Wife As Homemaker Contributes To Husband’s Acquisition Of Assets; Entitled To Equal Share In Properties: Madras HC

It is really most reassuring, most refreshing and most remarkable to learn that in a most significant step taken in the laudable direction of truly heralding gender equality, we see that it is none other than the Madras High Court itself which in a most progressive, path breaking, peculiar and pertinent judgment titled Kannaian Naidu […]

It is really most reassuring, most refreshing and most remarkable to learn that in a most significant step taken in the laudable direction of truly heralding gender equality, we see that it is none other than the Madras High Court itself which in a most progressive, path breaking, peculiar and pertinent judgment titled Kannaian Naidu and others v Kamsala Ammal and others in S.A.No.59 of 2016 and Cross Objection No.26 of 2017 and cited in 2023 LiveLaw (Mad) 172 that was reserved on March 21, 2023 and then finally pronounced on June 21, 2023 has held in no uncertain terms that a wife, who contributed to the acquisition of family assets by performing the household chores would be entitled to an equal share in the properties as she had indirectly contributed to its purchase. There can be just no denying it. It must be mentioned that the Single Judge Bench comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice Krishnan Ramasamy very rightly observed that though there was no legislation at present that recognized the contribution made by the wife, the Court could very well recognize the same. While striking the right note, the Court very commendably added that the law does not prevent a Judge from recognizing the contributions.
At the very outset, this learned, laudable, landmark and latest common judgment authored by the Single Judge Bench comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice Krishnan Ramasamy of Madras High Court sets the ball in motion by first and foremost putting forth in para 1 that, “Second Appeal has been filed by the against the judgment and decree dated 28.09.2015 made in A.S.No.1 of 2007 on the file of the II Additional District and Sessions Court, Chidambaram in modifying the judgment and decree dated 15.09.2005 passed in O.S.No.28 of 2002 on the file of the Sub Court, Chidambaram. Cross Objection filed under Order XLI Rule 22 of C.P.C., praying to set aside the judgment and decree dated 28.09.2015 made in A.S.No.1 of 2007 on the file of the II Additional District and Sessions Court, Chidambaram in so far as it relates to partly reversing the judgment and decree made in O.S.No.28 of 2002 on the file of the Subordinate Judge, Chidambaram.”
As we see, the Bench specifies in para 2 that, “The appellants in Second Appeal are the legal heirs of the plaintiff and 1st respondent/defendant in O.S. No. 28 of 2002. On the death of the plaintiff, his legal heirs were impleaded in A.S.No.1 of 2007. The Cross objector is the 1st defendant in the suit. For the sake of convenience, parties are referred to as per their ranking before the Trial Court.”
To put things in perspective, the Bench then envisages in para 4 that, “The case of the 1st defendant is as follows:
4.1. The 1st defendant admits the relationship between her and the 1st plaintiff. She also admits that the plaintiff was working in Neyveli Lignite Corporation and he got a job in abroad. She denies that she had no income of her own; that the suit properties 1 to 4 were purchased by the plaintiff; that consideration for the properties was provided by the plaintiff; that the plaintiff was regularly sending money to his NRI account; that she regularly used to withdraw money from that account and deposited in her account; that she was corresponding with the plaintiff and admitting the amount sent by the plaintiff; she also denies that though the properties are in her name they were intended to be purchased only for the benefit of the plaintiff. She also denies that she is a benamidaar and she was leading a way ward life squandering the plaintiff’s money; that she stashed gold jewels in the locker; that the articles kept in the locker belong to the plaintiff; she also denies that she has an affair with the 2nd defendant; that the plaintiff asked her to mend her ways and hand over the properties.
