Can an unmarried Hindu daughter claim maintenance from her father? SC clarifies the legal position

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of Ashok Bhushan. R. Subhash Reddy and MR shah, JJ has held that an unmarried Hindu daughter can claim maintenance from her father till she is married relying on Section 20(3) of the Hindu Adoptions & Maintenance Act, 1956, provided she pleads and proves that she is unable to maintain herself, for enforcement of which right her application/suit has to be under Section 20 of Act, 1956.

BACKGROUND OF THE CASE

The Court was hearing a case wherein a woman had filed an application under Section 125 CrPC against her husband, claiming maintenance for herself and her 3 children. While the Judicial Magistrate dismissed the application under Section 125 Cr.P.C. of the applicant and 2 of her children, the daughter’s application was allowed for grant of maintenance till she attains majority. The High Court dismissed the application filed under Section 482 Cr.P.C. of the appellant on the ground that since appellant has attained majority and is not suffering from any physical or mental abnormality, she is not entitled for any maintenance.

Senior Advocate Vibha Datta Makhija, appearing for the appellant submitted that even though the appellant had attained majority in 2005 but since she is unmarried, she is entitled to claim maintenance from her father. It was further contended that High Court committed error in dismissing the application filed under Section 482 Cr.P.C. of the appellant on wrong premise that since appellant has attained majority and is not suffering from any physical or mental abnormality, she is not entitled for any maintenance.

According to the respondents, as per Section 125 Cr.P.C., entitlement to claim maintenance by daughter, who has attained majority is confined to case where the person by reason of any physical or mental abnormality or injury unable to maintain herself and hence, High Court has rightly dismissed the application filed under Section 482 Cr.P.C. of the appellant since no case was made out to interfere in orders passed by the Judicial Magistrate and learned Revisional Court in exercise of jurisdiction under Section 482 Cr.P.C.

DISCUSSION ON SECTION 125 CRPC vis-à-vis SECTION 20 OF HAMA, 1956

“The maintenance as contemplated under Act, 1956 is a larger concept as compared to concept of maintenance under Section 125 Cr.P.C..”

On scope of Section 20(3) of HAMA, 1956

Hindu Law prior to enactment of HAMA, 1956 always obliged a Hindu to maintain unmarried daughter, who is unable to maintain herself. The obligation, which is cast on the father to maintain his unmarried daughter, can be enforced by her against her father, if she is unable to maintain herself by enforcing her right under Section 20 of HAMA, 1956. Hence, Section 20(3) of HAMA, 1956 is nothing but recognition of principles of Hindu Law regarding maintenance of children and aged parents. Section 20(3) makes it statutory obligation of a Hindu to maintain his or her daughter, who is unmarried and is unable to maintain herself out of her own earnings or other property.

“The right of unmarried daughter under Section 20 to claim maintenance from her father when she is unable to maintain herself is absolute and the right given to unmarried daughter under Section 20 is right granted under personal law, which can very well be enforced by her against her father.”

On scope of Section 125 CrPC

By virtue of Section 125(1)(c), an unmarried daughter even though she has attained majority is entitled for maintenance, where such unmarried daughter is by reason of any physical or mental abnormality or injury is unable to maintain itself.

“The Scheme under Section 125(1) Cr.P.C., thus, contemplate that claim of maintenance by a daughter, who has attained majority is admissible only when by reason of any physical or mental abnormality or injury, she is unable to maintain herself.”

The purpose and object of Section 125 Cr.P.C. as noted above is to provide immediate relief to applicant in a summary proceedings, whereas right under Section 20 read with Section 3(b) of HAMA, 1956 contains larger right, which needs determination by a Civil Court, hence for the larger claims as enshrined under Section 20, the proceedings need to be initiated under Section 20 of the Act and the legislature never contemplated to burden the Magistrate while exercising jurisdiction under 34 Section 125 Cr.P.C. to determine the claims contemplated by Act, 1956.

CONCLUSION

On facts, the Court noticed that since the application was filed under Section 125 Cr.P.C. before Judicial Magistrate First Class, the Magistrate while deciding proceedings under Section 125 Cr.P.C. could not have exercised the jurisdiction under Section 20(3) of Act, 1956. Hence, there is no infirmity in the order of the Judicial Magistrate First Class as well as learned Additional Magistrate in not granting maintenance to appellant who had become major.

The Court, however, gave liberty to the appellant to take recourse to Section 20(3) of the Act, 1956 for claiming any maintenance against her father.

[Abhilasha v. Prakash,  2020 SCC OnLine SC 736 , decided on 15.09.2020]

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