusion.
  2. The appellant, representing the wife, did not challenge the factual findings made by the trial court. Furthermore, there was no cohabitation between the parties after the decree for the restitution of conjugal rights. The appellant also did not argue the first defense ground, which states that the appellant cannot benefit from his own wrongdoing due to having refused cohabitation in compliance with the decree.
  3. Counsel for the wife did not challenge the finding of the Division Bench, that the consent decree as such was not bad or collusive. He argued on Section 23(1)(a) of Hindu Marriage Act 1955 and how husband was disentitled to get a decree for divorce. The claim that the husband, with the ultimate intention of obtaining a divorce, initially granted the wife a decree for restitution of conjugal rights but subsequently refused to cohabit with her, was not substantiated in any source. Due to this error, the counsel requested an additional opportunity to amend their pleading, as it is unjust for the parties involved to bear the consequences of their lawyers' mistakes.
  4. The respondent argued that there was no initial pleading, and furthermore, this ground was not raised in any of the lower courts, which is a matter of factual inquiry. Additionally, the facts presented, and the allegations made by the wife during the trial and before the Division Bench were inconsistent with the facts now being put forth to support her appeal.
  5. Another significant argument put forth by the respondent pertained to the interpretation of the expression "taking advantage of his or her own wrongs" in clause (a) of sub-section 23. The respondent argued that this interpretation was not accepted due to the lack of factual applicability.
  6. A monthly maintenance of Rs 200 per month to the wife � appellant and Rs 300 per month for the daughter was granted. Additionally, the respondent was ordered to pay Rs 1500 as the cost of the appeal to the appellant. The appeal was subsequently dismissed.

The Judgement was delivered by Sabyasachi Mukherjee, J.
  1. The court's focus was directed towards the ruling in the case of Sareetha v. Venkata Subbaiah when it was declared that Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 lacked constitutional validity. The presiding judge held the opinion that a wife who chooses to maintain physical distance from her husband due to either enduring or temporary estrangement cannot be compelled, without infringing upon her right to privacy, to have a child with her husband. During a period when the individual in question was likely considering initiating divorce proceedings, the application and implementation of Section 9 of the aforementioned legislation against the separated spouse could have a profound and irreversible impact on her circumstances. This could result in the imposition of unwanted conception, leading to permanent damage to her mental and physical well-being, as well as all aspects of her life associated with it. Such actions would be in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
  2. It was a fallacy to hold that the restitution of conjugal rights constituted "the starkest form of governmental invasion" of "marital privacy" as held in Smt. Harvinder Kaur v. Harmander Singh Choudhary. Furthermore, it was determined that Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 did not infringe upon the provisions of Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India. This conclusion was reached based on the understanding that the purpose of Section 9 was to facilitate the reconciliation of estranged parties, enabling them to reside harmoniously in their matrimonial home and uphold the institution of marriage.
  3. The court in question upheld the view of a learned judge from the Delhi High Court on the constitutionality of Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. The significance of the notion of conjugal rights can be examined in relation to the Law Commission's 71st Report[7] on the Hindu Marriage Act 1955, specifically in reference to the section titled "Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage as a Ground of Divorce, Paragraph 6.5." The primary objective of Section 9 is to offer inducement for spouses to cohabit, allowing them the opportunity to resolve their issues amicably. Additionally, it serves a societal function by assisting in the prevention of marital dissolution. Hence, it can be argued that the aforementioned legislation does not infringe with the provisions of Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
  4. The court acknowledged the appellant's argument that in Indian society, a divorced wife faces significant material disadvantages. As a result, the court ruled that the husband must continue to pay maintenance to the wife even after the final decree of divorce, until she remarries and would maintain one living daughter.

The judiciary has rendered numerous rulings regarding matters pertaining to the Right to Privacy. However, it remains uncertain whether personal autonomy over one's own body is encompassed within this right. The T. Sareetha v. T. Venkatasubbaiah case is a notable judicial perspective rendered by the Andhra Pradesh High Court. In this instance, the court examined Section 9 as a significant infringement upon the fundamental right to privacy enjoyed by married individuals.

The landmark ruling in K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India[8], which was delivered in 2017, established the recognition that the right to privacy is an inherent aspect of both life and liberty, and so falls under the purview of Article 21 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court made reference to a number of significant rulings regarding women's autonomy in relation to their bodies and sexuality, asserting that these issues fall within the realm of the right to privacy.

The Court also determined that such matters pertain to an individual's most private and personal choices, which are rooted in principles of autonomy and dignity. Hence, it can be reasonably inferred that the enforcement of the Restitution of Conjugal Rights infringes upon the personal freedoms and fundamental rights of an individual.

  1. M.Gangadevi, "Restitution Of Conjugal Right: Constitutional Perspective" Vol.45 Journal of the Indian Law Institute pp. 453-455 2003.
  2. Arushi Nayar, "Restitution Of Conjugal Rights - Preserving A Sacrament Or Creating A Liability" Vol.2 (JCIL) 2 (1990).
  3. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, � 9, No. 25, Acts of Parliament, 1955 (India).
  4. Saroj Rani v. Sudharshan Kumar Chadha, (1984) 4 SCC 90 : AIR 1984 SC 1562
  5. T. Sareetha v. T. Venkatasubbaiah, AIR 1983 AP 356.
  6. Harvinder Kaur v. Harmander Singh Choudhry, AIR 1984 SC 66
  7. 71st Report of the Law Commission- the Hindu Marriage Act, para 6.5
  8. K.S. Puttaswamy (Privacy-9J.) v. Union of India, (2017) 10 SCC 1

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