possession of stridhan after separation
I have been subjected to all kinds of physical and mental harassment by my inlaws. It wasn’t really for Dowry, but I could sense that my husband wanted to get rid of me. I had not raised my voice against all this torture for over 2 years. But the situation worsened when I went to my maternal house to care for my ailing father for about a couple of weeks. One day I received a judicial separation letter from the court. When I tried contacting my husband, I failed. His mobile was switched off and he had even changed location. I discovered this when I returned to my matrimonial house. I found out from neighbours that they had left this place and gone to stay with their relatives in another State. When I reached him over the phone, and sought explanation for the notice of judicial separation from the court, he asked me to divorce him. When I told him that I will only consider that plea if he returns my stridhan. There was a lot of gift that I received from my parents and my relatives. He absolutely denied having any knowledge about my stridhan, which is strange because he had convinced me to leave my jewellery in my mother-in-law’s custody when I had newly got married to him. What do I do now?
You have been served with a notice for judicial separation where there are chances of reuniting with your spouse. This probably means that your husband doesn’t want to dissolve the marriage. In this case, you’ve got two remedies:
- In case you want to live with your husband
Assuming you are a Hindu, you can approach the court and apply for Restitution of Conjugal Rights u/s 9[i]. Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 embodies the concept of Restitution of Conjugal Rights under which after solemnization of marriage if one of the spouses abandons the other, the aggrieved party has a legal right to file a petition in the matrimonial court for restitution of conjugal rights. This right can be granted to any of the spouse.
- In case you want to dissolve the marriage
Modes for recovery of Stridhan
Stridhan consists of the gifts given to the bride at the time of the wedding by her family or the groom’s family or relatives or gifts given at the time of the marriage. [iv]A Hindu married woman is the absolute owner of her Stridhan property and can deal with it in any manner she likes .Ordinarily the husband has no right or interest in it with the sole exception that in times or extreme distress but he is morally bound to restore it or its value when he is able to do so. A woman’s right to her stridhan is protected under law. Section 14[v] of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 read with Section 27[vi] of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 identify a female Hindu as the absolute owner of her stridhan.
In your case, if your husband or any other member of his family who is in possession of such property, dishonestly misappropriates or refuses to return the same, they can be held liable for the offence of criminal breach of trust[vii] under S. 405 & 406 IPC[viii]. To prove these charges it is necessary to provide evidence before the court that the property was a part of your stridhan by using bills or receipts.[ix]After this it will be required to show that the said property was entrusted in the custody of your husband/sister-in-law/mother-in-law and that they used this property for their self-use.
Besides this, you can employ Section 18 of the Domestic Violence Act which allows the court to grant a wide range of orders. The Court under this section can order your husband and his family to stop any act of violence against you, prevent them from operating joint bank accounts or lockers without permission and can also order for a search warrant for your matrimonial house in search of the stridhan property on Court’s order.[x] As per your husband the property is in your possession and the search warrant will be helpful in recovering the property.
There is no specific legislation for the recovery of stridhan and it is therefore advisable to take the assistance of a lawyer to bring your husband and his family to the court to retrieve the stridhan.
[i] When either the husband or the wife has, without reasonable excuse, withdrawn from the society of the other, the aggrieved party may apply, by petition to the district court, for restitution of conjugal rights and the court, on being satisfied of the truth of the statements made in such petition and that there is no legal ground why the application should not be granted, may decree restitution of conjugal rights accordingly.
[ii] Under Section 13(1)(ia) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
[iii] 498A. Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty.—Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. Explanation.—For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means—
(a) any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or
(b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.]
[iv] Pratibha Rani V. Suraj Kumar[AIR 1985 S.C 628]
[v] Property of a female Hindu to be her absolute property.—
(1) Any property possessed by a female Hindu, whether acquired before or after the commencement of this Act, shall be held by her as full owner thereof and not as a limited owner. Explanation.—In this sub-section, “property” includes both movable and immovable property acquired by a female Hindu by inheritance or devise, or at a partition, or in lieu of maintenance or arrears of maintenance, or by gift from any person, whether a relative or not, before, at or after her marriage, or by her own skill or exertion, or by purchase or by prescription, or in any other manner whatsoever, and also any such property held by her as stridhana immediately before the commencement of this Act.
(2) Nothing contained in sub-section (1) shall apply to any property acquired by way of gift or under a will or any other instrument or under a decree or order of a civil court or under an award where the terms of the gift, will or other instrument or the decree, order or award prescribe a restricted estate in such property
[vi] Disposal of property. —In any proceeding under this Act, the court may make such provisions in the decree as it deems just and proper with respect to any property presented, at or about the time of marriage, which may belong jointly to both the husband and the wife.
[vii] Ajoy Kr. Ghosh vs Smt. Kajal Ghosh And Anr. [I (1999) DMC 224]
[viii] Criminal breach of trust
[ix] R. P. Kapur Vs. The State Of Punjab [1975 SC 706]
[x] Kolkata High Court, in the matter of Vinay Kumar Sethia & Ors vs. Vinita Sethia & Anr on 5 July, 2013