Supreme Court comes to the rescue of damsels in distress
Jul 21: In the midst of screaming media headlines about women, and girls, being raped and murdered, some consoling news for these classes come from the Supreme Court of India which, in its recent judgments, has come to the aid of Indian damsels in distress. But, first the facts.
Directing family courts to dispose of divorce, custody cases expeditiously, the Supreme Court on July 16, 2014 said that it is the sacrosanct duty of the husband to provide financial support to the separated wife even if he is required to earn money with physical labour, while holding that maintenance must be enough for her to lead a dignified life.
The court said the husband is obligated to see that the wife does not become a destitute, a beggar and directed family courts to dispose of cases of maintenance, divorce, custody of child, property disputes as expeditiously as possible to ameliorate the agony and financial suffering of a woman who has left her matrimonial home.
Dealing with Section 125 (maintenance) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, a bench of Justices Dipak Misra and V Gopala Gowda said: “It is the sacrosanct duty to render financial support even if the husband is required to earn money with physical labour, if he is able bodied. There is no escape route unless there is an order from the court that the wife is not entitled to get maintenance from the husband on any legally permissible grounds.”
The court made the observations while asking family court judges to avoid granting adjournments in a routine manner as they deal with sensitive issues of maintenance, divorce and custody of child between the estranged couple. “It has come to the notice of the court that on certain occasions, the family courts have been granting adjournments in a routine manner as a consequence of which both the parties suffer or, on certain occasions, the wife becomes the worst victim. When such a situation occurs, the purpose of the law gets totally atrophied,” the bench said.
“A family court judge should remember that procrastination is the greatest assassin of the lis (legal issue) before it. It not only gives rise to more family problems but also gradually builds unthinkable and everlasting bitterness. It leads to the cold refrigeration of hidden feelings, if still left. The delineation of the lis by the family judge must reveal the awareness and balance,” the bench said.
The court rejected a plea made by a Rajasthan man, who challenged a high court order wherein he was directed to pay maintenance from the date his estranged wife filed an divorce application in a family court. The court noted that the wife did not get anything for nine years as the matter kept on getting adjourned by the court.
In a second case, on July 18, 2014 the Supreme Court said that a child is not a shuttlecock to be tossed between the father and mother. A Bench of Chief Justice R M Lodha and Justices Kurian Joseph and Rohinton Nariman made this observation while hearing the case of custody of a four-year-old girl child, who, according to an order passed by the Madras High Court, had been asked to stay with the mother, G Renukadevi, for four days, and with the father, K S M Karthikeya, for three days (a week).
Referring to the order passed by the High Court on a habeas corpus petition filed by the mother, the CJI said: “This order is something which shocks the conscience of this court. We are sorry that the High Court has treated the child as a chattel, which is impermissible and unacceptable. There is no justification for the High Court to pass such an order. This is not the way a girl child should have been treated. The court has played the child like a shuttlecock between the father and the mother.” Pointing out that the welfare of the child should be of paramount concern in such matters, the CJI said, “The child can’t be put to agony and pain like this. We are not satisfied with the arrangement. This should be corrected and the child should remain with the mother.”
The case is yet to conclude, with the Supreme Court directing the father to bring the child to the court on July 21 and asking the mother to be present for the hearing. It also asked the father to bring the child on the day to facilitate mediation.
The case was argued by high profile lawyers Nalini Chidambaram for the mother and Abhishek Singhvi for the father.
What happens when you cannot afford to go up to the Supreme Court and have no resources to hire high-flying lawyers? That brings us to the third case where activists came into the picture and secured the dues of a long-suffering retired duo from Udupi. Akku and Leela had served for four decades as temporarily appointed cleaners from 1971 to 2011 in Government Women Teachers’ Training Institute at a meagre salary of Rs 15 per month. Their plea for making them permanent and get corresponding benefits finally reached the Supreme Court which on July 4,2014 issued a final warning giving one week’s time to comply with its earlier order. The State government has now issued an order which entitles them to get Rs 30 lakhs each as salary and arrears. Their case was guided and supported by the Udupi-based Human Rights Protection Foundation which has Ravindranath Shanbagh as President.
John B Monteiro, author and journalist, is editor of his website http://www.welcometoreason.com which incorporates his recently launched blog “ Monty’s Cocktails”