MAINTENANCE OF STEP-MOTHER

    INTRODUCTION

    Maintenance of step-mother is provided in Hindu Law. Hindu law refers to the system of personal laws (marriage, adoption, inheritance, etc.), traditionally derived from Hindu texts and traditions, that shaped the social practice of Hindu communities. Local laws never conformed completely to the ideals of Dharmashastra, but both substantive and procedural laws of the tradition did impact the practical law, though largely indirectly.

    In the early 1950s, contentious debates ensued over the so-called Hindu Code Bill, which had been offered in the Indian parliament, as a way to fix still unclear elements of the Anglo-Hindu law. Though a small minority suggested some kind of return to classical Hindu law, the real debate was over how to appropriate the Anglo-Hindu law. In the end, a series of four major pieces of legislation were passed in 1955-1956 and these laws form the first point of reference for modern Hindu law:

    1. Hindu Marriage Act (1955),
    2. Hindu Succession Act (1956),
    3. Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act (1956), and
    4. Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act (1956).

    Though these legislative moves purported to resolve still unclear parts of the Anglo-Hindu law, the case law and interpretive tradition of British judges and Indian judges in the British employ remained and remains crucial to the application of modern Hindu law.

    HINDU ADOPTION AND MAINTENANCE ACT 1956

    The Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act (HAMA) was established in the year 1956 as part of the Hindu Code Bills. This act extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu & Kashmir and applies to Hindus domiciled in our country. Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act was introduced to codify and standardize the current Hindu legal tradition. This act dealt specifically with the legal process of adopting children by a Hindu adult, and with the legal obligations of a Hindu to provide maintenance to various family members. In this article, we look at the various aspects of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act (HAMA), 1956 in detail.

    Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act apply to Hindus and all those considered under the umbrella term of Hindus as described below. As per the provision of this act, the following person can adopt a child in India.

    • This act applies to any person who is domiciled in the territories
    • A person who is a Hindu by religion in any of its forms or development, including the Virashaiva, a Lingayat or a follower of the Brahmo, Prarthana or Arya Samaj
    • A person belongs to a Buddhist, Jain or Sikh can adopt a child
    • A child legitimate or illegitimate whose parents are Hindus, Buddhists, Jains or Sikhs
    • A child legitimate or illegitimate one of whose parents are Hindus, Buddhists, Jains or Sikhs and has been so brought up
    • An abandoned child, legitimate or illegitimate of unknown parentage brought up as a Hindu, Buddhist, etc.; and
    • A person who has been converted to the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain or Sikh religion

    MAINTENANCE

    The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act lays down the provisions relating to maintenance rights of a woman under Hindu laws. Under the Act, the wife, daughter-in-law, children, elderly parents and other dependents have a right to claim maintenance.

    In case of divorce, the wife has a right to claim maintenance from her husband when she is unable to maintain herself financially. The fact whether the wife is working and earns some income or not, does not affect her right to claim maintenance from her husband.

    However, the quantum of maintenance that the husband is required to pay to her wife depends upon the income earned by the wife, the income and property of the husband, his personal expenses and the expenses borne by him from his dependents.

    The amount of maintenance to paid depends upon different factors. Following factors must be considered to fix a maintenance amount:

    • The position and status of both parties,
    • Whether the claimant has an actual claim for maintenance.
    • The claimant’s total property and income.
    • The total property, income generated from this property, and other income of the person who has to maintain other.
    • The total number dependents and their expenses borne by the person asked to pay maintenance.
    • The personal expenses of the person asked to pay maintenance.

    MAINTENANCE OF STEP-MOTHER

    SECTIONS

    S. 20. MAINTENANCE OF CHILDREN AND AGED PARENTS

    (1) Subject to the provisions of this section a Hindu is bound, during his or her lifetime, to maintain his or her legitimate or illegitimate children and his or her aged or infirm parents.

    (2) A legitimate or an illegitimate child may claim maintenance from his or her father or mother so long as a child is a minor.

    (3) The obligation of a person to maintain his or her aged or infirm parent or a daughter who is unmarried extends in so far as a parent or the unmarried daughter, as the case may be, is unable to maintain himself or herself out of his or her own earning or property.

    Explanation- In this section ‘parents’ includes childless step-mother.

    S. 21. Dependents defined-

    For the purposes of this Chapter “dependents” mean the following relatives of the deceased-

    • his or her father;
    • his or her mother;
    • his widow, so long as she does not remarry;
    • his or her son or the son of his predeceased son or the son of a predeceased son of his predeceased son, so long as he is a minor; provided and to the extent that he is unable to obtain maintenance, in the case of a grandson from his father’s or mother’s estate, and in the case of a great-grandson, from the estate of his father or mother or father’s father or father’s mother;
    • his or her unmarried daughter for the unmarried daughter of his predeceased son or the unmarried daughter of a predeceased son of his predeceased son, so long as she remains unmarried; provided and to the extent that she is unable to obtain maintenance, in the case of a granddaughter from her father’s or mother’s estate and in the case of a great-grand daughter from the estate of her father or mother or father’s father or father’s mother;
    • his widowed daughter; provided and to the extent that she is unable to obtain maintenance-
      • from the estate of her husband; or
      • from her son or daughter, if any, or his or her estate; or
      • from her father-in-law or his father or the estate of either of them;
    • any widow of his son or of a son of his predeceased son, so long as she does not remarry; provided and to the extent that she is unable to obtain maintenance from her husband’s estate, or from her son or daughter, if any, or his or her estate; or in the case of a grandson’s widow, also from her father-in-law’s estate;
    • his or her minor illegitimate son, so long as he remains a minor;
    • his or her illegitimate daughter, so long as she remains unmarried.

