21 Jan 2011

Consent of wife required for valid adoption by Hindu Male: Supreme Court

Making a reference to the provisions of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 and contrasting it with the Hindu law as prevailing before its enactment, the Supreme Court in its recent decision [Ghisalal v. Dhapubai , later reported as AIR 2011 SC 644] has declared that it is mandatory for a Hindu male to take consent of his wife, unless she is incapacitated from giving consent, before adopting a child.

The Supreme Court expressed the position of law in the following terms;
17. Section 6 reproduced above enumerates the requisites of a valid adoption. It lays down that no adoption shall be valid unless the person adopting has the capacity as also the right to take in adoption; the person giving in adoption has the capacity to do so; the person adopted is capable of being taken in adoption, and the adoption is made in compliance with the other conditions mentioned in Chapter II. Section 7 lays down that any male Hindu who is of sound mind and is not minor has the capacity to take a son or a daughter in adoption. This is subject to the rider enshrined in the proviso which lays down that if the male Hindu has a wife living then he shall not adopt except with the consent of his wife unless she is incapacitated to give the consent by reason of her having completely and finally renounced the world or her having ceased to be a Hindu or she has been declared by a court of competent jurisdiction to be of unsound mind. The explanation appended to Section 7 lays down that if a person has more than one wife living at the time of adoption, then the consent of all the wives is sine qua non for a valid adoption unless either of them suffers from any of the disabilities specified in the proviso to Section 7. Section 8 enumerates the conditions, which must be satisfied for adoption by a female Hindu. Section 12 deals with effects of adoption. It declares that from the date of the adoption, an adopted child is deemed to be a child of his/her adoptive father or mother for all purposes and his ties in the family of his or her birth shall stand severed and replaced by those created in the adoptive family. Proviso (a) to this section contains a restriction on the marriage of adopted child with a person to whom he or she could not have married if he or she had continued in the family of his or her birth. Clause (b) of the proviso saves the vested right of the adopted child in the property subject to the obligations, if any, attached to the ownership of such property, including the obligation to maintain relatives in the family of his or her birth. Likewise, clause (c) to the proviso lays down that the adopted child shall not divest any person of any estate vested in him or her before the date of adoption. Section 16 which embodies a rule of presumption lays down that whenever any document registered under any law for the time being in force evidencing adoption and signed by the person giving and person taking the child in adoption is produced before any court, then it shall presume that the adoption has been made after complying with the provisions of the Act unless proved otherwise.
18. In Indian society, a male spouse enjoyed the position of dominance for centuries together. This was particularly so in Hindu families. Under the old Hindu Law, a Hindu male had an absolute right to adopt a male child and his wife did not have the locus to question his right or to object to the adoption. A wife could adopt a son to her husband but she could not do so during her husband’s lifetime without his express consent. After his death, she could adopt a son to him, in certain parts of India, only if he had expressly authorized her to do so. In other parts of India, she could adopt without such authority. However, in no case a wife or a widow could adopt a son to herself. An adoption by a woman married or unmarried of a son to herself was invalid and conferred no legal rights upon the adopted person. A daughter could not be adopted by a male or a female Hindu. The physical act of giving was a prime necessity of the ceremonial requirements relating to adoption. As to datta homam, that is, oblations of clarified butter to fire, the law was not finally settled and there was divergence of judicial opinion. 
