Author: Treesa Maria Thomas.
(2020) 5 SCC 307.
NAMES OF THE PARTIES
Appellant: M. Vanaja
Respondent: M. Sarla Devi (Dead)
Justice L. Nageswara Rao;
Justice Hemant Gupta.
Adoption is a process of taking someone else child and raising it as their own. It is a legal process where people without any blood relation create a parent-child relationship. In India, the adoption and maintenance are governed by personal laws. The Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act 1956 deals with the legal guidelines for the adoption by a Hindu individual. If a Hindu individual wants to adopt a child he/she should comply with the provisions of the act. A child who is adopted can claim the properties of his/her adoptive parents only if they adopted the child under guidelines put forward by the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act 1956.
The enactment of the Hindu Adoptions and maintenance act brought several changes in the procedure of adoption for Hindus. The act provided certain rights which were denied in the old law such as the right of a woman to adopt a child during her husband’s lifetime or after the death, to adopt a child from a different caste and the right to adopt a girl child etc. However, there were many shortcomings to this act, even though the act identifies the rights of adopter and adoptee it does not lays down any guidelines for a proper adoption process. This creates uncertainty when deciding the cases related to adoption in Hindu law.
This case M Vanaja v. M Sarla Devi is an instance where a dispute occurred due to a misbelief whereas the appellant M. Vanaja was the sister’s daughter of the respondent, when the parents of the appellant expired the respondent and her husband brought the appellant home and raised her. After the death of the respondent’s husband, the appellant claimed a share of the property of the deceased claiming that she is the adopted daughter of the respondent. But the respondent denied her claims and stated that the appellant was not adopted under the provisions laid down in Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act 1955.
- The Appellant filed a civil lawsuit to have the Respondent and the Late Narasimhulu Naidu declare that she is their adopted daughter. She requested partitioning of the assets listed in the lawsuit schedule.
- The appellant was the respondent’s niece, and after her parents passed away, the respondent and her husband Narasimhulu Naidu took care of the appellant.
- Narasimhulu worked as a lift operator for the government; in his service records, he identified the appellant as his daughter and recommended that she be granted a pension.
- The appellant’s school records also listed the respondent and her husband as the appellant’s parents.
- Narasimhulu Naidu passed away without a will in 2003. Since she is his adopted daughter, the appellant demanded that she and the respondent both be entitled to inherit his property.
- The appellant filed a lawsuit in the city civil court over the inheritance of property, but it was dismissed, and the high court further dismissed the appeal.
- Whether the appellant is the adopted daughter of the respondent and her husband?
- Whether the appellant has the right to inherit the property of Narasimhulu Naidu?
The court made the following observations after hearing both sides’ arguments: The undisputed facts, in this case, are that the appellant is the sister-daughter of the respondent. The respondent and her spouse took care of the appellant when her parents passed away.
The respondents were the appellant’s parents, as evidenced by the appellant’s academic records and official records. However, the court stated that the only issue for discussion was whether the appellant was the respondent’s legally adopted daughter under the 1956 Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act. Sections 6, 7, and 11 of the Act, which outlines the requirements for adoption, have been referred to the court.
The court noted that the petitioner has failed to demonstrate that the correct adoption procedure was followed in this case after considering these requirements. The grandmother of the appellant’s statement further demonstrated that the respondents had no desire to adopt the appellant. Therefore, the Hon’ble Supreme dismissed the appeal and upheld the rulings of the lower courts.
Adoption is a legal process of parenting a child without any blood relationship as their own. An adoption can be legally enforceable when it complies with the provisions of the respective statute. For a Hindu individual, the guidelines for adoption are contained in the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act 1956.
Before the enactment of the act the rules for the adoption and maintenance of the Hindu community were in an unorganized manner where many of the rules were regressive, the new act provided new facets to the Hindu Adoption law. It was successful in modernizing and codifying personal laws relating to adoption and maintenance.
The major provisions the court took into consideration were; Section 6 of the act which provides the requisites for the valid adoption, it says that the person adopting and the person adopted shall have the capacity to do so, Section 6 must be read together with the other conditions of Chapter 1.
