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Taking the latest Supreme Court judgment with a pinch of salt – a wife’s demand for separation from the husband’s family would not amount to forming a valid ground for divorce in every case!
Since the last few days, I find that my news feed is flooded with snippets of news on a Supreme Court judgment presumably holding that the persistent effort of a wife to force the husband to be separated from his family would be torturous for him and hence a valid ground for divorce.
A lot is being spoken about this ‘victory’ for the distressed men, a lot of comments and gyration is doing the rounds and a lot of women are predictably upset.
Ok…get ready for the spoiler!
For the overenthusiastic souls who wish to form opinions at the drop of the hat, let me enlighten you all (including men of course!) that in case you can take the trouble to read the judgment as a whole [Narendra v. K. Meena (Civil Appeal No. 3253/20008)], it might enable you to get a more informed, clearer and holistic view of the context and the observations made therein.
Please know – a judgment must be read as a whole and the observations made in a judgment have to be considered in the light of the peculiar facts and questions which were before the Court. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. So, with this indispensable foundation of judicial interpretation, I request you (including men yet again!) to tone down your party a bit.
Unfortunately for you, I would be setting things in perspective and moving forward.
Note: In no way should the below be seen as agreeing to the regressive observations of the court in the context of a wife’s demand for living separately with the husband.
In the case at hand, there were three reasons why the Court granted divorce to the husband and not just the one relating to a husband being forced to separate from his parents.
Secondly, also be informed that out of the three reasons, the Court did not consider the one reason on persistence to separate as the most important reason. It was only one of the three reasons.
And thirdly, after discussing all the three reasons, in the concluding part of the judgment, it is clearly stated that divorce was granted to the husband on taking ‘an overall view of the entire evidence’. Thus, I reiterate that the demand for separation from the husband’s family must not be seen in isolation from the other reasons that ultimately culminated in a judgement of ‘mental cruelty’ resulting in grant of divorce.
I am going to list out the three reasons in the order of importance accorded to them by the Court itself:
Reason 1: Repeatedly threatening to commit suicide
First, an attempt by the wife to commit suicide without any proven fault of the husband or any clear reason for the wife to attempt this act, is ridden with serious consequences, not just for her, but for the husband and his entire family. Hence, when after a quarrel, she locked herself up in a bathroom and poured kerosene all over herself, the smell and mayhem of which led the husband, the husband’s elder brother and neighbors to break open the door thwarting the attempt at setting herself on fire – it was of course an incident that formed strong reason for causing mental cruelty to the husband.
I reiterate, the point to be noted here is that there was a clear finding that there was no justifiable reason for the wife to threaten her husband with such an extreme scenario.
Needless to say, such mental cruelty could not be taken lightly by the court because a wife who has a tendency to threaten with dire consequences such as suicide for no perceivable reason, could potentially land the husband in the clutches of the law that would virtually ruin his entire life.
And hence, the Court categorically observed, I quote – “In our opinion, only this one event was sufficient for the husband to get a decree of divorce on the ground of cruelty. It is needless to add that such threats or acts constitute cruelty.”
Reason 2: Wife’s repeated attempts to ‘separate’ husband from family
Now, this portion of the judgment has been already vastly quoted and captioned. And rightly so because it contains a host of unwanted moral policing and prima facie conservative and prejudiced notions of what is desirable and what undesirable for a man and a woman post marriage.
However, it again needs to be noted that there was a categorical finding that the wife’s reason for pressing separation from the husband’s family was monetary i.e. unwillingness to support the husband’s parents with his income.
The relevant point is that apart from the objection to expenditure of the husband’s income on maintaining his parents, there was no other reason in the nature of mental or physical harassment by the husband’s parents that caused the wife’s persistent demand for separation from the husband’s family. The Court has noted the fact that except monetary consideration, there was no other reason for the wife’s demand for separation from the husband’s parents.
This implies that a wife’s demand for separation will not amount to cruelty to the husband in every case! And hence certainly not form a valid ground for divorce just like that!
So dear men, please stop rejoicing and dear women, please stop weeping – because every case is treated on a different footing. There can be various scenarios. Parents’ self-sustainability, wife and husband both being earning members of the family, parents not being dependent on the son for their survival, husband not being the sole earning member of the family, the wife’s knowledge before marriage what the arrangement of living post marriage would be and so on.
Reason 3: False character assassination
The wife made persistent allegations about an extra-marital affair of the husband with their maid. Here again, there was sufficient evidence to the effect that there was no such maid working at their place, and further, there was nothing before the Court to substantiate the allegation with respect to the extra-marital affair. As a result, it ended up being a reckless allegation, though of course, of a serious nature causing mental cruelty.
Concluding part of the judgement
After considering all the above three reasons and the evidences produced to substantiate them, the Court held that it would not be possible for the husband to live in tranquility with the wife whose behavior was terrifying.
Another relevant instance to note here – the wife had in this case left the husband’s home 20 years back! She was living separately since 1995, and this was 2016. Even their daughter had obviously grown up and was working in an IT company now. So the Court opined that since the daughter had come of age, therefore, at this juncture, it would not be proper to bring the husband and wife together.
My point is – when the Court itself has arrived at their conclusion after considering all the three reasons, and not only one sole reason, why should we read certain aspect of the judgment in isolation? Such reading leads to creation of misinformed opinions and unnecessary sullying.
In no way should the above be seen as agreeing to the regressive observations of the court in the context of a wife’s demand for living separately with the husband.
The judges could definitely have drafted the judgment far better, freeing it from their own notions of what they perceived were the obligations and duties of a husband and wife. Be that as it may, it is extremely relevant to be mindful of the facts and sense of the entire case and thereafter, take the observations with a pinch of salt.
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I am a corporate communications consultant, columnist, and former lawyer. I help organisations speak to
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