Bringing down the curtains on a 27-year-old marital discord, the Supreme Court refused to grant divorce to a couple in the “late evening of their lives” saying the institution of marriage occupies an important place and plays a key role in the society.
The top court said despite the increasing trend of filing divorce proceedings in courts, the institution of marriage is still considered to be a pious, spiritual and invaluable emotional life-net between couples in the Indian society. A bench of justices Aniruddha Bose and Bela M Trivedi dismissed the appeal filed by a 89-year-old man against the decision of the Punjab and Haryana High Court reversing a Chandigarh’s district court order granting divorce to him. His wife is aged 82.
“In our opinion, one should not be oblivious to the fact that the institution of marriage occupies an important place and plays an important role in society… It is governed not only by the letters of law but by the social norms as well. So many other relationships stem from and thrive on the matrimonial relationships in the society. Therefore, it would not be desirable to accept the formula of ‘irretrievable breakdown of marriage’ as a strait-jacket formula for the grant of relief of divorce under Article 142 of the Constitution of India,” the bench said.
The top court noted the wife all throughout her life has maintained the sacred relationship since 1963 and has taken care of her three children despite the fact that her husband exhibited total hostility towards them. “The respondent (wife) is still ready and willing to take care of her husband and does not wish to leave him alone at this stage of life. She has also expressed her sentiments that she does not want to die with the stigma of being a ‘divorcee’ woman. In contemporary society, it may not constitute a stigma but here we are concerned with the respondent’s own sentiment,” the bench said, in its order dated October 10.
It said, “Under the circumstances, considering and respecting the sentiments of the respondent wife, the court is of the opinion that exercising the discretion in favour of the appellant (husband) under Article 142 by dissolving the marriage between parties on the ground that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, would not be doing “complete justice” to the parties, would rather be doing injustice to the respondent. In that view of the matter, we are not inclined to accept the submission of the appellant to dissolve the marriage on the ground of irretrievable breakdown of marriage.” Justice Trivedi, who penned the verdict on behalf of the bench, noted that the husband, who is a qualified doctor and retired from the Indian Air Force, had initiated divorce proceedings in March 1996 under the Hindu Marriage Act on grounds of ‘cruelty’ and ‘desertion’ by his wife, a retired teacher.
The man alleged that his estranged wife had treated him cruelly and deserted him by not joining him when he was transferred to Madras, and thereafter not taking care of him though he had a heart problem. He had further claimed the wife had made complaints to the Air Force authorities against him to malign his image and these were the acts of ‘cruelty’, entitling him to a decree of divorce.
He submitted in the top court that they have been staying separately since the time he had filed the divorce petition in the district court, and the marriage having been irretrievably broken down, the apex court should exercise its plenary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution and grant a decree of divorce.
On other hand, the wife submitted in the top court that she being an aged lady, does not want to die with the stigma of a “divorcee” and she had made all efforts to respect the sacred relationship between the parties all through out and is still ready to look after her husband with the assistance of her son. She submitted that a mere long period of separation could not tantamount to irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and her husband had failed to make out any ground either of ‘cruelty’ or ‘desertion’.
The wife urged the top court not to interfere with the order of the high court, which has accepted her plea of not granting divorce.
The bench said looking at the fact that both the parties are in the “late evening of their lives”, the court had expected them to sit together and explore the possibility of an amicable settlement. The effort having failed, the court decided to adjudicate the matter on merit, the bench said.
Dealing with the allegations of ‘cruelty’ and ‘desertion’ levelled by the husband, the bench said it was taking a view similar to the high court as he has failed to prove that his wife had treated him with ‘cruelty’ or had ‘deserted’ him.
The couple had married according to Sikh rites on March 10, 1963 at Amritsar and had three children – two daughters and one son. The relations between them were normal but acrimony appeared to have developed when the husband was posted at Madras in January 1984 and the wife did not join him, and preferred to stay initially with her in-laws and son, the bench noted.
The top court further noted that despite sincere efforts having been made by the parties, the differences and disputes could not be resolved, which ultimately led the husband to file divorce proceedings on March 12, 1996 before the district court.
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