Marriage is regarded as a ‘social institution’ in the society in which the husband –to- promise to take care of the social and economic needs of his wife-to-be. The law in India also recognizes the obligation of the husband to maintain his family including his wife. But, what if he dies? Who will take care of the family or maintain her needs? The P& H High Court has passed a landmark judgment on July 6, 2020, stating “ Once a woman solemnizes” kareva” marriage after the death of her husband, she can no longer be termed as a destitute and hence no longer entitled to receive widow pension”.

The Central Government or various states’ Governments have therefore introduced the concept of “widow pension” for such women, where the husband dies without having any arrangement for the regular income of the family. For instance, the Delhi Pension Widhwa Yojana provides for a certain amount of pension income for widows aged between 18 to 60 years Yojana and may avail benefits of the scheme.

However, such a widow pension could be availed until and unless the woman remarries. In other words, where a woman gets remarried she loses her right to receive a pension once she gets marries once again.

Is the ceremony of Kareva or ChaddarAndazi equivalent to remarriage?

Kareva or ‘ChaddarAndazi’ is primarily a custom performed in the states of Punjab and parts of Haryanaperformed primarily for remarriage by a widow, as a part of which the prospective groom places a white sheet or a ‘chaddar’ or to the head of such widow as part of the ceremony and the remarriage is said to have taken place.

The High court division bench was of the view that there was enough evidence available to advise that the ‘chunni’ or “kareva” itself was a prevalent custom performed for marriage.

The court said that the purpose of widow pension was to provide economic assistance to a woman who is either helpless or a destitute, having no regular source of income on the death of her husband. Here, the petitioner accepted that she had gone through such a ceremony of a ‘kareva‘ or ‘chunni ceremony” however, she maintained that such a custom could not be called a marriage.

Therefore, the judgment was passed is such petition prayed for dismissal of the notices issued to the Petitioner, (Suman), ordering her to submit a sum of 1, 82,727, given in past to her under the social security scheme namely, the Haryana Pension to Widows and Destitute Women Scheme Rules, (1988) on the ground that as she had the “Kareva” with her brother-in-law, means she was not a widow anymore.

What were the facts of the case?

The petitioner namely, Suman was a widow and belonged to an economically weaker section of society, the Harijan community, and after the death of her husband.

Suman received the state ”Widow Pension Scheme” as per which, a certain amount of regular income is given to the widow or destitute women where there was no source of regular income for her and her family. She claimed the pension on the ground that her subsistence was dependent on such amount of pension in absence of any regular income and that helped her family including her – in-laws.

After three years of her husband’s death, a Kareva was performed as per the custom signifying her remarriage with her brother-in-law, and a daughter was born. Later, such a widow pension being given to Suman after “Kareva” was ceased on a complaint drawn, asserting that the pension was being received illegally even after the solemnization of a second marriage.

Thus, the district court passed an order holding the pension was illegal and the recovery of the amount has to be issued.

Later, this order came for consideration in front of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, where and a petition was filed requesting the quashing of recovery notices issued to the petitioner asking her to submit an amount of 1, 82,727  released to her towards widow pension before the cessation of pension.

However, the court considered the fact that the petitioner had herself before such a case, submitted an application holding her intention to cease pension payments after her such remarriage. The court also held that there was a failure on the part of the authorities to investigate whether the petitioner was receiving the pension wrongfully.

Consequently, the court has set aside the earlier impugned order that seeks to recover the amount released to the petitioner, as the committee had failed to perform its obligation to scrutinize whether the pensioners are no longer qualified to receive the pension. Additionally, the petitioner wasn’t permitted to receive the pension under the aforesaid scheme, in the same way; the respondents weren’t entitled to recover the amount already released to her.

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