Legal Explainer: What does a “shared household” mean in terms of the Domestic Violence Act (and why is everyone talking about it)?

What is a “shared household” and how does it matter to you if you are a victim of domestic violence? A quick explainer on the recent Supreme Court judgement that reinterpreted the term “shared household” with regard to the right to residence for women in abusive relationships.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

Cartoon by Aarushi Ahluwalia

If you, like me, enjoy engaging the trolls on the internet, you might have noticed they’ve been losing their minds over the term “shared household” lately. They would have you believe that the government wants to give the very ground you walk on to a woman. One of them suggested that women will not be satisfied until they get a share of the oceans too. However there is little clarity or understanding of what a “shared household” or the “right to residence” is referring to.

So what is it in reference to?

It is in reference to a term from The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. The DVA was signed into law in 2005 with the interest of protecting women from domestic violence while providing them with safety measures that allowed them to retain their residence even after having complained.

Historically, women rarely singularly own property. Women also tend to move into their husband or in-laws’ households after they are married. In many parts of Indian society women do not have the leave to return to their parents home even when they are being abused or harassed in their marriages. As a result, women rarely come forward with allegations of domestic violence because if they did, where would they live?

The concept of the right to residence in a shared household aims to protect against that.

How does the DVA define “shared household”?

Definition of “shared household” as per the act:

‘A household where the person aggrieved lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship either singly or along with the respondent and includes such a household whether owned or tenanted either jointly by the aggrieved person and the respondent, or owned or tenanted by either of them in respect of which either the aggrieved person or the respondent or both jointly or singly have any right, title, interest or equity and includes such a household which may belong to the joint family of which the respondent is a member, irrespective of whether the respondent or the aggrieved person has any right, title or interest in the shared household.’

As per the law, a woman (referred above as the “aggrieved” person) is entitled to residing in any household that she has previously or is currently sharing with her partner (referred above as the “respondent”) even after filing a complaint for domestic violence or divorce. Previously the purview of this stipulation did not extend to property that did not belong to the respondent or the aggrieved person.

On the face of it, that sounds like it makes sense. Why should either one of them have the right to residence in a house that neither one of them rent or own?

Well, because it is India, and in India married couples tend also to live in houses that are owned by the parents of the man. A large number of India women, after marriage, move into the family home of the men. Previously the law had been interpreted to exclude the right to residence in shared households that were neither owned nor rented by the couple.

So, has the law been changed?

No, that law has not been changed. The law has now been interpreted differently. In a recent judgement (Satish Chander Ahuja vs Sneha Ahuja) the court has recognised that a shared household can also include houses owned by relatives in which the aggrieved person and the respondent has lived together at any point. This is in the interest of providing women enough safety in terms of shelter to be able to actually report domestic violence without being turned out just because the house she has lived in forever is in the name of her husband’s parents. By the law, a woman cannot be thrown out of the house unless evicted by a court.

That is what the right to residence in a shared property means. It doesn’t mean the woman being abused now owns the house. This law is not about property ownership.

Learn the law.

Don’t lose your mind all over Twitter because women’s rights seem like sexism to you.

Published by thejadedpamphleteer

Women's rights activist. Journalist. Writer. Pamphleteer. Cat obsessed.

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