In Hindu laws, adoption has multifarious connotations and objectives, some even surpassing the temporal world. Legally, adoption signifies a process which aids the creation of parent and child relationship between biologically unrelated individuals. This functions as a two-way gateway, both for childless parents who want a child and for children who are orphan, abandoned or economically downtrodden. Once successful, the adopted child has the same rights and duties as a natural born child when it comes to inheritance, maintenance, status and so forth. However, as per the Hindu ideology this falls as a secondary objective, it is not unknown to us that Hindus believe in life after death and the immortality of the soul. Therefore, the process of adoption was introduced in the realm of Hinduism so that childless individuals can have their death rites performed and for the continuous of family lineage.
Keeping this object in mind there have been numerous amendments and precedents which had some aspect of development in them. The present case for instance questions the capacity of a women to adopt who is living as a divorcee but has not been legally divorced. The women being differently abled and abandoned by her husband for the same is stripped off from her ability to adopt. The case also brings about a lacuna in Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act of 1956 under which within a marriage there is no provision for the wife to adopt a child even with the consent of her husband. The right here is solely vested in the husband. This is an appellant jurisdiction before Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice P Sathasivam. The suit was presented before the trial courts on the ground of a land dispute and took the form of an invalid adoption upon the second appeal to the High Court, where the objective of adoption was questioned and a difference in actual divorce and leading a life of divorcee was embarked. Upon dismissal, the case was brought before the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
Mishri Bai was married to a Padam Singh in the year 1948, the former was practically without legs and due to her crippled condition, she was abandoned by the latter. Despite being married under the village custom which requires a virgin girl to marry, the two of them never shared a household together and lived as unmarried individuals soon after getting married. Mishri Bai stayed with her parents in Kolinja Village. Seeing her pitiable condition, her parents gifted her 32 acres of agricultural land in order to maintain her. She adopted Brajendra Singh in the year 1970, four years after which her husband died. As per the Ceiling Act of 1960, which regulates the maximum area of agricultural holdings in the state of Madhya Pradesh, Mishri Bai’s holding was questioned, to which she claimed that she along with her adopted son constituted a joint family and had the right to retain 54 acres. Upon further enquiry it was discovered that the father’s name was not recorded in the adoption institute. Following this Mishri Bai executed a will ceding all her land holdings in favour of Brajendra Singh, the will however quoted him to be her adopted son. The validity of this was challenged in the trial court and the high court, following which this appeal was filed.
The most pertinent issues were,
Whether such an adoption would be valid in the eyes of the law?
Whether the land bequeath to the appellant would be held by him?
The rules applied in this case is the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956. Section 8 (c) of the act which deals with a women’s ability to adopt, which can only be validated if her marriage has been dissolved or if her husband is deceased, renounced from the world, is of unsound mind or has ceased to be Hindu.
The court in its decision enumerated a detailed interpretation of Section 8 (c) of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act and highlighted the difference between ‘conceptual and contextual divorce’. It was held that even though Mishri Bai never inhabited the same household as Padam Singh and never consummated her marriage or had any aspect in the relationship which could be traced to marriage, the relationship was never legally dissolved as a result of which the they were considered to be married in the eyes of law. The situation is rather sensitive as Mishri Bai is differently abled and considerable amount of discrimination was meted out to her on the part of Padam Singh. The marriage could be linked to a sham marriage, which essentially refers to a fabrication under the garb of marriage, however no such redressal was pursued by the appellants, owing to which the marriage was regarded lawful. As for the adoption of Brajendra Singh, under the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act there is no provision for a married woman to adopt a child. A married couple can only adopt if such an adoption is initiated by the husband upon the consent of wife or wives as enlisted in section 7 of the Act. Following this, section 8 enlists the grounds under which a female can adopt, for this the female is required to be of sound mind and must have attained majority and also to be unmarried.
