In the case of ‘Kiritikant D. Vadodaria v. State of Gujrat (1996)’, a father filed an application claiming maintenance from his son who was earning well at that time, but the son contested the application by contending that his father have another 5 sons from his second wife, and his father has also sufficient means and assets, and therefore, he was not liable to pay maintenance to his father.
The Magistrate evaluate the evidence and found that the contentions of the son right and the father and his another five sons were earning well and, father is able to take care of about his expenses himself, and the main dispute between him and his father was related to distribution of properties. Therefore, the magistrate dismissed the petition. However, in revisional court, a settlement arrived between his father and him.
Subsequently, another application was filed by father along with his second wife, who was step mother of the son, claiming maintenance, by contending that the appellant(son) was brought up and educated by them and was drawing a handsome salary as the Manager of the Bank and since they are not possessed of sufficient means to maintain themselves and that their 3 sons from Second wife have meager income from their small business and the 2 youngest sons had recently completed their studies but were unemployed and. therefore, the appellant was liable for their maintenance.
Again, the son maintained that his father and step brothers have sufficient means and they were doing well to take care of their expenses. He also took plea that the maintenance petition against him had been filed only to harass the appellant.
The Magistrate found that the father of the appellant, had agreed to receive a sum of Rs.3,250/- in full and final settlement of his future maintenance allowance in revisional court arising out of the earlier maintenance petition and that he having sufficient means to support himself was not entitled for any maintenance allowance from the appellant.
However, the trial Magistrate took the view about step mother that inspite of being a step-mother of the appellant, she had right to claim maintenance from the appellant and awarded a sum of Rs. 400/- per month as maintenance allowance to her from the date of the petition. The order has been upheld by the learned City Session Judge and the High Court. Against these views, the son filed an appeal to Supreme Court.
Case before the Supreme Court
A question arose before the court for consideration of this Court was whether the expression “mother” used in clause (d) of sub- section (1) of Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (in short the Code), includes “step-mother”.
Provision of Section 125 of CrPC
“125. Order for maintenance of wives, children and parents,- (1) If any person having sufficient means neglects or refuses to maintain-
(d) his father or mother, unable to maintain himself or herself,
a magistrate of the first class may, upon proof of such neglect or refusal, order such person to make a monthly allowance for the maintains of his wife or such child, father or mother, at such monthly rate not exceeding five hundred rupees in the whole, as such Magistrate thinks fit, and to pay the same to such person as the Magistrate may from time to time direct.”
The Analysis of Supreme Court
The Supreme Court considered the question as follows-
- According to the Law of the Land with regard to maintenance, there is an obligation of the husband to maintain his wife which does not arise by reason of any contract – express or implied – but cut of jural relationship of husband and wife consequent to the performance of marriage.
Such an obligation of the husband to maintain his wife arises irrespective of the fact whether he has or has no property, as it is considered an imperative duty and a solemn obligation of the husband to maintain his wife. The husband cannot be heard saying that he is unable to maintain due to financial constraints so long as he is capable of earning.
- Similarly, It is obligatory on the part of son to maintain his aged father and mother by reason of personal obligation. Under the old Hindu Law. this obligation was imposed on the son alone, but now the present day Hindu Law extends this obligation both on sons and daughters.
- Under the present Law, as said earlier, both son and daughter are liable to maintain aged or infirm parents including childless step- mother, when the later is unable to maintain herself. It is well settled that such has to maintain his mother irrespective of the fact whether he inherits any property or not from his father, as on the basis of the relationship alone he owns a duty and an obligation, legal and moral. to maintain his mother who has given birth to him.
- Further, according to Section 20 of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956, a Hindu is under legal obligation to maintain his wife, minor sons, unmarried daughters and aged or infirm parents. The obligation to maintain them is personal, legal and absolute in character and arises from the very existence of the relationship between the parties.
- But the question before us is whether a step-mother can claim maintenance from the step-son under section 125 of the code includes within its fold the step-mother also as one of the persons to claim maintenance from her step-son.
- The expressions “mother” and “step-mother” have not been defined either in the Code or in the General Clauses Act. These expressions have also not been defined by the Hindu Law or the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 or by any other Law.
As stated earlier all that the explanation attached to Section 20 of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 provides is that the Expression “parent” includes a childless step-mother.
- BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY, 5th Edition, at page 913, has given the meaning of “mother” as a woman who has borne a child, a female parent. Further, at page 1268, the meaning of “step- mother” is stated to mean the wife of one’s father by virtue of a marriage subsequent to that of which the person spoken of is the offspring.
- Similarly, in THE SHORTER OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY, volume II, at page 1360, the meaning of the word “mother” is given as a woman who has given birth to a child or a female parent, and at page 12122, expression “step-mother” has been assigned the meaning as the wife of one’s father by a subsequent marriage.
- According to Webster Dictionary (international Edition), the expression “mother” means a female parent and that which was produced or given birth to anyone. Thus on a conspectus view of dictionary meaning of the two expressions – “mother” and “step-mother” in various dictionaries, it clearly emerges that there is inherent distinction between the status of a mother and ‘step-mother’ and they are two distinct and separate entities and both could not be assigned the same meaning .
