If Courts Call Taking Off Mangalsutra ‘Cruelty To Husband’, The Future Looks Very Bleak For Indian Women!

Married men have no symbols to display. Most married women on the other hand are expected to wear the 'thali' (mangalsutra), bangles, bindi, sindoor, toering, payal, etc., and also dress in a certain way

Women in Indian Society are already chained in the name of societal norms and culture. As if pesky relatives and interfering neighbours weren’t already torchbearers of patriarchal norms, courts and judges are jumping onto the bandwagon.

“Beta, what is this such a small bindi, it’s not even visible.”
“Hey Ram! How can a married woman roam around without wearing her bangles?”
“What an uncouth girl. Where is your mangalsutra? How can it even come off your neck?”

I am sure these sentences would sound very familiar to a lot of women out there. I can almost see that expression of utter irritation taking shape on your face. I have always wanted to scream at these guardians of culture and supposed well-wishers, “my bangles and my bindi are my business none of your business!”

But never in my wildest dream had I thought I would want to react to a court verdict in this manner, but this is exactly how I felt upon reading this verdict and the arguments leading up to it. I can’t believe that in 2022, lawyers and judges of a High Court could have uttered these words.

But alas! life is full of surprises; in this case, shock.

Family court refused divorce

The parties to the case had been living separately since 2011. The marriage took place in 2008 and the couple had a daughter. The husband was working as a lecturer and the wife as a teacher.

The wife had suspected the character of the husband and accused him of having extramarital affairs with his female colleagues. She had gone to his workplace and accused him of having illicit relationships with other women in the workplace, in front of his colleagues and students. Further, she had also filed a complaint against him stating that he was having an affair with a female colleague, but she did not specify the name of the lady, thus leading to the complaint being termed false by the husband.

Thus, the husband had filed a petition for divorce with the Family Court, Erode on grounds of mental cruelty. However, the wife had in her counterstatement denied the allegations made against her, and stated that the husband had intimacy with other women and spoke with them on his cell phone till midnight. However, she did not want a divorce because she was thinking of her child’s welfare.

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The Family Court dismissed the divorce petition, as the husband failed to prove he was subject to mental cruelty, who then appealed to the Madras High Court.

Case went to Madras High Court

The High Court considered a Supreme Court verdict on a similar case as the precedence, and ruled that since the wife couldn’t name the woman her husband was having an affair with, she was making a false allegation, which could be considered an act of mental cruelty.

The Court stated that “The removal of thali chain is often treated as an unceremonious act,” and the wife taking off the thali was evidence of her “intentions”!

The court here referred to another precedent which said, “It is known fact that no Hindu married woman would remove the ‘thali’ at any point of time during the lifetime of her husband,” as it’s sacred and symbolises the marriage, and that its removal by the wife “can be said to be an act which reflected mental cruelty of highest order as it could have caused agony and hurt the sentiments of the respondent.”

Mental cruelty can be a ground for divorce, but is not wearing a piece of jewellery ‘cruelty’?! Of course, many popular media houses have hyped up this “removal of thali is mental cruelty to husband” thing, but how can a piece of jewellery make or break a marriage? And why is it that the onus of displaying all these symbols of marriage vest on the women alone?

Men and their families decide what the wife should wear

“You don’t look married?” Plenty of women out there would resonate with this question, but would a man face this question? The chances are extremely remote and the reason is simple; men are not expected to display the symbols of marriage on various parts of their body or as a part of their clothing. Actually, they have no symbols to display. A woman on the other hand is expected to wear her ‘thali’ (mangalsutra), bangles, bindi, sindoor, toering, payal and also dress in a certain way (read wear traditional or ethnic outfits).

Here again plenty of families decide what a bahu is supposed to or not supposed to wear. I have seen families where the bahu can wear only cotton and silk sarees, the family’s justification is they are traditional people and their bahu must be dressed appropriately. The son of course can wear whatever he wants; after all, women alone are the harbingers of tradition.

These sons consider it their wife’s duty to follow the often insane family traditions, and if don’t, it’s considered a disrespect to them. It is the ego speaking here. These men are on a power trip, and their wife not obeying them gives them a reality check, which is difficult for them to bear.

In this case, the wife’s removal of mangalsutra magically communicated her intent. How can a piece of jewellery speak louder than your thoughts and emotions? Possibly the wife in the case did accuse the husband of illicit relations without sufficient proof and that could have been cruelty and ground alone for divorce. Why did her removing her ‘thali’ have to be brought into the picture? Wasn’t the fact that the couple was living separately for a decade not considered a ground to understand the intent? Are we as a society ever going to completely going to stop equating the “zar, joru, zameen” (wealth, woman, land) on the same scale? With the courts encouraging this stance and referring to an archaic judgement to strengthen the claim, the hope seems bleak, extremely bleak.

Image source: a still from the film The Great Indian Kitchen

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About the Author

Parvadavardini Sethuraman

A dreamer by passion and an Advocate by profession. Mother to an ever energetic and curious little princess. I long to see the day when Gender equality is a reality in the world. read more...

89 Posts | 329,280 Views

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