In case the woman is married she needs to satisfy the conditions laid down in clause (c) of the section to legally adopt. Section 8(c) entails the following grounds, if married, the marriage must be dissolved or the husband should either be of unsound mind or should have renounced from the world or ceased to be a Hindu. Even if the husband is deceased, the wife can proceed with the process of adoption. Implying thereby that the right to adoption for women is only available if she is unmarried, divorced, widowed and in exceptional conditions where her husband is incapacitated based on the given grounds. As the marriage in question was legal, there was no scope for Mishri Bai to have adopted legally as an individual. As the adoption took place in the year 1970, it was void ab initio and even though Padam Singh was deceased thereafter, the adoption could not be ratified. Therefore, the adoption of Brajendra Singh was declared to be void. Mishri Bai also executed a will in favour of the appellant bequeathing all her property to him, however the will recorded the appellant to the adopted son which could not be validated. Given the peculiarity of the situation, it was however considered to give some merit to the will and allot certain amount of land to the appellant and the surplus was issued in favour of the government. This was done to address the noble cause of enabling a crippled woman to freely adopt and the fact that appellant took care of her and supported her. This sets a precendent in the right tone for differently abled individuals and respects the sensitivity that entails. Nevertheless, the court refrained from making any statement on record in light of the legality of such practice owing to peculiarity and rendered the decision to encourage the behaviour as portrayed by the appellant.
Hindu Dharmashastras have given an enormous importance to the institution of adoption and particularly that of son. This has been validly recognised and propagated by Manu and Vasistha in their popular texts which led to the formation of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act of 1956. The foremost objective of adoption as enumerated by them is to realise spiritual fulfilment and temporal well-being. As the judgement of the given case was recorded, the very objective of Mishri Bai was scrutinized so far as she justified the holding of property. It was seen in a bad light and numerous precedents were cited for clarity. The case of V.T.S Chandrashekhara Mudaliar v Kulandaivelu Mudaliar held that the essence of adoption is to achieve spiritual objectives and the rights of inheritance is simply an accessory to this practice, implying that every adoption process must be judged on the basis of its temporal capacity as opposed to worldly considerations. This was reiterated in a number of cases, including Amarendra Man Singh Bhramarbar v Sanatan Singh, the first landmark judgement on adoption which enumerated the importance of son as per the Hindu scriptures and the vivid responsibilities shouldered by them, such as the lineage of family, solemnization of death rites and religious ceremony to name a few. In this regard, the religious significance of adoption holds a higher stature as opposed to the secular practices in Hinduism. This ideology was adopted while delivering the judgement of the present case, the appellant’s stance on ownership of the 32-acre property originally owned by Mishri Bai was seen in a bad light, almost to trivialise the sanctity of the institution of adoption. However, this was diluted considering the vulnerability of Mishri Bai, and the position of appellant was embraced and encouraged herein. To lend a shoulder of support and to dedicate one’s life in taking care of differently abled is noble, to say the least. Despite court’s ambiguous standing on the adoption practice, this objective was regarded with utmost sensitivity. Which thereby led to the judgement, where the appellant was allowed to keep the holding of the agricultural land which would legally be allowed for an individual to possess. The only intrusion being the invalid adoption, due to which the surplus land was ceded to the government, as there was no formulation of a joint family. The lacuna of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act was left unaddressed in the present judgement, with regard to Section 7 of the act the capacity of a male individual to adopt entails even married male upon the consent of wife. On the other hand, the wife has no capacity in any case to adopt, where her marriage is valid, even with the consent of the husband has highlighted by the proviso of the following sections. The interpretation of Section 8 of the Act is rather restrictive as adopted by the courts for there is no room for special provisions or exceptions with regards to sham marriages or differently abled individuals. As clearly brought out by the facts that the marriage between Mishri Bai and Padam Singh was only a legal formality, for there was nothing like an actual marriage as it neither involved inhabitation nor consummation. It was to such an extent that the parties were unaware of each other’s whereabouts, even then the court maintained its stance and stated that there is a ‘conceptual and contextual difference in divorce’. Conceptually, the parties can be treated as divorced for there was only a formality under the custom of the village which resulted in their marriage, but contextually, they were married in the first place and there was no dissolution of this marriage despite the neglect and unavailability. From a legal standpoint, the parties were still married and because of the lacuna its not vested in any married woman to adopt a child, with or without the consent of the husband. The event of death of Padam Singh could have served as a turning point had the adoption taken place subsequently. However, the adoption took place 4 years before the event which rendered it void ab initio and thus no means of ratification can be adopted in its regard.
This case takes a sensitive undertone to address the concerns of Mishri Bai and the appellant. It intends to encourage sympathy towards differently abled and promotes practices which ensure their well-being as apparent through the judgement. The court also reiterates upon the objectives of adoption as enumerated before the formulation of the act and abides by the precedents. It however fails to address the inequality in the rights of adoption of husband and wife individually, and abstains from clearing their stance on the same. They regard the marriage between the concerned parties valid, despite the conceptual differences and thereby holds the adoption to be invalid.
Submitted By: Devleena Prasad
2nd year, Symbiosis Law School