    S. 22. Maintenance of dependents-

    (1) Subject to the provisions of sub-section (2), the heirs of a deceased Hindu are bound to maintain the dependents of the deceased out of the estate inherited by them from the deceased.

    (2) Where a dependent has not obtained, by testamentary or intestate succession, any share in the estate of a Hindu dying after the commencement of this Act, the dependent shall be entitled, subject to the provisions of this Act, to maintenance from those who take the estate.

    (3) The liability of each of the persons who take the estate shall be in proportion to the value of the share or part of the estate taken by him or her.

    (4) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (2) or sub-section (3), no person who is himself or herself a dependent shall be liable to contribute to the maintenance of others, if he or she has obtained a share or part, the value of which is, or would, if the liability to contribute were enforced, become less than what would be awarded to him or her by way of maintenance under this Act.

    STEP-MOTHER

    The explanation to this section includes a childless step mother also within the definition of “parent”.

    She is also, therefore, entitled to maintenance from her stepson during her old age or infirmity. This is indeed a humanitarian provision. Although she did not give birth to the son or daughter from whom she may receive maintenance, yet she is given the right so that she may not be unprovided for. If the step mother has their own son or daughter, she will get maintenance from him or her. In case he or she refuses or is unable to maintain her, the stepson is the step daughter do not come under the obligation to do so.

    In Kirtikant D. Vadodaria v State of Gujarat[1], the judges consulted dictionaries for the meaning of “mother” and “stepmother”. The court held that there is an inherent difference between the status of a mother and stepmother. They are two distinct and separate entities. “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.” The latter is the stepmother whereas the former is the real mother. A child has blood relationship with the real or natural mother but not with the stepmother.

    However, she has social relationship with the step child as she is a member of the same family. Explanation to Section 20 expressly makes her a parent. Where the stepmother was only 40 years old, it was held that she cannot be considered as an “aged” or “infirm” person. Therefore, she was not entitled to maintenance from her stepson, step daughter in law and step grandson. It is submitted that such a mother may not get maintenance from her natural son even.

    Section 125, CrPC –

    The pint 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.

    Section 125 makes provision for a swift remedy for recovery of maintenance. The remedy is available against a person who neglects or refuses his 

    1. wife, 
    2. minor children, legitimate or a legitimate, 
    3. major children, legitimate or a legitimate (except married daughter) suffering from physical or mental abnormality or injury,
    4. parents

    Following are the objects of maintenance proceedings: –

    1. not to punish a person for his past neglect, but to prevent vagrancy by compelling those who fail to support those who are unable to support themselves and who have a moral claim to support
    2. Section 125 is meant to achieve a social purpose. The object is to prevent vagrancy and destitution. 
    3. It is to provide quick and summary remedy to the class of persons who are unable to maintain themselves

    She can claim maintenance under section 125 if:

    1. She is a childless woman.
    2. She has been living under destitution.
    3. Her husband has died.
    4. Stepson has sufficient means to maintain her, but he refuses when she claims thereof.

    The criminal law of India also needs for provision under Section 125, CrPC, 1973 for a speedy grant of maintenance to the wife, children, father and mother in order to save them from distress, destitution and starvation. Stepmother is not included within the definition of mother there. In Kirtikant D. Vadodaria v State of Gujarat, held that it would not be justified to exclude personal law all together from consideration in matters of maintenance under Section 125, CrPC. But user step mother has her own natural born son(s) and the husband capable of maintaining her, she cannot proceed against the stepson to receive maintenance from him.[2]

    The right of parents to claim maintenance was not recognized under the code of criminal procedure in 1973. The corresponding provision in section 488 of Criminal procedure Code, 1898 did not make any provision to safeguard the right of either the father or the mother. This drew the attention of the joint committee of the Parliament while redrafting the new code. The ‘The Committee considered the condition and felt that the right of the parents not possessed of sufficient means, to be maintained by the son should be recognized by making a provision. The committee also suggested that where the father or mother is unable to maintain himself or herself the order for payment of maintenance may be directed to a son who is possessed of sufficient means.