4.2. Further case of the 1st defendant is that she got a site measuring about two acres and 11 cents of land at Kullanchavadi village from her father. The plaintiff sold one acre of land in the year 1972 and promised to purchase properties in her name later. In 1982, when the plaintiff got the job abroad, he had no money for his journey. So at his request, the 1st defendant sold 4.5 cents of land out of 11 cents and gave the amount to him. As a dutiful wife, she has complied with all the reasonable requests and demands of the plaintiff. That apart, she knows tailoring and used to earn money through that. The plaintiff sent money to his account from abroad only for leading the family. On 29.10.1987, the 1st defendant celebrated the marriage of her daughter and incurred expenditure of Rs.3,00,000/- and presented 400 grams of gold. The 1st plaintiff was not intent to spend such huge amount for the marriage. But against the desire of her husband, the 1st defendant performed the marriage keeping the welfare of her daughter in mind. She presented 80 grams of gold to her grandsons. In January 1995, she performed the marriage of her son Arulprabakar. She spent Rs.1,00,000/- and presented 80 grams of gold to the bride. The 2nd son has completed his BE course at Annamalai University. She spent Rs.1,00,000/- for his education. The 1st defendant spent the money in a useful manner. The 1st defendant purchased a site at 16-A Viswanatha pillai lane in the name of the plaintiff and built a palatial three storeyed house. She has also constructed an outhouse. According to her, the 1st plaintiff is living in that house leading a sophisticated life. The value of that property is now more than Rs.12,00,000/- and apart from that, he owns 1.20 acres of punja lands at Kullanjavadi village, he also has a cash amount of Rs.10,00,000/-, stock and gold worth Rs.5,00,000/-. The items 1 to 4 of the suit properties are the self-acquired properties of the 1st defendant. She purchased these properties by selling her jewels and income derived from her lands.
4.3 Even if, for the sake of an argument, the plaintiff has purchased the properties, the 1st defendant has got the full right and title over the suit properties under Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act and the appellants herein have no rights in the suit properties. The 1st defendant is the real owner of the suit properties and she is living in the 2nd item of the suit properties. The plaintiff was never willing to purchase immovable properties. In the 1st week of February 1996, when he returned to India, the plaintiff insisted that the 1st defendant should dispose of all the suit properties and hand over the sale proceeds for starting a business. The 1st defendant was not willing to sell the properties. So the aggrieved plaintiff, ill-treated the 1st defendant with cruelty and drove her out of the house. At that time, the 1st defendant had no money and began to live in the 2nd item. Since she starved and left penniless, she had to execute a power of attorney in favour of the 2nd defendant to sell the plots at Vadalur. The 2nd defendant is a close relation of her. She confirms that he is of same age as her son. The 1st plaintiff wantonly accused the 1st defendant of having an affair with the 2nd defendant only in order to sling mud. When she came to know of these allegations made by the 1st plaintiff, she cancelled the power of attorney in favour of the 2nd defendant. The 1st defendant has a locker in the bank, which is in her name and in it, she kept 160 grams of jewels and kissan vikas bonds worth Rs. 10,000/- and 3 silk saris. On 15.06.1995, the plaintiff took away the original sale deeds from her at Kurinjipadi bus stand and she has lodged a police complaint. On 05.05.1995, her son Arulprabakar took away the locker key from the 1st defendant.”
Do note, the Bench notes in para 36 that, “In generality of marriages, the wife bears and rears children and minds the home. She thereby frees her husband for his economic activities. Since it is her performance of her function which enables the husband to perform his, she is in justice, entitled to share in its fruits.”
Most commendably, the Bench acknowledges in para 37 that, “A wife, being a home maker performs multi tasks, viz., as a Manager with managerial skills-planning, organizing, budgeting, running errands, etc.; as a Chef with cullinary skills-preparing food items, designing menus and managing kitchen inventory; as a Home Doctor with health care skills-taking precautions and giving home made medicines to the members of the family; as a Home Economist with financial skills- planning home budget, spending and saving, etc. Therefore, by performing these skills, a wife, makes the home as a comfortable environment and her contribution towards the family, and certainly it is not a valueless job, but it is a job doing for 24 hours without holidays, which cannot be less equated with that of the job of an earning husband who works only for 8 hours.”
Be it noted, the Bench notes in para 38 that, “The contribution which wives make towards acquisition of the family assets by performing their domestic chores, thereby releasing their husbands for gainful employment, would be a factor which, this Court would specifically take into account while deciding the right in the properties either the title stand in the name of the husband or wife and certainly, the spouse who looks after the home and cares for family for decades, entitled to a share in the property.”
