DHANNULAL AND OTHERS VS. GANESHRAM AND ANOTHER (CIVIL APPEAL NO. 3410 OF2007/CIVIL APPEAL NO. 3411 OF 2007)
India believes in the sacred institution of marriage as being sacrosanct and sacrament. Marriages are a fundamental part of the social life in India and is regarded with great reverence by the Indian Judiciary as well which has time and again protected and guarded the validity and longevity of marriage as being eternal as far as possible.
The new emergence of the institution of live-in relationships in India has been seen as a threat to the institution of marriage. Women living in such relationships were denied respect as well as their rights in terms of offences committed against them. Judiciary has however tried to protect the women through an irrefutable presumption of marriage in cases of cohabitation but that was treating the issue by brushing it under the rug and not doing much justice to it.
In this case, after the death of his wife Mr. Chattarpati stayed with Phoolbasa for many years and had a son who died unmarried. They lived together in a Joint family with the father and sister of Mr. Chattarpati and the issues arose as a property dispute in terms of a sale deed executed by Phoolbasa Bai in favour of her brothers on becoming the owner of the property on Mr. Chattarpati’s death as per the provisions of Hindu Succession Act, 1956 on being issueless at that time after the death of their son. The grandson of Mr. Chattarpati ‘s sister contended that there was no proof of marriage between Phoolbasa and Chattarpati and as such she acquired no rights over the property as she was just his mistress and a concubine.
The Hon’ble Court contended that there was no proof of the marriage between the parties however there was no proof of the marriage and if there has been cohabitation for a substantial period of time and there is no unimpeachable evidence against the existence of marital relations, it is to be taken as a valid marriage.
The Court has observed that, “where a man and woman are proved to have lived together as husband and wife, the law will presume, unless the contrary is clearly proved, that they were living together in consequence of a valid marriage, and not in a state of concubinage.”
It further held,” continuous cohabitation of woman as husband and wife and their treatment as such for a number of years may raise the presumption of marriage, but the presumption which may be drawn from long co-habitation is rebuttable and if there are circumstances which weaken and destroy that presumption, the Court cannot ignore them.”
This judgement although is in line with some previous judgements on the same topic has major implications in case of strengthening the claims of women in these relationships in terms of other legislations like protection against domestic violence, sexual harassment, claims of children born out of such legislations, cases of desertion and fraud as well.