19. After India became a sovereign, democratic republic, this position has undergone a sea change. The old Hindu Law has been codified to a large extent on the basis of constitutional principles of equality. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 codifies the law on the subject of marriage and divorce. The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 codifies the law relating to intestate succession. The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956 codifies the law relating to minority and guardianship among Hindus. The 1956 Act is also a part of the scheme of codification of laws. Once the Hindu Succession Act was passed giving equal treatment to the sons and daughters in the matter of succession, it was only logical that the fundamental guarantee of equality of a status and equality before law is recognized in the matter of adoption. The 1956 Act now provides for adoption of boys as well as girls. By virtue of the proviso to Section 7, the consent of wife has been made a condition precedent for adoption by a male Hindu. The mandatory requirement of the wife’s consent enables her to participate in the decision making process which vitally affects the family. If the wife finds that the choice of the person to be adopted by the husband is not appropriate or is not in the interest of the family then she can veto his discretion. A female Hindu who is of a sound mind and has completed the age of eighteen years can also take a son or daughter in adoption to herself and in her own right. A female Hindu who is unmarried or a widow or a divorcee can also adopt a son to herself, in her own right, provided she has no Hindu daughter or son’s daughter living at the time of adoption [Sections 8, 11(1) and 11(2)]. However, if she is married, a female Hindu cannot adopt a son or a daughter during the lifetime of her husband unless the husband is of unsound mind or has renounced the world. By incorporating the requirement of wife’s consent in the proviso to Section 7 and by conferring independent right upon a female Hindu to adopt a child, Parliament has tried to achieve one of the facets of the goal of equality enshrined in the Preamble and reflected in Article 14 read with Article 15 of the Constitution
20. The term ‘consent’ used in the proviso to Section 7 and the explanation appended thereto has not been defined in the Act. Therefore, while interpreting these provisions, the Court shall have to keep in view the legal position obtaining before enactment of the 1956 Act, the object of the new legislation and apply the rule of purposive interpretation and if that is done, it would be reasonable to say that the consent of wife envisaged in the proviso to Section 7 should either be in writing or reflected by an affirmative/positive act voluntarily and willingly done by her. If the adoption by a Hindu male becomes subject matter of challenge before the court, the party supporting the adoption has to adduce evidence to prove that the same was done with the consent of his wife. This can be done either by producing document evidencing her consent in writing or by leading evidence to show that wife had actively participated in the ceremonies of adoption with an affirmative mindset to support the action of the husband to take a son or a daughter in adoption. The presence of wife as a spectator in the assembly of people who gather at the place where the ceremonies of adoption are performed cannot be treated as her consent. In other words, the Court cannot presume the consent of wife simply because she was present at the time of adoption. The wife’s silence or lack of protest on her part also cannot give rise to an inference that she had consented to the adoption
21. At this stage, we may notice some precedents which have bearing on the interpretation of proviso to Section 7 of the 1956 Act. In Kashibai v. Parwatibai (supra), this Court was called upon to consider whether in the absence of the consent of one of the two wives, the adoption by the husband could be treated valid. The facts of the case show that plaintiff No.1 and defendant No.1 were two widows of deceased Lachiram. Plaintiff No.2 was daughter of Lachiram from his first wife Kashibai and defendant No.2 was the daughter from his second wife Parwati. Defendant No.3, Purshottam son of Meena Bai and grandson of Lachiram. The plaintiffs filed suit for separate possession by partition of a double storey house, open plot and some agricultural lands. The defendants contested the suit. One of the pleas taken by them was that Purshottam son of Meena Bai had been adopted by deceased Lachiram vide registered deed of adoption dated 29.4.1970, who had also executed deed of Will in favour of the adopted son bequeathing the suit properties to him and thereby denying any right to the plaintiffs to claim partition. The trial Court decreed the suit for separate possession by partition by observing that the defendants have failed to prove the adoption of Purshottam by Lachiram and the execution of Will in his favour. The High Court reversed the judgment of the trial Court and held that the defendants had succeeded in proving execution of the deed of adoption and the deed of Will in accordance of law and as such the plaintiffs were not entitled to any share in the suit properties. On appeal, this Court reversed the judgment of the High Court and restored the decree passed by the trial Court. On the issue of adoption of Purshottam, this Court observed: 
“It is no doubt true that after analysing the parties’ evidence minutely the trial court took a definite view that the defendants had failed to establish that Plaintiff 1, Defendant 1 and deceased Lachiram had taken Defendant 3, Purshottam in adoption. The trial court also recorded the finding that Plaintiff 1 was not a party to the Deed of Adoption as Plaintiff 1 in her evidence has specifically stated that she did not sign the Deed of Adoption nor she consented for such adoption of Purshottam and for that reason she did not participate in any adoption proceedings. On these findings the trial court took the view that the alleged adoption being against the consent of Kashi Bai, Plaintiff 1, it was not valid by virtue of the provisions of Section 7 of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956. Section 7 of the Act provides that any male Hindu who is of sound mind and is not a minor has the capacity to take a son or a daughter in adoption. It provides that if he has a wife living, he shall not adopt except with the consent of his wife. In the present case as seen from the evidence discussed by the trial court it is abundantly clear that Plaintiff 1 Kashi Bai the first wife of deceased Lachiram had not only declined to participate in the alleged adoption proceedings but also declined to give consent for the said adoption and, therefore, the plea of alleged adoption advanced by the defendants was clearly hit by the provisions of Section 7 and the adoption cannot be said to be a valid adoption.”
