CASE COMMENT: RATANLAL CHUNILAL SAMSUKA V. SUNDARABAI GOVARDHANDAS SAMSUKA (DEAD) THROUGH LEGAL REPRESENTATIVES AND ORS. by-Anarghya Udupa
Ratanlal, the appellant was born to Mr. Chunilal. However, right from his childhood Ratanlal lived with his paternal uncle and claimed adoptive father, Mr. Govardhandas.
Upon the death of Mr. Govardhandas, his wife, Mrs. Sundarabai filed a notice denying the adoption of Ratanlal, and moved the Court for a declaration that Ratanlal was not her adoptive son.
The Trial Court held that Sundarabai failed to prove that Ratanlal was not her adoptive son, and hence, the declaration sought was rejecteddue to the following reasons:
Ø Certain correspondence addressed to Ratanlal referred to him with his adoptive father’s name.
Ø Oral testimony of the priest that performed the adoption ceremony, and pictorial evidence of the ceremony.
Ø Ratanlal belongs to the Jain
community, where there exists a custom that allows for the adoption
The High Court held that Ratanlal was not the adoptive son of Govardhandas due to the following reasons:
Ø The photographs do not portray the actual ceremony of adoption, and the only evidence present is the oral testimony of the priest.
Ø Ratanlal was married and of 32 years of age when the alleged adoption ceremony was conducted.
Ø From the date of adoption, to the date of filing suit, Ratanlal continued to his birth father’s name.
Ø The claimed adoptive mother is
of married persons, and irrespective of age.
Ø Aforementioned custom has been judicially recognised, and thus, was not required to be plead in the current case.
This decision was appealed in the High
herself contesting the adoption.
This decision was appealed to the Supreme Court3.
The issues in contention before the Honorable Supreme Court are as follows:
Issue 1:Whether the appellant is required to prove a custom that has been judicially recognised?
Issue 2:Whether the appellant is to be considered a legally valid adopted son of the respondent?
- Section 2of HAMA4(hereinafter referred to as “the Act”): The application of the Act holds that adoptions within the Jain community are governed by the
- Section 3(a)5lays down the definition and essential ingredients for a custom to be
- Section 10(iii)6states that a married person cannot be adopted, unless there exists a custom which permits the
- Section 10(iv)7states that a person above 15 years of age cannot be adopted, unless there exists a custom which permits the
Issue 1: Whether claimant is required to prove a custom that has been judicially recognised?
In consideration of the appellants claim, the Court reviewed the following judicial and legal principles:
Collector of Madura vs. Moottoo Ramalinga Sathupathy
The Court reviewed and upheld the case of Collector of Madura vs. Moottoo Ramalinga Sathupathy8, wherein it was held that clear proof of usage of a custom9would outweigh the written text of law10. Thus, the Apex Court held that when customs are pleaded at equal parlance with written law11, they should be strictly proved12.
It further debunked the presumption that the written law prevails over the claim of a custom and held that if the claimant satisfies the burden of proving the existence of the custom13, and if the custom in question satisfies the essential ingredients14 as laid down under Section 3(a), the Court, the claim of the custom shall be granted by the Courts15.
Custom evolves by conduct
The Court held that while the claimed custom is willfully accepted as having the force of law, a custom evolves by conduct and therefore, its validity cannot solely be measured by its historic judicial recognition. The judicial recognition of a custom is relevant for the establishment of its validity, but the claimant must still satisfy his burden of establishing said custom.
Issue 2: Whether the appellant is to be considered a legally valid adopted son of the respondent?
Burden of Proof in Adoption
The Honourable Supreme Court, in reviewing the evidence presented before it, held that the burden of proof in adoption is heavy16 as an adoption can change the course of succession, change the expected rights of the daughters and wives of a family, and it is thus essential for the evidence to be free from suspicion.
Consideration of Oral Evidence
Since the photos of the adoption ceremony do not portray the ceremony itself, the only evidence to be considered by the Court is the oral evidence by way of the testimony of the Priest.
However, in line withRahasaPandiani vs. Gokulananda Panda17,which held that if a claimant relies solely oral evidence to support his contention of adoption, and it is not supported by any other registered document, the Court must exercise a great deal of caution in considering the oral evidence.
The testimony of the witnesses examined in this case was found to be contradictory, and thus the appellant failed to satisfy the Court in its evidence presented. Further, the Apex Court held that the Trial Court was mistaken in placing the burden of disproving the adoption on Sundarabai, which is against the law.
CRITICAL ANALYSIS: VALIDITY OF THE ADOPTION OF MARRIED PERSONS IN THE JAIN
COMMUNITYIN INDEPENDENT INDIA
This case presented the Supreme Court with an opportunity, for the first time since independence, to address the lacuna in the law i.e., the existing gap in the current law that governs the adoption within the Jain Community and their customs. However, the factual matrix of the current case hindered the Apex Court from addressing the gap.
