Whether Husband is liable for misappropriation of Stridhan Property?

The question that arose in the case of PRATIBHA RANI VS SURAJ KUMAR AND ANOTHER AIR 1985 SUPREME COURT 628 is whether a case of misappropriation under Section 405 IPC and 406 IPC would entail if a husband misappropriates the stridhan property of the wife.

The brief facts are that the High Court had quashed the proceedings against the husband under Section 406 IPC for misappropriating the Stridhan properties given to her during the course of the marriage for the reason that the husband is also entitled to rights over such Strihdhan Properties. The entire stridhan list was provided along with the complaint, along with proof of stridhan. The Supreme Court rejecting the contention, set aside the decision of the High Court and stated that the properties are essentially belonging to the wife and the husband is only a custodian of the said property and allowed the case against the husband to continue.

What is Stridhan meaning in Hindu law?

Stridhan property in hindu law is also known as or Streedhan or saudayika. Stridhan property are customary gifts and presents given by the bride’s family during the time of marriage or after to the woman. The characteristics of Stridhan property have also spelt out by stridhan under hindu law notes in Mulla’s Hindu Law at page 168 (section 113) which gives a complete list of the stridhan property of a woman both before and during coverture, which may be extracted thus :

113. Manu enumerates six kinds of stridhana
1. Gifts made before the nuptial fire, explained by Katyayana to mean gifts made at the time of marriage before the fire which is the witness of the nuptial (adhyagni).
2. Gifts made at the bridal procession, that is, says Katyayana, while the bride is being led from the residence of her parents to that of her husband (adhyanhanika).
3. Gifts made in token of love, that is, says Katyayana, those made through affection by her father-in-law and mother- in-law (pritidatta), and those made at the time of her making obeisance at the feet of elders (padavandanika).
4. Gifts made by father.
5. Gifts made by mother.
6. Gifts made by a brother.”

It is, therefore, manifest that the position of stridhan of a Hindu married woman’s property during coverture is absolutely clear and unambiguous; she is the absolute owner of such property and can deal with it in any manner she like.

Distinguish between stridhan and women’s property

The essential distinction between the properties owned by the wife is that the property has been self-acquired by her before or during the course of the marriage. Whereas, stridhan properties have been gifted by the bride’s family to grooms or his family. It has to be seen if the woman’s property belongs to the woman without any right for the husband in case of woman’s properties to establish the classification.

The extract of the decision to distinguish between stridhan and women’s property is as follows:

We are clearly of the opinion that the mere factum of the husband and wife living together does not entitle either of them to commit a breach of criminal law and if one does then he/she will be liable for all the consequences of such breach.

Criminal law and matrimonial home are not strangers. Crimes committed in matrimonial home are as much punishable as anywhere else. In the case of stridhan property also, the title of which always remains with the wife though possession of the same may sometimes be with the husband or other members of his family, if the husband or any other member of his family commits such an offence, they, will be liable to punishment for the offence of criminal breach of trust under Ss. 405 and 406, I. P. C.

Afterall how could any reasonable person expect a newly married woman living in the same house and under the same roof to keep her personal property or belongings like jewellery, clothing, etc., under her own lock and key, thus showing a spirit of distrust to the husband at the very behest. We are surprised how could the High Court permit the husband to cast his covetous eyes on the absolute and personal property of his wife merely because it is kept in his custody, thereby reducing the custody to a legal farce. On the other hand, it seems to us that even if the personal property of the wife is jointly kept, it would be deemed to be expressly or impliedly kept in the custody of the husband and if he dishonestly misappropriates or refuses to return the same, he is certainly guilty of criminal breach of trust, and there can be no escape from this legal consequence.

The observations of the High Court at other places regarding the inapplicability of S. 406 do not appeal to us and are in fact not in consonance with the spirit and trend of the criminal law. There are a large number of cases where criminal law and civil law can run side by side. The two remedies are not mutually exclusive but clearly co- extensive and essentially differ in their content and consequence. The object of the criminal law is to punish an offender who commits an offence against a person, property or the State for which the accused, on proof of the offence, is deprived of his liberty and in some cases even his life. This does not, however, affect the civil remedies at all for suing the wrong doer in cases like arson, accidents, etc. It is all anathema to suppose that when a civil remedy is available, a criminal prosecution is completely barred. The two types of actions are quite different in content, scope and import. It is not at all intelligible to us to take the stand that if the husband dishonestly misappropriates the stridhan property of his wife, though kept in his custody, that would bar prosecution under S. 406 I. P. C. or render the ingredients of S. 405 I. P. C. nugatory or abortive. To say that because tile stridhan of a married woman is kept in the custody of her husband, no action against him can be taken as no offence is committed is to override and distort the real intent of the law.

Coming back to the theory of matrimonial home and the stridhan becoming a joint property of the two spouses, the logical effect of the observations made by the High Court is that once a woman enters her matrimonial home she completely loses her exclusive stridhan by the same being treated as a joint property of the spouses. In other words, if this view is taken in its literal sense the consequence would be to deprive the wife of the absolute character and nature of her stridhan and make the husband a co-owner of the same – such a concept is neither contemplated nor known to Hindu law of stridhan, nor does it appeal to pure commonsense. It is impossible to uphold the view that once a married woman enters her matrimonial home her stridhan property undergoes a vital change so as to protect the husband from being prosecuted even if he dishonestly misappropriates the same. For instance, properties like jewellery, clothing, cash, etc. given by her parents as gifts cannot be touched by the husband except in very extreme circumstances, viz., where the husband is in imprisonment or is in serious distress. Even then the religion and the law enjoins that the husband must compensate the wife and if he cannot do so, he must pay fine to the King which means that the husband would be liable to penal action under the present law of the land.

By way of post-script we might add that we are indeed amazed to find that so deeply drowned and inherently engrossed are some of the High Courts in the concept of matrimonial home qua the stridhan property of a married woman that they simply refuse to believe that such properties are meant for the exclusive use of the wife and could also be legally entrusted to the husband or his relations. Thus, if the husband or his relations misappropriate the same and refuse to hand it over to the wife and convert them to their own use and even though these facts are clearly alleged in a complaint for an offence under S. 405/406 I. P. C., some Courts take the view that the complaint is not maintainable. Thus, even when clear and specific allegations are made in the complaint that such properties were entrusted to the husband, they refuse to believe these hard facts and brush them aside on the ground that they are vague. The allegations of the complainant in this appeal and the appeals before the Allahabad and the Punjab and Haryana High Courts show that it is not so but is a pure figment of the High Court’s imagination as a result of which the High Courts completely shut their eyes to the fact that the husband could also be guilty under S. 405/406, I. P. C. in view of the clear allegations made in the complaint. In other words, the High Courts simply refuse to believe that there can be any such entrustment and even if it is so, no offence is committed. Such an approach amounts to a serious distortion of the criminal law, resulting in perpetrating grave and substantial miscarriage of justice to the wife at the hands of the High Courts. We cannot countenance such a wrong and perverse approach.

For the reasons given above. we are satisfied that as the complaint prima facie disclosed an offence of criminal breach of trust, as defined in S. 405/406 of the Indian Penal Code, the High Court was not justified in quashing the complaint. We, therefore, allow this appeal, set aside the judgment of the High Court and restore the complaint filed by the appellant and direct that the accused may be summoned, if not already summoned, and put on trial in accordance with law.


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