Matrimonial disputes and some problems of women in India

Justice Markandey Katju-

Justice Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.

Nowadays law courts in India, right from Family Courts in the districts to High Courts and even the Supreme Court, are flooded with cases of divorce, maintenance, custody of children, dowry crimes ( e.g. section 498A IPC ) etc.

When I started law practice as a lawyer in Allahabad High Court half a century ago, there were very few of such cases. Today there is a flood, and our law courts are finding it increasingly difficult to decide such cases expeditiously. Divorce cases, after all, appeals etc have been exhausted, may take 10-20 years to finally decide, and so many other types of matrimonial disputes. How has such a situation come about?

To my mind the reason is the tremendous social churning that is going on in Indian society, which is due to the fact that India is passing through a transitional period in its history, from a feudal agricultural society to a modern industrial society.

In feudal society, women were regarded as inferior to men, and most of them accepted this situation. They were often uneducated, and confined to household chores like cooking, washing, cleaning, and looking after the children.

But now things are changing in India. Now many women have become educated, and are doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, teachers, artists, journalists, etc, and demand equality with men, and they are justified in doing so.

However, since India is still not a modern, fully industrialized country, but has had only a limited degree of industrialization, it still has features of feudalism, like casteism and communalism, and also, among many menfolk, the feudal mentality of regarding women as inferiors.

Many Indian men have this feudal mindset and want their wives to obey their every command. But since many women have got educated, and some even working ( and therefore financially independent ), they often resent this, and insist on being treated as equals and with respect. This, to my mind, is the major source of the humongous increase in matrimonial cases in India.

My own experience as a lawyer and judge is that matrimonial disputes are so personal that unless resolved quickly, can lead the parties to become psychological wrecks. The husband and wife relationship is the most intimate one among all social relationships, and when it breaks down there is usually intense rancor and hatred between the couple. So either there should be a reconciliation or a quick clean-cut, but to keep the dispute going on for 10-20 years, as it often happens in India, is a source of unimaginable misery and horror.

I confess I have no solution to the problem, and to my mind, the situation will get worse in the times to come.

There is another aspect which has also to be considered. In feudal society, girls were married off by their parents at a very young age. Hence, though after marriage they were largely confined to household chores, they had husbands and children, which is the normal desire in most girls after they reach a certain age. But today what is happening in India is that a large number of young women are getting on in years, and are not getting husbands. In earlier times, these girls were married off by their parents at a very young age. Now since that is not happening, many girls come from small towns to big cities and take up jobs there. They often live in working women’s hostels, far away from their parental homes, and are faced with dangers, such as that of Jyoti Singh ( Nirbhaya ) who was murdered.

I have mentioned some other problems of women, in the transitional period of history India is passing through, in this article.

However, despite all the hardships many Indian women are facing, they are our true heroes, as explained in this article. I salute them.