Divorce Granted for Wife’s Refusal to Wear Sindoor. Our Courts Need to Google Feminism


Divorce Granted for Wife’s Refusal to Wear Sindoor. Our Courts Need to Google Feminism

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

India’s courts have a mixed history of progressive rulings. There are landmark moments like the abolishment of Article 377, which decriminalised homosexuality, or state High Courts that intervened on behalf of stranded migrant labour during the coronavirus pandemic. But there are also instances where a judgement can be read as archaic in thought. One such case occurred this month in Assam’s Gauhati High Court (HC). The bench granted a man divorce stating that the woman’s refusal to wear sakha and sindoor – traditional bridal ornaments – testified to her unwillingness to be married to her husband.

The hearing was held on June 19, and the decision overruled an Assam family court’s findings that the wife had not inflicted any cruelty on her husband, as he alleged in his divorce plea. A Hindustan Times report stated that the couple had married in February 2012, and that the wife left her matrimonial home in 2013 and filed a case against her husband and his family for subjecting her to cruelty. The Gauhati HC acquitted him in this case, and afterward, he filed for divorce, claiming she was the one inflicting cruelty. It was this plea that was rejected by the family court, and then upheld by the HC.

The judgement seems like it was delivered in the 1800s.

And this is not the only regressive judgement passed recently. Last week, another judgement from the Karnataka HC also hinted at some problematic reasoning from the courts. While granting a rape-accused anticipatory bail (something the state’s counsel argued against), Justice Krishna S Dixit termed the survivor’s claim of having slept after the incident occurred was “unbecoming of an Indian woman”.

The rest of the short order by the judge also cast aspersions on the character of the woman, questioning why she went out at 11:00 pm, why she had drinks with the accused, and why she let him stay with her. “Nothing is mentioned by the complainant as to why she went to her office at night i.e. 11.00 pm; she has also not objected to consuming drinks with the petitioner and allowing him to stay with her till morning,” noted the judge.

Judgements like these two recent ones enforce redundant traditions and viewpoints that are out of touch with modern society. The judiciary has done better in the past, let’s hope it does better in the future too.