John Wallis, J. -
(1.) THE plaintiff Vedathanni, widow of the late Ramalinga Mudaliyar, who died without issue on December 23, 1912, instituted this suit on July 25, 1925, in the Court of the Subordinate Judge of Negapatam, against the two widows of T. Somasundara Mudaliyar, her husband's brother, who had survived him, impleading also the minor defendant No.3 who had been adopted by the junior widow on July 1, 1925, and defendants Nos. 4 and 5 who had been appointed receivers of the family properties in the suit instituted by defendant No.1 disputing the adoption. THE plaintiff claimed to recover arrears of maintenance from January 1, 1914, when she began to live separately from her husband's family, at the rate of Rs. 10,000 a year. It was stated in the plaint that the ante-adoption deed executed on behalf of the minor defendant No.3 by his natural father on June 21, 1925, in favour of the adopting widow had made a provision for the plaintiff's maintenance which would work out at Rs. 10,000 a year, and in the interests of peace she was willing to accept this sum although it was much below what would be legitimately due to her.
(2.) IT was alleged in the plaint that the two brothers Somasundara and Ramalinga Mudaliyar were members of an undivided Hindu family and owned extensive movable and immovable properties in the Tanjore District of the approximate value of about fifty lakhs, Rs. 50,00,000, but had been living separately and enjoying the said lands in separate portions; and that in consequence, on Ramalinga's death, Somasundara, the surviving brother, feeling nervous as to the possibility of his widow, the plaintiff, setting up the case that the brothers had separated and that the plaintiff was accordingly entitled to a widow's estate in one-half of the family properties, was anxious that a document should be executed evidencing the undivided status of the family. With this object, a document was executed on December 28, 1912, by the plaintiff and by Somasundara affirming the undivided status of the family and purporting to make provision for the. plaintiff's maintenance. IT was, however, distinctly understood that this document was not to be the final contract for the plaintiff's maintenance but was solely intended as a voucher establishing the joint undivided nature of the family, it being agreed that the plaintiff's claim for maintenance on a scale commensurate with the position and status of the family was to be left over for future settlement at leisure. Consequently the provision for maintenance in the deed was never given effect to or acted on by the parties, and Somasundara continued in possession and enjoyment of all the family properties until his death on January 17, 1925. The plaintiff had lived separately from her husband's family from the beginning of 1914 (being maintained as appeared from the evidence by her own family) and had repeatedly asked Somasundara to make due provision for her maintenance. He had repeatedly promised to do so, but died without having made any such provision or paid her anything for her maintenance.
Defendant No.1 did not file any written statement, and defendant No.2, in a joint written statement filed on behalf of herself and the minor, defendant No.3, put the plaintiff to the proof of the allegations in the plaint. She stated that she was informed and believed that for several years past the plaintiff had not received any income from the lands set apart for her maintenance, and was therefore entitled to the mesne profits in respect of past maintenance. As regards the future, she admitted the execution of the ante-adoption deed making provision for the plaintiff, and, as the matter concerned the estate of the minor defendant No.3, she left the Court to fix such maintenance as might be deemed reasonable.
The family admittedly owned 1,500 velis of wet and dry land of the approximate value of no less than fifty lakhs of rupees which they had apparently acquired in the course of their moneylending business by buying up the holdings of ryots with whom the land revenue had been temporarily settled under the ryotwari system prevailing in Tanjore. They also owned several lakhs of rupees invested in the moneylending business.
(3.) SOME time before the death of the plaintiff's husband, the two brothers had divided their lands and begun to live separately, and according to the evidence the income from the lands in the husband's possession amounted to Rs. 70,000, all of which he spent. These facts were sufficient to raise a prima facie case of separation in which case his widow would be entitled for life to one-half of the family properties.
On his death in December, 1912, his elder brother, Somasundara, took control, had the body removed to his own house for funeral rites, and locked up the other house in which there was a box containing jewels of which the widow had the key. The widow, who went to live with him, disclaimed any intention of setting up a case of separation; but there was always the possibility that her relations might persuade her to change her mind; and at his request she agreed to sign a document evidencing the undivided status of the family. He proceeded at once to have a deed of settlement drawn up by which from that day onwards she was to have the jewels in her possession as set out in the schedule A with full powers of alienation; and as soon as she decided to live apart from him, she was to enjoy for her life the income of the lands and to live in the house mentioned in schedule B. In consideration of this provision she relinquished her claims for maintenance. The annual income of the lands set apart for her was between Rs. 2,000 and Rs. 2,500, only Rs. 200 a month; and, as regards the house in Bazaar Street, Tiruvarur, the plaintiff stated in her evidence that people of her status and condition of life ' could not live there at all.;