Marriage is a union of two souls, wife is best suited to be guardian of husband who is in vegetative state: Bombay HC
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Marriage is a union of two souls, wife is best suited to be guardian of husband who is in vegetative state: Bombay HC

The Court noted that there was a lack of legislative clarity about who could be designated a guardian of a person in a coma or in a vegetative condition.

Lydia Suzanne Thomas

The Bombay High Court was recently prompted to make pertinent observations regarding marriage while allowing a woman to act as her incapacitated husband's guardian.

The extraordinary jurisdiction of the Court under Article 226 of the Constitution was invoked, given that the wife had approached the High Court directly in the matter instead of first approaching a lower court.

In the course of its order, the Court discussed the Vedic concept of a marriage, given that the petitioner and her husband were Hindus.

It was said:

"According to Hindu vedic philosophy, marriage is a sanskar or a sacrament. What is essentially contemplated is a union of two souls. The eternal being is composed of two halves i.e., the man and the woman. Both the halves are equal and one-half is incomplete without the other. As long as the wife survives, one half of the husband survives..."

A Supreme Court judgment that allowed a woman's plea for the restitution of conjugal rights was quoted, among other judgments. In that case, the Court had observed that marriage was an institution highly revered in Hindu traditions.

Taking note of the petitioner and her husband's twenty-odd years of marriage, and her care for him through his vegetative condition, the High Court deemed it proper to declare her his guardian.

The Bench concluded:

"In such circumstances, there can be no manner of doubt that conceptually the wife can be said to be best-suited to be the guardian of her husband who is under a state of incapacity or disability on account of being in a comatose condition or vegetative state."
Bombay High Court

The man, who has been in a permanently vegetative state since 2018, is a businessman. The woman was not permitted to engage in financial transactions on his behalf to maintain their family because she did not have a Court order appointing her as his guardian.

A Bench of Justices Ujjal Bhuyan and Milind Jadhav applied the doctrine of parens patriae evolved in the Aruna Shanbaug decision and appointed her as her husband's guardian. It noted,

"... the idea behind the doctrine of parens patriae is that if a citizen is in need of someone who can act as a parent, who can make decisions and take some other action, sometimes the State is best qualified to take on this role."

In the course of the judgment, the Court noted that there was a lack of legislative clarity about who could be designated a guardian of a person in a coma or in a vegetative condition.

The State had raised objections regarding the maintainability of the wife's plea, on the ground that the appointment of guardians is essentially a private matter to be declared by a civil court.

However, in view of the legislative vacuum, the consensus between family members for the woman being appointed as the guardian, the absence of dispute over her appointment, and the doctrine of parens patriae, the Court declared the wife to be the guardian.

In doing so, the Bench noted that Article 226 of the Constitution afforded such powers to the Court to "further the cause of justice."

The petition was disposed of with a declaration that the woman was the guardian of her husband who is in a vegetative state.

Advocate Kenny V Thakkar argued for the petitioner, Advocate AD Yadav appeared for the Union of India, and AGP SS Panchpor represented the State of Maharashtra.

Read the Order here:

Rajni Hariom Sharma v. Union of India and Anr. - Final Order.pdf
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