    If there are two or more children, the parents may seek the remedy against any one or more of them. When the new code was drafted the right of such infirm parents was recognized. Interestingly the code uses the phrase ‘father’ or ‘mother’, but not ‘parent’. Perhaps the intention behind this might be to fix the obligation only on legitimate children and not on those issues born out of wedlock. The term mother in a restricted sense means only a natural mother. Doubt may arise weather the phrase ‘mother’ used under section 125 of the code includes adoptive and stepmothers. The personal law of Hindus includes step mother in its usages of the term mother.[3] Section 3(20) of the general clauses act refers father to include adoptive father. Courts have recognized the right of adopted mothers to claim maintenance under section 125. But the position of mother is still unsettled.

    In Kritikant v State of Gujarat[4], the court said – ‘the main object of section 125 is to give social justice to the women, child and infirm parents etc. and to prevent destitution and vagrancy by compelling those who can support those were unable to support themselves but have a moral claim for support. The court again mentioned that, to achieve this objective, in our opinion, a childless stepmother may claim maintenance from his stepson provided she is a widow her husband, if living, is also in capable of supporting and maintaining her.’ It is submitted that a step son has no legal liability to maintain his stepmother. The stepmother’s claim can be allowed only on compassionate ground. This is perhaps the ratio of the decision in the Kritikant case.

    In Shrinivas v Smt. Radhabai Gopalkishan[5], there were two brothers Dr. Ravikumar and Shrinivas Chetlawar, who challenged the order of a Judicial Magistrate First Class (JMFC) asking them to pay Rs. 750 per month to their stepmother Radhabai. One of the brothers is doctor and the other is engineer in Nanded district of Maharashtra. They argued that Radhabai was their stepmother that they were not bound to provide maintenance. Radhabai was the step mother of the petitioner, she was the first wife of the father of the petitioner just because she could not conceive, the father of the petitioner did the second marriage and all the property left behind by her deceased husband was with the petitioners. The Court, considering the supreme court views on granting maintenance to stepmother and the facts and the circumstances of this case, held that Radhabai was entitled to get maintenance from her step sons. The court observed that JMFC has granted a meagre amount as maintenance and step sons were duty bound to look after their step mother. Accordingly, the judge dismissed the petition filed by brothers challenging JMFC’s order.

    Section 125 is a beneficial provision intended to curb social evil. Towards fulfilling this objective, the term mother must be given a liberal interpretation to include stepmothers also. Judicial opinion on this is not convergent. The High Court of Odisha and Allahabad have construed the word liberally and provided relief under Section 125 to step mother also. Whereas the Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh High Court held that the term mother includes only natural and adoptive mothers but not a step mother and hence rejected the petition claiming maintenance.

    In Balwan Singh v Smt. Brahmo[6], Brahmo is the stepmother of the petitioner and she was married to Mange Ram father of the petitioner, who died and out of the said wedlock, one daughter namely Meena Devi was born. Meena Devi is married and is living at her matrimonial home. The agricultural land belonging to Mange Ram has been inherited by the petitioner on the basis of a will, which was alleged to be forged and a civil suit for the same is pending. The petitioner is drawing salary of Rs. 7000 per month whereas the step mother has no source of income and the agricultural land belonging to her deceased husband stands inherited by the petitioner and, therefore, there is a legal obligation on the petitioner to maintain her as the only daughter is married and, therefore, incapable to maintain widowed stepmother. It was held that the only daughter of the respondent is married and is living in her matrimonial home. The liability of the petitioner under the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 cannot be disputed in view of the inheritance of estate of his father. Thus, keeping in view the object of section 125 of the Act it has to be held by the learnt quotes below was justified in granting maintenance to the respondent stepmother. No ground for interference is made.

    In Ulleppa and Ors. v Smt. Gangabai[7], Gangabai was wife of late Siddanna Kamballi, claiming to be the mother of the petitioners and claiming for maintenance from the petitioners under section 125 of The Criminal Procedure Code. According to the petitioners, respondent is not their mother, she is only a step mother and that therefore she is not entitled for any maintenance. The stepmother namely the widow had two sons who are no more. Her daughter is married and living separately with her husband. It was held that the respondent is a widow and her daughter is not in a position to support and maintain her. She is a helpless stepmother the court held that petitioners of fairly well settled and can afford to pay a sum of Rs. 400 per month to the respondent.

    CONCLUSION

    Thus, it can be rightly said that a stepmother is entitled to maintenance from her stepson during her old age or infirmity. This is indeed a humanitarian provision. Although she did not give birth to the son or daughter from whom she may receive maintenance, yet she is given the right so that she may not be unprovided for. She has social relationship with the step child as she is a member of the same family. Explanation to Section 20 expressly makes her a parent.

    Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code makes provision for a swift remedy for recovery of maintenance. Stepmother is not included within the definition of mother there. In Kirtikant D. Vadodaria v State of Gujarat, held that it would not be justified to exclude personal law all together from consideration in matters of maintenance under Section 125, CrPC.


    [1] (1996) 4 SCC 479

    [2] R.C. Nagpal, Modern Hindu Law, p. 536, (2nd ed., 2008)

    [3] Section 20 of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956

    [4] (1996) 4 SCC 479

    [5] 2012 Cri LJ 1489 (Bom)

    [6] (2008) 151 PLR 539

    [7] 2003 Cri LJ 2566 (Kant)