By LE Staff

New Delhi, March 2: The Supreme Court on Tuesday observed that a woman is not chattel that can be forced to live with her husband.

The top court was hearing a case where a man sought an order from the court to his spouse to start living with him again, years after she separated from him due to harassment for dowry.

“What do you think? Is a woman a chattel that we can pass such an order? Is a wife a chattel that she can be directed to go with you?” asked a bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hemant Gupta while hearing the man’s petition.

The case refers to a 2019 order on restitution of conjugal rights passed in favour of the man by a family court in Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur under Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act (HMA) .

The woman had claimed that she was tortured by her husband after their marriage in 2013 and therefore moved out. She had filed a case seeking maintenance in 2015.

The family court in Gorakhpur had ordered the husband to pay Rs 20,000 every month, after which the man filed a petition seeking restoration of conjugal rights which was allowed by the family court.

The man then approached Allahabad High Court saying he had no obligation to keep paying maintenance after obtaining an order restoring his conjugal rights. The Allahabad high court dismissed his plea, following which he appealed in the Supreme Court.

The woman’s lawyer Anupam Mishra told the court that her husband’s “game” was to simply avoid paying maintenance. The man’s lawyer said the top court should persuade the woman to go back to her husband since the family court has ruled in the man’s favour. Mishra, representing the wife, said that an appeal on that order was pending before the Allahabad high court.

The persistent demand by the man to enforce the return of his wife prompted the bench to say, “Is a woman a chattel? Is a wife a chattel? You are asking us to pass an order for this as if she can be sent to a place where she does not want to go, like a chattel.” 

The bench declined the husband’s request for enforcement of conjugal rights, reminding him that his appeal before the top court was arising from dismissal of his petition by the Allahabad high court against the order to pay maintenance.

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