Section 7 of the act says that for a valid adoption the consent of the wife is mandatory, here in this case the respondent has stated that she has no intention to adopt the appellant. If a Hindu male without his wife’s consent adopts a child unless the wife has renounced the world or has an unsound mind, it will not be considered a legal adoption. In this case, the appellant is not able to prove the requisite for the valid adoption.
Under Section 11 of the act proof of the ceremony of adoption is required. In the case M. Gurudas v. Rasaranjan1 the Hon’ble court held that there must be a giving and taking ceremony is necessary to prove that an adoption valid. The appellant has failed in providing any evidence to prove that such a ceremony has happened.
The appellant has referred the case L. Debiprasad (dead) v. Tribeni Devi2 for substantiating her contention which has similar facts, however, the case was decided in 1892 which was before the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act 1956 came into effect. So the decision of this case cannot be applied in the present case.
So considering all the above factors it is evident that the appellant is not the adoptive daughter of the respondents. There is no substantiating evidence to prove that there was a valid adoption under the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, of 1956.
In this case, the court has considered two major points while deciding, they are;
- The consent of the wife while adopting a child
- Proof of ceremony of the adoption
In the old law, the woman has no role in the adoption process, the woman can neither adopt a child nor does she have an opinion when the husband decides to adopt a child, but in the new law, the scenario has changed. Now the woman can adopt a child as well as and adoption shall be valid only if the wife gives consent. In a deciding case Bhanupratap Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh3, the court held that the consent of the wife is necessary even if the couple is living separately. This decision gave power to women to make opinions on the procedure of adoption which also prohibits the malpractices done by the relatives to get hold of the property of the husband. Also, this adheres well with the equality principles enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
The proof of the ceremony of adoption is a controversial question for many years in Hindu law; there are two ceremonies for adoption; Giving and taking Ceremony and Datta homa. The controversy was whether the Datta homa is necessary. It was decided that only the former one is mandatory for adoption. The ceremony of giving and taking is done by the person who is adopting a child and a person who gives a child for adoption. The ceremony can be followed by a registration; however, this is not a mandatory provision.
Even though the court has interpreted the statutes strictly to pronounce a decision favorable to respondents, there are some ambiguities regarding the existing guidelines of adoption procedure. In this case the appellant has mistaken her upbringing by the foster family for adoption. The appellant was unable to provide any proof regarding her adoption. These circumstances were created because of the lack of a proper guideline for adoption under Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act 1956.
The major reason behind the enactment of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act 1956 was to codify the laws regarding adoption and maintenance in Hindu culture. Following the enactment of the act, the Adoption procedure became more liberal and flexible. The provisions including Section 7 which mandates the wife’s consent for the adoption revolutionized the procedures of adoption and maintenance. However, the act does not lay down a comprehensive guideline for a valid adoption.
Even though provisions 6, 7 , 8, and 11 provide the prerequisites for a valid adoption, the lack of proper mandatory conditions often creates ambiguity as happened in the present case. In this case, the appellant was misguided by the acts of the respondents that she was their adopted daughter of them. As a result, she considered herself to be an heir of the respondent’s husband and a shareholder in his property. By examining the given pieces of evidence and analyzing the provision the court decided that the appellant is not the adopted child of the respondent.
This decision has a strong impact on the people who has been adopted by Hindu parents as the court’s decision was completely based on the provisions of the act as well as the proof of ceremonies, but for many adopted children it will be difficult to prove such ceremonies and they might be under the impression that they are legally adopted under the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act 1956.
Therefore, while deciding the cases of this nature court might look into the circumstantial evidences such as the treatment of the child by the foster parents and whether their upbringing created a belief in the child that he/she is adopted as this will provide justice for people who grown up with such presumptions.
- M. Gurudas v. Rasaranjan, 2006 8 SCC 367.
- L. Debiprasad (dead) v. Tribeni Devi, 1971 SCR (1) 101.
- Bhanupratap Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 2002 2 JIC 218.