- The expression “mother” clearly means only the natural mother who has given birth to the child and not the one who is the wife of one’s father by another marriage.
- A step-mother is one who is taken as a wife by the father of the child other than the one from whom the is born or who has given birth to the one from whom he is born or who has given birth to him.
This clearly goes to show that the woman who gives birth to a child and another woman who is taken by the father as his other wife are two distinct and separate entities in the eye of Law and who in common balance are known and recognized as real ‘mother’ and step-mother.
That being so, another woman who is taken as a wife by the father of the child cannot be given the status of mother to the child born from another woman as there is no blood relation between the two.
- We may also here usefully refer to an old decision of an Division Bench of Bombay High Court in Baidaya v. Natha Govindalal [ (1885) 9 Indian Law Report 279], it was held that the term ‘mata’ stands for ‘janani’ “genitrix”, and sapatnamata ” noverca”.
It has been further observed in the said decision that ‘mata’ and ‘mata-pitrau’ are Sanskrit words which are used in the text by Manu, Mitakshara and Salamphatta and in both the cases discussion proceeds on the supposition that the primary meaning of ‘mata’ was ‘natural mother’ and that it was only in secondary and figurative sense that it could mean a “step-mother”.
- It is, therefore, clear that even under the old Hindu Law also, the expression mother was referable only to the natural mother who has given birth to the child and not the step-mother. It would be difficult to assume that the legislature was unmindful of the social fabric and the structure of relationship in the families.
- The existence of various kinds of relatives in our society was not something of which the Parliament may be said to ignorant when it thought to enact the New Code of 1973 and for the first time not only the parents were included amongst the persons entitled to claim maintenance under Section 125 (1)(d) but even the divorced woman had been included in the expression wife to be entitled to claim maintenance, who were not so included in Section 488 of the “step-father” or “step-mother” are not included in the expression “his-father” or mother” occuring in clause (d) of Section 125(1) of the code giving a clear indication of the legislative intent.
- In view of the above discussion, it follows that the expression mother, in clause (d) of section 125 (1) of Code, means and is referable only to the real or natural mother.
- The point in controversy before us however is whether a ‘stepmother’ can claim maintenance from the step-son or not, having regard to the aims and objects of Section 125 of the Code.
While dealing with the ambit and scope of the provision contained in Section 125 of the Code, it has to be borne in mind that the dominant and primary object is to give social justice to the woman, child and infirm parents etc. and to prevent destitution and vagrancy by compelling those who can support those who are unable to support themselves but have a moral claim for support.
The provisions in section 125 provide a speedy remedy to those women, children and destitute parents who are in distress. The provisions in Section 125 are intended to achieve this special purpose. The dominant purpose behind the benevolent provisions contained in Section 125 clearly is that the wife, child and parents should not be left in a helpless state of distress, destitution and starvation.
Having regard to this social object the provisions of Section 125 of the Code have to be given a liberal construction to fulfil and achieve this intention of the Legislature.
Consequently, to achieve this objective, in our opinion, a childless step- mother may claim maintenance from her step-son provided she is widow or her husband, if living, is also incapable of supporting and maintaining her.
- The obligation of the son to maintain his father, who is unable to maintain himself, is unquestionable, When she claims maintenance from her natural born children, she does so in her status as their ‘mother’.
Such an interpretation would be in accord with the explanation attached to Section 20 of the Hindu Adoptions and maintenance Act, 1956 because to exclude altogether the personal Law applicable to the parties from consideration in matters of maintenance under Section 125 of the Code may not be wholly justified.
- However, no intention of Legislature can be read in Section 125 of the Code that even though a mother has her real and natural born son or sons and a husband capable of maintaining her, she could still proceed against her step-son to claim maintenance.
- Since, in this case we are not concerned with, we express no opining, on the question of liability, if any, of the step-son to maintain the step-mother, out of the inherited family estate by the step-son and leave that question to be decided in an appropriate case. Our discussion is confined to the obligations under Section 125 Cr.P.C. only.
- In the present case, as discussed above, the “step- mother’ has got 5 natural born sons who are all major and atleast 3 of them are well to do and capable of maintaining their mother. This apart, as already noticed, the husband is also possessed of sufficient means and property besides the monthly income that derives from the business of Snuff enabling him to maintain and support his second wife.
- Yet the step-mother respondent preferred to claim the maintenance only from the step-son. the appellant herein leaving out all her natural born sons (from whom she could claim maintenance as their mother) and husband who are well to do, prima facie it appears that she proceeded against her step-son with a view to punish and cause harassment to the appellant, which is wholly unjustified.
- In the facts and circumstances of this case, we are of the view that Step mother is not entitled to claim any maintenance from the step-son, appellant herein. In the result the appeal succeeds and is hereby allowed.”
Kirtikant D. Vadodaria vs State Of Gujarat, 1996