22. In Brajendra Singh v. State of M.P. (supra), the Court considered the scope of Sections 7 and 8(c) of the 1956 Act in the backdrop of the claim made by the appellant that he was validly adopted son of Mishri Bai, who was married to Padam Singh but was forced to live with her parents. In 1970, Mishri Bai claims to have adopted the appellant. After some time, she was served with a notice under Section 10 of the M.P. Ceiling on Agricultural Holdings Act, 1960 indicating that her holding of agricultural land was more than the prescribed limit. In her reply, Mishri Bai claimed that she and her adopted son were entitled to retain 54 acres land. The competent authority did not accept her claim. Thereupon, Mishri Bai filed suit for declaration that the appellant is her adopted son. During the pendency of the suit, she executed a registered Will bequeathing all her properties in favour of the appellant. The trial Court decreed the suit. The first appellate Court dismissed the appeal preferred by the State of Madhya Pradesh. The High Court allowed the second appeal and held that in the absence of the consent of Mishri Bai’s husband, adoption of the appellant cannot be treated as valid. This Court noticed that language of Sections 7 and 8 was different and observed: 
“A married woman cannot adopt at all during the subsistence of the marriage except when the husband has completely and finally renounced the world or has ceased to be a Hindu or has been declared by a court of competent jurisdiction to be of unsound mind. If the husband is not under such disqualification, the wife cannot adopt even with the consent of the husband whereas the husband can adopt with the consent of the wife. This is clear from Section 7 of the Act. Proviso thereof makes it clear that a male Hindu cannot adopt except with the consent of the wife, unless the wife has completely and finally renounced the world or has ceased to be a Hindu or has been declared by a court of competent jurisdiction to be of unsound mind. It is relevant to note that in the case of a male Hindu the consent of the wife is necessary unless the other contingency exists. Though Section 8 is almost identical, the consent of the husband is not provided for. The proviso to Section 7 imposes a restriction in the right of male Hindu to take in adoption. In this respect the Act radically departs from the old law where no such bar was laid down to the exercise of the right of a male Hindu to adopt oneself, unless he dispossesses the requisite capacity. As per the proviso to Section 7 the wife’s consent must be obtained prior to adoption and cannot be subsequent to the act of adoption. The proviso lays down consent as a condition precedent to an adoption which is mandatory and adoption without wife’s consent would be void. Both proviso to Sections 7 and 8(c) refer to certain circumstances which have effect on the capacity to make an adoption.”
34. In view of the above discussion, we hold that the concurrent finding recorded by the trial Court and the lower appellate Court, which was approved by the learned Single Judge of the High Court that Gopalji had adopted Ghisalal with the consent of Dhapubai is perverse inasmuch as the same is based on unfounded assumptions and pure conjectures. We further hold that Dhapubai had succeeded in proving that the adoption of Ghisalal by Gopalji was not valid because her consent had not been obtained as per the mandate of the proviso to Section 7 of the 1956 Act. As a corollary, it is held that the suit filed by Ghisalal for grant of a decree that he is entitled to one half share in the properties of Gopalji was not maintainable and the findings recorded by the trial Court, the lower appellate Court and/or the High Court on the validity of Gift Deeds dated 29.11.1944 and 22.10.1966, Will dated 27.10.1975 executed by Gopalji in favour of Dhapubai and Sale Deed dated 19.1.1973 executed by her in favour of Sunderbai are liable to be set aside.

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