In Rup Chand vs. Jambu Parshad18, the custom concerning the present was called into question before the Privy Council. It was held that this custom was exercised by a very small number of the Jain Community, and was thus insufficient to establish a widely practiced custom.
On the contrary, in the case of Sheokuarbai vs. Jeoraj19, the Privy Council recognised the custom in question and held that the adoption of a married and older person is valid within the Jain Community. This position was consistently upheld by the Privy Council in a plethora of cases includingAsharji Kunwar v. Rup Chand20, Govindram v. Sheoprasad21, Manohar Lal vs Banarsi Das22, Chiman Lal vs Hari Chand23.
Thus, in view of the grounds established by the Privy Council, the Supreme Court in the current case must have reaffirmed the validity of the custom in Independent India and upheldRatanlal’s adoption, if the appellant had pleaded for the establishment of the custom.
Therefore, there exists a gap in the current law that governs the adoption within the Jain Community and their customs.
The Supreme Court held that while a custom maybe judicially recognised, a custom evolves by conduct and therefore, its validity cannot solely be measured by its historic judicial recognition. Thus, the Apex Court held that when customs are pleaded at equal parlance with written law, they should be strictly proved by the claimant.
Additionally, the Court held that the burden of proof in cases of adoption is heavy due to the paramount impact it has in familial relations. It discussed the nature of evidence required and held that mere oral evidence is not satisfactory to meet the burden of proof.
The Supreme Court’s clarification that the validity of a custom cannot rest solely on its judicial recognition has found great24and extensive25applicability26in a plethora27of cases28 by various29benches30in various31courts32, including matters of succession33, inheritance34, property35 and more36. However, its inability to fill the existing vacuum in the Jain Community’s adoption law in Independent India necessitates a major reform of the present legal position.4
1 Student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune
2Sundarabai Govardhandas Samsuka vs. Ratanlal, (2006 SCC OnLine Bom 1517)
3 Ratanlal Chunilal Samsuka vs. Sundarabai Govardhandas Samsuka (Dead) through Legal Representatives and Ors, (2018 11 SCC 119)
4Section 2,Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956: Application of the Act.
5Section 3(a),Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956: Definition and essential ingredients of a custom
6Section 10(iii),Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956: Persons who may be adopted.
7Section 10(iv),Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956: Persons who may be adopted
8 Collector of Madura vs. Moottoo Ramalinga Sathupathy, (1868) 12 M.I.A. 397
9Sant Ram v. Labh Singh, AIR 1965 SC 314
10Dasaratha Rama Rao v. State of Andhra Pradesh, AIR 1961 SC 67
11Indian Young Lawyers Association and Ors. vs. The State of Kerala and Ors, (2019) 11 SCC 1
12Hem Singh and Anr. v. Hakim Singh and Anr, 1SCR44
13Laxmibai (Dead) thr. L.Rs. and Anr. vs. Bhagwantbuva (Dead) thr. L.Rs. and Ors, (2013) 4 SCC 97
14Gokal Chand vs. Parvin Kumari, AIR 1952 SC 231.
15Daya Ram v. Sohel Singh, (1906) 110 PR 390
16Kishori Lal vs. Chaltibai, AIR 1959 SC 504 17RahasaPandiani vs. Gokulananda Panda, (1987) 2 SCC 338 18 Rup Chand vs. Jambu Parshad, 1910 SCC OnLine PC 5
19Sheokuarbai vs. Jeoraj, 1920 SCC OnLine PC 54 20Asharji Kunwar v. Rup Chand, (1908) 30 All 197 21Govindram v. Sheoprasad, (AIR 1948 Nag 398) 22Manohar Lal vs Banarsi Das, (1907) ILR 29 All 495 23Chiman Lal vs Hari Chand, (1913) 15 BOMLR 646
24Roopautin Bai vs. Sunderi Bai and Ors, MANU/CG/0143/2020
25Surjotin and Ors. Vs. Chamrin Bai and Ors, MANU/CG/0066/2020
26Suresh Kumar Singh and Ors. vs. Central Coalfields Limited and Ors, MANU/JH/0459/2020
27Bhim vs. State of Jharkhand, MANU/JH/0260/2020
28Rajkumari Amrit Kaur and Ors. vs. Maharani Deepinder Kaur and Ors, MANU/PH/0414/2020
29Bhagwati vs. Cheduram and Ors, 2020(2) CGLJ236
30Crown Transport (P) Ltd. Vs. Alpasso International Engineering Co. and Ors, MANU/WB/2892/2019
31V. Sudarshan vs. V. Mohan and Ors, MANU/KA/5390/2019
32Pusapati Laxmi Narasayamma vs. Alamanda Narayana and Ors, 2018(5) ALT95
33Jhuli and Ors vs. Patru and Ors, AIR2021Chh60
34Maniyar Sai and Ors. vs. Jangi Bai and Ors., AIR2020Chh183
35A. Rawoof Khan and Ors. vs. Noushad Basha and Ors, MANU/AP/0623/2020
36Ratan Singh vs. Rajaram, AIR2020MP135