Right of wife to claim maintenance under Section 125 Cr P C cannot be compromised

It can never be forgotten that the inherent and fundamental principle behind Section 125 CrPC is for amelioration of the financial state of affairs as well as mental agony and anguish that woman suffers when she is compelled to leave her matrimonial home

Wife in the instant matter filed an application under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) contending that after her marriage with the Respondent-husband, during her stay at the matrimonial home she ill-treated and subjected to dowry demand and harassment. She was also allegedly sent to her parental home and was not taken back by her husband. When she returned herself with the hope of leading good matrimonial life, the dowry demand continued and was also harassed for not meeting with the demand. She also later learned about her husband’s illicit relationship with another woman which when confronted resulted into her assault. Later when situation gradually worsened, she sought help of her parents who took her to the parental home. When all her hopes got shattered for reunion, she filed an application for grant of maintenance based on his salary earnings. The application was resisted by the husband disputing all the averments pertaining to demand of dowry and harassment, and further alleging that he had already given divorce to her and has also paid the Mehar to her. Appellant however denied stating that she had neither the knowledge of divorce nor had she received an amount of Mehar.

An objection was raised before the Family Court about the maintainability of application under Section 125 CrPC on the ground that the applicant was a Muslim woman. The family court held that even after the divorce wife’s application under Section 125 CrPC was maintainable. The family Court also directed for the payment of monthly maintenance allowance from the date of application. High Court in a petition assailing the above finding held that though the Family Court had not ascribed any reason for grant of maintenance from the date of application, yet when the case for maintenance was filed in the year 1998 and decided in 2012 and there was no order for interim maintenance, the grant of monthly maintenance from the date of application was neither illegal nor excessive. The High Court further observing that in the year 2012 since the husband had retired reduced the maintenance allowance till remarriage of the wife and it is this part which was challenged in the present petition.

The first issue before the court was to decide on applicability of Section 125 CrPC to a Muslim woman who has been divorced. It was held that petition under Section 125 CrPC would be maintainable before the Family Court as long as the wife does not remarry and the amount of maintenance to be awarded under Section 125 CrPC cannot be restricted for the iddat period only.

Taking view of the fact that there was a gross delay in deciding the maintenance, it was held that when an application for grant of maintenance is filed by the wife the delay in disposal of the application is an unacceptable situation and also a distressing phenomenon. An application for grant of maintenance has to be disposed of at the earliest. As happened in the instant matter, it was held that proceeding before the Family Court was conducted without being alive to the objects and reasons of the Act and the spirit of the provisions Under Section 125 of the Code. The Family Judge is expected to be sensitive to the issues, for he is dealing with extremely delicate and sensitive issues pertaining to the marriage and issues ancillary thereto. The Family Courts at the same time is not expected to show undue haste or impatience, but there is a distinction between impatience and to be wisely anxious and conscious about dealing with a situation. A Family Court Judge should remember that the procrastination is the greatest assassin of the lis before it. It not only gives rise to more family problems but also gradually builds bitterness. The delineation of the lis by the Family Judge must reveal the awareness and balance. Dilatory tactics by any of the parties has to be sternly dealt with, for the Family Court Judge has to be alive to the fact that the lis before him pertains to emotional fragmentation and delay can feed it to grow.

On the issue of quantum it was held that High Court showed immense sympathy to the husband by reducing the amount after his retirement. It can never be forgotten that the inherent and fundamental principle behind Section 125 CrPC is for amelioration of the financial state of affairs as well as mental agony and anguish that woman suffers when she is compelled to leave her matrimonial home. The statute commands there has to be some acceptable arrangements so that she can sustain herself. The principle of sustenance gets more heightened when the children are with her. It was clarified that sustenance does not mean and can never allow to mean a mere survival. A woman, who is constrained to leave the marital home, should not be allowed to feel that she has fallen from grace and move hither and thither arranging for sustenance. As per law, she is entitled to lead a life in the similar manner as she would have lived in the house of her husband. And that is where the status and strata of the husband comes into play and that is where the legal obligation of the husband becomes a prominent one. As long as the wife is held entitled to grant of maintenance within the parameters of Section 125 CrPC, it has to be adequate so that she can live with dignity as she would have lived in her matrimonial home. She cannot be compelled to become a destitute or a beggar. Sometimes, a plea is advanced by the husband that he does not have the means to pay, for he does not have a job or his business is not doing well. These were held to be only bald excuses and, in fact, having no acceptability in law. If the husband is healthy, able bodied and is in a position to support himself, he is under the legal obligation to support his wife, for wife’s right to receive maintenance under Section 125 CrPC, unless disqualified, is an absolute right. The obligation of the husband is on a higher pedestal when the question of maintenance of wife and children arises. When the woman leaves the matrimonial home, the situation is quite different. She is deprived of many a comfort. Sometimes the faith in life reduces. Sometimes, she feels she has lost the tenderest friend. There may be a feeling that her fearless courage has brought her the misfortune. At this stage, the only comfort that the law can impose is that the husband is bound to give monetary comfort. That is the only soothing legal balm, for she cannot be allowed to resign to destiny.

In the instant matter it was held that when the order is based on proper appreciation of evidence on record, no revisional court should interfere with the reason on the base that it would have arrived at a different or another conclusion. When substantial justice has been done, there was no reason to interfere. Solely because the husband had retired, there was no justification to reduce the maintenance by 50%. The order was accordingly set aside.

[Shamima Farooqui vs. Shahid Khan]
(SC, 06.04.2015 – Criminal Appeal Nos. 564-565 of 2015)