A social media uproar recently ensued following an alleged ruling of a division bench of the Madras High Court in an appeal filed against a divorce petition.
“Removal Of Mangalsutra by wife is mental cruelty of highest order to husband: Madras HC”, reads the headline of a report published by PTI on July 23, 2022. Several other media outlets, such as Outlook, India Today and NDTV had also published syndicated articles with similar headlines.
Several users took to Twitter to express their opinions on the verdict based on these headlines.
And you thought it happens only in melodramatic movies from #Bollywood #Kollywood #Mollywood #Tollywood #Sandalwood and whatever else? #ThaliSentiment #Mangalsutra
Removal Of Mangalsutra By Wife Mental Cruelty Of Highest Order: Court – NDTV https://t.co/2kpp2R7PNS
— Uma Sudhir (@umasudhir) July 15, 2022
Marital rape is not a crime. But if even an estranged removes ‘thali’ (Mangalsutra) that is subjecting the husband to mental cruelty of the highest order. OF THE HIGHEST ORDER. Milords, Justices VM Velumani and S Sounthar, I believe your patriarchy and male fragility are showing
— Avantika Mehta (@bitingfriends) July 17, 2022
#Patriarchy According to the Madras High Court, removing the mangalsutra from the neck of a Hindu woman is the culmination of mental cruelty. The judge said that this is playing with the feelings of the husband. In such a situation, she allowed the husband to divorce…. pic.twitter.com/o8LIx8uCHt
— The Dalit Voice (@ambedkariteIND) July 15, 2022
WION shared a five-minute-long clip of its primetime show Gravitas, where the host Palki Sharma read out excerpts from the judgement. The host pointed out that such observations were being made by the courts in “21st Century India”.
#Gravitas | The Madras High Court has observed that removal of mangalsutra by wife is mental cruelty of the highest order.
Would you agree? Is mangalsutra even mandatory?
Listen in to @palkisu pic.twitter.com/r7Gi0yIAsE
— WION (@WIONews) July 15, 2022
Both WION and India TV published reports based on the opinions expressed by social media users. Multiple Hindi media outlets such as Aaj Tak, ABP Live, Jagran and Navbharat Times also reported on this issue.
Alt News retrieved a copy of the verdict passed by the Madras High Court bench comprising Justices VM Velumani and S Sounthar. The appeal was filed against an order of a lower court denying divorce to the petitioner (husband) on the ground of mental cruelty due to a lack of sufficient evidence.
The operative paragraphs of the judgment have been extracted below along with the Hon’ble benches rationale behind arriving at their decision.
17. “In the light of the decisions referred above, we have no hesitation in holding that in the present case, the respondent /wife caused mental cruelty to the husband by suspecting his character and making false allegations of extra marital affair in the presence of his colleagues and students and also before the police. We are given to understand that the appellant and the respondent are living separately from 2011 onwards and there is no evidence available on record to show that respondent has made any attempt for a reunion during this period.”
The above paragraph clearly indicates that the “mental cruelty” in the present case emanates from the fact that the wife suspected the husband’s character, made false allegations of extra-marital affair and further humiliated him in front of his colleagues and students as well as before the police. While arriving at the conclusion of mental cruelty being inflicted, the bench makes no mention of the sacred thread being removed.
Subsequently, in paragraph 19 (extracted below), the bench places reliance on a 2016 judgement of the Madras High court passed in a different divorce petition. Placing reliance on one of the holdings of the earlier judgment (paragraph 33), the present bench held that the removal of the sacred chain read in tandem with all of the other evidence placed on record was sufficient to prove that the parties had no intention to reconcile. Based on this, the present appeal was allowed.
19. “When the respondent/wife was examined as R.W.1, she admitted that at the time of separation, she removed her thali chain (Sacred chain worn by wife as a token of having married). Though she proceeded to explain that she retained thali and only removed the chain, the act of removing thali chain had its own significance. The learned counsel for the respondent by taking us to ceremonious for Hindu Marriage referring to Section 7 of Hindu Marriage Act submitted that tying of thali is not a necessary one and hence removal of thali by respondent, even assuming it was true, would not have any impact on the marital tie. But, it is a matter of common knowledge that tying of thali is an essential ritual in marriage ceremony that takes place in this part of the world. It is useful to refer, the observations of a coordinate Bench of this Court in Vallabhi Vs. R.Rajasabahi reported in 2017 (1) MWN (Civil) 128. The Observations of the Division Bench of this Court is as follows:
“33. From the materials available on record, it is also seen that the petitioner has removed the “Thali”(Mangalsutra) and it is also her own admission that she has kept the same in Banck locker. It is known fact that no Hindu married woman 18/22 https://www.mhc.tn.gov.in/judis C.M.A.No.3249 of 2017 would remove the “Thali” at any point of time during the lifetime of her husband. “Thali” around the neck of a wife is a sacred thing which symbolises the continuance of married life and it is removed only after the death of Husband. Therefore, the removal of “Thali” by the petitioner/wife can be said to be an act which reflected Mental Cruelty of highest order as it could have caused agony and hurted the sentiments of the respondent.”
It is pertinent to note that the conclusion arrived at in paragraph 33 above is not the view taken by the present bench. The present bench merely placed reliance upon this finding of the coordinate bench to arrive at the conclusion that the act of removing the sacred chain could be inferred as an indication that the wife was no longer interested in maintaining her relationship with the petitioner (husband).
It is a standard practice for common law courts to cite previous judgments commonly known as “precedents” while making a ruling on a certain issue. This does not necessarily mean that both cases are identical in terms of their factual matrices but is simply an indication that reliance is being placed upon a previous finding in a similar case that may aid the present court to arrive at a certain conclusion.
Further, paragraph 20 of the present judgement is extracted below:
20. “The removal of thali chain is often treated as an unceremonious act. We don’t say for a moment that removal of thali chain per se sufficient to put an end to the marital knot, but the said act of respondent is a piece of evidence in drawing an inference about the intentions of the parties. The act of respondent in removal of thali chain at the time of separation coupled with various other evidences available on record, compel us to come to a definite conclusion that the parties have no intention to reconcile and continue the marital knot.”
It is clear from paragraph 20 of the judgment that the Hon’ble bench did not hold that the removal of the sacred chain itself is a sufficient legal ground to prove cruelty leading to divorce.
Alt News reached out to Areeb Uddin Ahmed, an advocate practising in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. He stated the following:
“It is unfortunate that certain media outlets reported the judgment/ order in a very wrong manner.
After pursuing the said order, it is clear that the High Court did not make any such observations, it only referred to a coordinate bench judgment in Vallabhi v .R.Rajasabahi (2016) which had in a similar instance held that “the removal of “Thali” by the 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.
Hence the “thali” observation was wrongly made the headline by certain media outlets, and this led to the creation of hype about the judgment“.
He further stated, “There is a manner in which a judgment or an order is to be reported or read. It fairly starts with the facts of the case, then the issues, then the submissions made by both the parties and their arguments and lastly the observations of the court.
This can also be divided into two parts: 1) Ratio decidendi which is defined as the principles of law formulated by the Judge for the purpose of deciding the problem before him or the court and 2) Obiter dicta which means observations made by the Judge, but are not essential for the decision reached.”
While the PTI article which was republished by several media outlets such as NDTV, only had a misleading headline, the contents of the article in its entirety sufficiently captured the essence of the judgment. However, some other media outlets such as IndiaTV and WION, have completely misinterpreted and in turn, misreported the findings of the judgment. WION also did a video report with the same misleading facts.
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