NEW DELHI:  Economic abuse of an estranged wife, including depriving her of her ‘stridhan’, amounts to domestic violence, the  Supreme Court has ruled.

Judicial separation did not mean severance of ties between a husband and wife and hence she cannot be denied her stridhan, a top court bench clarified on Friday while hearing a case filed by a separated woman to recover her stridhan.

Stridhan is the exclusive property of a woman and includes the voluntary gifts made to her before, during and after her marriage. It differs from dowry, which is obtained by coercion and is illegal.

Economic abuse of estranged wife, denying stridhan amounts to domestic violence: SC

A woman had sole rights over her stridhan and this cannot be denied to her on account of lapse of time, said a Supreme Court bench, comprising Justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C Pant. Depriving a woman of her stridhan would be part of economic abuse under the Protection of  Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and, unlike other offences, this would be a continuing offence, it said.

The court was dealing with an appeal filed by one Krishna Bhatacharjee against her husband Sarathi Choudhury and other family members, demanding her stridhan under Section 12 of the Domestic Violence Act. A trial court in Tripura and High Court had both ruled that she was not an aggrieved person under the Act as she was separated and hence was not entitled to recover her stridhan.

The top court rapped the high court for turning away the woman, saying the law had been enacted for effective protection of rights of women who were victims of violence of any kind occurring within the family.

The couple got married in November 2005. Bhatacharjee in her appeal alleged that there was demand for  dowry from her husband and his relatives and she was driven out of her matrimonial home when these were not met.

There was a short conciliation of sorts during which the husband and wife stayed in a rented house for two months. Eventually, however, the husband filed for judicial separation and got it. The woman then filed an application for stridhan before the Tripura magistrate.