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Referring to Hindu Marriage Customs, the Court said that the woman's "refusal to wear ‘sakha and sindoor’ will project her to be unmarried and/or signify her refusal to accept the marriage with the appellant."
In a controversial decision, the Gauhati High Court recently allowed a husband's petition for divorce while opining, inter alia, that his wife's refusal to wear "sakha and sindoor" signified her unwillingness to accept the marriage (Bhaskar Das v. Renu Das).
A Division bench of Chief Justice Ajai Lamba and Justice Soumitra Saikia recorded in their order,
Before the High Court, both the husband (appellant) and the wife had traded charges of cruelty, with each alleging that the other had subjected them to cruelty.
The respondent-wife argued that her husband and other members of his joint family harassed her for ‘dowry’ payments.
On the other hand, the husband alleged that the wife had made repeated demands to for him to live away from his family, accused him of impotency and that she was indifferent and negligent towards him and members of his family.
The judgement records that the wife filed criminal complaints under Sections 498A (cruelty to wife), 420 (cheating) of the Indian Penal Code as well as Section 125 (Application for Maintenance) of the Criminal Procedure Code.
The petitioner further claimed that his wife had agreed to drop the cases against him if he agreed to move away from home and live with her in “a separate accommodation." On his refusal to adhere to the terms of the “settlement”, the judgment records that she filed a criminal complaint for fraud against him.
During the course of lower court proceedings, the appellant had adduced in his evidence that the wife had refused to wear ‘sakha and sindoor’ any more. Since the statement was not confronted by the wife, it remained an uncontroverted statement as far as the High Court was concerned.
This added to the High Court's eventual conclusion that the husband's divorce plea should be allowed. The Court observed that, "Under such circumstances compelling the appellant-husband to continue to be in matrimony with the respondent wife may be construed to be harassment inflicted by the respondent upon the appellant and his family members."
The Court further held that the flurry of criminal cases filed by the wife against her husband and his family amounted to cruelty.
Since the wife had not pursued her complaints against the appellant and his family for cruelty after a “settlement”, the Court opined that her allegations of cruelty made by her could not be sustained.
The Court also added that the woman’s actions had prevented the appellant from pursuing his legal duty to maintain his aged stepmother under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007.
Since this involved criminal consequences and even imprisonment, not permitting the same could “be construed as an act of cruelty”, the Court said in its judgment.