In the past few years, there has been a growing concern over the apparent insensitiveness of the Indian courts and judges, especially when dealing with controversial issues.
A lot of judges have often been called out for strange remarks when hearing or giving verdicts to cases that are either victim blaming, propagating regressive thoughts or even just plain wrong. Recently, the Madras High Court has been under fire for giving strange remarks when hearing an appeal to separate.
What Happened With Madras HC?
A division bench of Justices V M Velumani and S Sounthar were hearing for the case C Sivakumar v. A Srividhya, with Sivakumar a medical college professor in Erode appealing the 2016 verdict by the local Family Court that refused divorce to him.
After hearing the appeal, while they did decide to grant a divorce to the man from his estranged wife, it was one of the remarks that struck people as odd. During the examination, the woman stated that during the separation she had removed her thali chain (sacred chain worn by a married woman similar to mangalsutra).
Such a chain is as per Hindu traditions seen as extremely important for a married woman and is only removed if the husband is no longer alive.
To this, the bench commented that “Thali around the neck of a woman was a sacred thing which symbolises the continuance of married life and it is removed only after the death of the husband. Therefore, its removal by the petitioner/wife can be said to be an act which reflected mental cruelty of the highest order as it could have caused agony and hurt the sentiments of the respondent.”
While the case is different altogether, this statement of connecting the removal of a mangalsutra with mental cruelty on the husband is going a bit too far. However, this is not the first time that Indian judges have said something controversial.
Former Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde
In March of 2021, the then Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde was hearing a case against Mohit Subhash Chavan, a 23-year-old technician in the Maharashtra State Electric Production Company Ltd.
Chavan had been accused of raping multiple times a distant relative and 9th class student (a minor) in 2014-15 when he was around 17-18 years old. During the hearing, then CJI Bobde questioned Chavan through his lawyer “Will you marry her?”
He then added that “You should have thought before seducing and raping the young girl. You knew you are a government servant… We are not forcing you to marry. Let us know if you will, otherwise you will say we are forcing you to marry her.”
Bobde was heavily bashed for his comments and many from the law sector also said that the comments were not warranted and insensitive to the victim.
Former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju
Former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju was also called out for his statements that he gave while hearing a case in 2009.
The case was by a high school student from Madhya Pradesh who was suing his school on the grounds that the administration tried to get him to remove his beard. Katju, a judge on the case, rejected his appeal and also added that “We don’t want to have Taliban in the country. Tomorrow a girl student may come and say that she wants to wear a burqa. Can we allow it?”
This brought a lot of ire and anger towards Katju who eventually apologised for his words and the order was withdrawn.
Justice Pushpa V Ganediwala
Justice Pushpa V Ganediwala went extremely viral in 2021 for statements that she made for a 2013 case. The case was an appeal by the accused 26-year-old Suraj Kasarkar against a 10-year imprisonment for the accusation filed by the mother of a minor girl who accused Kasarkar with the rape of her 15-year-old girl.
The judgement made was “The act of pressing of breast of the child aged 12 years, in the absence of any specific detail as to whether the top was removed or whether he inserted his hand inside the top and pressed her breast, would not fall in the definition of sexual assault,” with the judge also adding that there must be “skin to skin contact with sexual intent“ for an act to be considered as sexual assault.
Justice Dave and Goel
In 2016 for the case of Narender v. K.Meena (October 6, 2016), the bench of Justice Dave and Goel while hearing the case stated that “in India, generally people do not subscribe to western thought, whereupon getting married or attaining majority, the son gets separated from the family. In normal circumstances, a wife is expected to be with the family of the husband after the marriage. She becomes integral to and forms part of the family of the husband and normally without any justifiable strong reason, she would never insist that her husband should get separated from the family and live only with her.”
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