Frankly speaking, the Bench observes in para 39 that, “If, on marriage, she gives up her paid work in order to devote herself to caring for her husband and children, it is an unwarrantable hardship when in consequence she finds herself in the end with nothing she can call her own.”
On the face of it, the Bench rightly concedes in para 40 that, “When the husband and wife are treated as two wheels of a family cart, then the contribution made either by the husband by earning or the wife by serving and looking after the family and children, would be for the welfare of the family and both are entitled equally to whatever they earned by their joint effort. The proper presumption is that the beneficial interest belongs to them jointly. The property may be purchased either in the name of husband or wife alone, but nevertheless, it is purchased with the monies saved by their joint efforts.”
Most forthrightly, the Bench concedes in para 41 that, “In the present case, if the 1st defendant/wife is not there, certainly, the plaintiff would not have gone to abroad and earned all the money. The 1st defendant rendered her continuous services for 24 hours to the family by maintaining the children, preparing food, taking them to school, looking after their needs and taking care of their health, household chores etc., which cannot be weighed lower than earning money by the plaintiff/husband in abroad. Therefore, the common intention of the couple, viz., the plaintiff/husband and 1st defendant/wife was to co-ordinate each other and to strive hard for the benefit of family and even if any properties purchased in the name of husband or wife alone, ultimately, it can be held that both are entitled to equal share as far as in the present facts of the case keeping in mind the earning of the husband since the same were purchased by both of their contributions, one by earning money and another by serving/looking after the family as stated above. Without contribution of the 1st defendant/wife to the family, the plaintiff would have engaged maid servants, that also for three shifts at 8 hours each per day and might have spent huge money from his earnings for maid servants in which case, the plaintiff would have certainly saved less money, which would not have been sufficient to purchase the properties or not saved anything.”
As a corollary, the Bench holds in para 45 that, “In the light above discussion, this Court is of the considered view that the 1st defendant/wife has also contributed equally, though not directly but indirectly by way of looking after the home and taking care of the family for more than a decade and managing the household chores, thereby releasing the husband for gainful employment and made his stay comfortable in abroad and also to reduce the expenses and save the money for future benefit of the family including for purchasing of the assets.”
While striking a balanced approach, the Bench then propounds in para 46 that, “Though the properties purchased in the name of the 1st defendant, she alone cannot claim exclusive right over the properties merely because the title deed is in her name since the documentary evidence would establish that the 1st defendant/wife purchased the properties out of the direct financial contribution of the plaintiff also. Likewise, the plaintiff also cannot claim absolute right merely on the basis that he had sent the money to purchase the properties and the 1st defendant is only holding the property in trust as ostensible title over the properties in fiduciary capacity, as already discussed based on Ex.A1 to Ex.A11, this Court arrives at the conclusion that since Item Nos.1 and 2 have been purchased from and out joint contribution of spouses, viz., the plaintiff by earning and the 1st defendant indirectly by way of her invaluable services as home maker, whereby reducing the expenses of her husband which lead her husband to save more and this way the wife had contributed indirectly to purchase the property item Nos.1 and 2, which aspect cannot be ignored as the same could be decided based on Ex.A1 to Ex.A11. These aspects were not considered by the first appellate Court. Accordingly, this Court has no hesitation to hold both the plaintiff and the 1st defendant are entitled to equal shares in the present facts of the case over the Item Nos.1 and 2 of the schedule mentioned properties and to that extent the judgment and decree of the First Appellate Court are set aside.”
In conclusion, we thus see that the Madras High Court has so very commendably taken a clear, categorical, courageous and consistent stand that the wife as homemaker contributes to the husband’s acquisition of assets. It was also made absolutely clear by the Court that the wife is entitled to equal share in properties. It was also made clear that once a husband has presented the gifts, he is not entitled to claim it back though he purchased it out of his own earnings as pointed out in para 52 of this judgment! It is really most reassuring to note that a women’s relentless contribution as wife is acknowledged so very laudably by the Madras High Court.
Very rightly so!