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Husband And In-Laws Cannot Retain Streedhan After Annulment Of Marriage, Rules Karnataka High Court

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As per the Hindu Law, any gifts made to a woman before her marriage, during the marriage, during the bridal procession or as a token of love by anyone including her family members, her in-laws, relatives or even strangers. Several gifts and earnings made by a woman during her marriage are also considered to be Streedhan but it’s a grey area. Having said that, the Karnataka High Court has given a little more clarity when it comes to Streedhan during the annulment of a marriage. In a recent case, a single-judge bench of Justice M Nagaprasanna stated that the annulment of a marriage cannot mean that all the articles the wife carried to her matrimonial home can be retained by the in-laws while dismissing the application to quash the criminal proceedings initiated by the ex-wife against her husband and in-laws under Section 406 of the Indian Penal Code for criminal breach of trust.

In the above-mentioned case, the Karnataka High Court said that the fact that Streedhan of Rs 9 lakhs was paid to the husband and his family is undisputed. It further added that the amount being retained by them would be a matter for the trial court to consider and decide if the offence under Section 406 of the IPC is made. According to a report by Live Law, the court said that it’s for the husband and his family to come out clean in the trial.

After going through the evidence on record as well as the records and details of all the proceedings initiated by both the parties as well as the order passed by the Bombay High Court for the dissolution of the married. The Karnataka High Court then observed that it’s an undisputed fact that the annulment of marriage took place after the couple reached a settlement for an amount of Rs 4 lakhs. The court referred to the judgements of the Supreme Court and other High Courts with regards to the Streedhan and the possession of it being an ingredient of Section 406 of the IPC. It then noted that the amount of Rs 9 lakhs which was paid as Streedhan in 1998 to the husband and the in-laws and was a “separate and distinct” Streedhan. It also observed that the settlement between the parties was about the permanent alimony which was arrived at only for the purpose of annulment of marriage and the Streedhan was not discussed in the divorce proceedings.

Dismissing the petition to quash the criminal proceedings, the Karnataka High Court was quoted by Live Law saying, “Annulment of marriage cannot mean that all the articles that the respondent carried to the matrimonial house can be retained by the family of the husband.”

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In this case, the husband and his family had filed a petition in the court questioning a 2015 order via which the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate at Bangalore took cognizance of the complaint. The petition also challenged a 2018 order that dismissed the application filed by them seeking discharge from the proceedings initiated by the wife for offences punishable under Section 406 of the IPC. In the petition, the husband and his family had claimed that everything agreed upon for the divorce as permanent alimony was paid for, for the settlement towards the annulment of marriage and nothing was left to be paid.

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The marriage between the couple was dissolved by mutual consent after the agreed settlement was paid for as per the Family Court Appeal filed in the Bombay High Court. But this left the claim for maintenance open. The wife, in this case, had claimed that the husband and his family paid the permanent alimony of Rs 4 lakhs but the amount did not include the Streedhan paid prior to the marriage and said that they cannot retain the Streedhan amount and that it would amount to criminal breach of trust for not returning the money despite a notice being issued to them.

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