A woman is not a chattel to be forced to live with her husband, observed the Supreme Court on Tuesday, while hearing a case where a man sought an order from the court for his spouse to start living with him again.
SC bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hemant Gupta while hearing the man’s petition asked,
What do you think? Is a woman a chattel that we can pass such an order? Is a wife a chattel that she can be directed to go with you?
The woman alleged that she was tortured by her husband for dowry after their marriage in 2013, compelling her to move out. In 2015, the wife filed a case seeking maintenance, and the Gorakhpur court directed the husband to pay her Rs 20,000 per month. The husband subsequently filed his plea for restoration of conjugal rights in the family court.
In April 2019, the family court at Gorakhpur had passed an order in favour of the husband when he approached court for restitution of conjugal rights under Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act (HMA).
Once the family court issued this order, the man re-approached court, questioning the payment of maintenance while he was willing to live with his wife. The husband argued why he was obliged to keep paying maintenance, even after obtaining an order restoring his conjugal rights.
When the Allahabad high court did not order the same in his favour, the husband approached top court.
In her defence, the woman, through her lawyer Anupam Mishra, said the husband’s entire “game” was to avoid paying maintenance and pointed out that he approached the family court only after being ordered to do so.
In the course of Tuesday’s hearing, the man’s lawyer said the top court should persuade the woman to go back to her husband, especially since the family court has ruled in the man’s favour. Mishra, representing the wife, countered that an appeal on that order is pending before the Allahabad high court.
The persistent demand by the man to enforce the return of his wife prompted the bench to say:
Is a woman a chattel? Is a wife a chattel? You are asking us to pass an order for this as if she can be sent to a place where she does not want to go, like a chattel.
The bench declined the husband’s request for enforcement of conjugal rights, reminding him that his appeal before the top court was arising from dismissal of his petition by the Allahabad high court against the order to pay maintenance.
- The biggest flaw in our legal system is that maintenance gets awarded even before any charges against the husband are proven
- Mere allegations of dowry or domestic violence are enough for women to approach court for monthly maintenance
- Once the amount gets fixed, the main petition takes years or decades to come to its logical conclusion
- While the above matter is subjudice, laws must be designed in a way that both the main petition as well as maintenance to women have a time frame
- In the absence of same, many women take advantage to claim life long monthly allowance from their estranged husbands, often claiming that they are unable to work or rebuild their lives again
- Maintenance in short-lived marriages without children, must be strictly restricted to 1-year, post which women must be encouraged to become Atmanirbhar or self reliant