1:20pm, 24th October, 2016
The Indian judiciary seems to be on a spree to change the legal face of marriage and how! In the past one year, I have heard the most absurd of headlines regarding divorces being granted and the verdicts being sounded in the various courts of the country. They seem to be causing a stir among the people. Take the following cases:
March 2016: Delhi high court asks a woman to find a job not to seek alimony from the husband.
Oct 2016: Denying sex to spouse for a long period is ground for divorce -Delhi High court
Oct 2016: Supreme Court – Hindu Son can divorce wife if she tries to separate him from aged parents.
These headlines when read for the first time are bound to cause a rage among people and my first instinct when I read them is to dig into the details. Why have they granted such pleas? In the backdrop of gender equality and fights for women’s rights that are being upheld everywhere in the world a court of law would never sound such a blatantly gender biased verdict out there for the people to attack in a democratic country. There has to be a greater base to the case that is not visible through these meek and narrowly focused headlines of the various newspapers – A common trick by media these days.
These headlines, when reading for the first time, are bound to cause a rage among people and my first instinct when I read them is to dig into the details. Why have they granted such pleas? In the backdrop of gender equality and fights for women’s rights that are being upheld everywhere in the world a court of law would never sound such a blatantly gender-biased verdict out there for the people to attack in a democratic country. There has to be a greater base to the case that is not visible through these meek and narrowly focused headlines of the various newspapers – A common trick by media these days.
For example, in the first case, the woman who was asking for alimony from her estranged husband has a child from their marriage whose custody is with her. She was not working at the time of the appeal but had been working in the past and is more qualified than her estranged husband. She is physically fully capable of finding and doing a job. In such a case I think Justice Rekha Rani (note – a lady judge) has taken a very progressive decision by saying that the woman should look for a job and support herself while the husband will continue paying for the child. I mean think about it – On one hand, we are fighting for gender equality and claiming that women are at par with men in everything and on the other hand we are portraying women as victims in situations that are not at all worth pity. In fact here we are looking at divorce as a life crushing phenomenon for the woman and making it sound like a taboo when it is not. Justice Rekha Rani has in fact paved a way for the woman to be independent and strong.
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As for the second case, when I first read it, I wondered if this was even a judicial matter. Denying sex to your spouse for four long years is not a joke and is a clear indication that your marriage is not working out. You do not need a court to tell you that! Also, sexual intimacy is a personal affair and choice. Both partners are free to deny it if they are unwilling. So why does it sound to me in the headline as if it were a crime to deny sex to your partner? Again, a media trick! Well, in this particular case the couple had two children of 10 and 9 years respectively and this could have been the reason that they tried to stick together despite their differences for the sake of their children. I’m sure this is very common among Indian couples. Many never apply for a divorce out of fear of social taboo and family pressure. In India particularly, where marriages are considered sacred (SAAT JANMON KA BANDHAN, as they say), even thinking about divorce is a social crime. In such a society, I think this verdict is a blessing in disguise for us because it opens a channel for couples who have grown apart to bring it out in public and get the much-needed separation.
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The third case is quite unique. It brings up religious sentiments as well as gender issues – a deadly combination to have in one case. First things first, Hinduism has nothing to do with a child taking care of the parent in their old age. Everyone does that. There is no religion in the world that specifically defines that a ‘son’ is the sole support for his parents in old age. People all over the world whether men or women do this because they love their parents!!! Secondly, according to the judge, ‘the wife is expected to be with the family of the husband after the marriage’. So, what about her parents? She has left her parents and come to a new house ‘due to’ her marriage. Why should she do that? In the name of ‘tradition’? If it is a son’s duty to take care and maintain his parents, so is it the daughter’s duty and moral obligation. If a son is brought up and given education by the parents, so is the daughter. So it’s best not to use words like ‘desirable culture’ and ‘common practice’ in this context. I think this case was truly outrageous unless there is more to the behaviour of the wife towards his parents that was not disclosed in the media.
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The most recent uproar is about the Uniform Civil Code. This is like a Universal Set in a Venn Diagram which includes all the previously mentioned divorce cases as its subsets and much more. It is a very complex matter with several folds of perspectives tied to it. Various minority groups have various theories as to what effect it would have on their community and how the Indian government has ulterior motives behind reforming the civil code for the country.
I must say the Law Commission has chosen a very democratic method of going about it by seeking public opinion on the matter. They will make a decision based on the public response as to whether to completely abolish the practice of triple talaq and polygamy or to retain it with some amendments. But it is in direct conflict with religious personal laws which is a very sensitive issue and is bound to invite aggressive opposition from minority groups.
What remains to be seen is how the face of marriage in the country changes with these radical moves in the coming decade and whether it truly uplifts and strengthens the Indian Judiciary for women of all religion, caste and creed.
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