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Marriages might be made in heaven, but the recognition has to come from the society in which the marriage is solemnized. The judgment of the Supreme Court of India in the matter of D. Patchiammal Vs. D.Velusamy, decided by Justices Markandey Katju and T.S.Thakur (as reported in TIMES OF INDIA dt. 22/10/2010 Bangalore edition page 8) under the DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT 2005 is laudable and strikes at the root of the issue.

The facts of the case are that one Patchiammal cohabited with a married man named Velusamy for 2 years. Mr.Velusamy deserted Patchiammal for his wife Lakshmi. After 12 years of desertion Patchiammal moved the Coimbatore court seeking Maintenance under section 125 of the CrPC . The lower court comes up with a finding that Mr.Velusamy was married to Patchiammal and not to Lakshmi and ordered Velusamy to pay ALIMONY (not maintenance!) to Patchiammal. This was upheld by the High Court of Madras and subsequently taken on appeal by Mr.Velusamy to the Supreme Court of India, which has remanded back the matter for fresh adjudication, as no notice was given to Lakshmi to present her side of the case. There has no finality been established in this matter, but the judgment written by Justice Katju poignantly brings out the FUNDAMENTAL structure of MARRIAGE and the RECOGNITION of MARRIAGE as an INSTITUTION of the society.

The whole judgment hinges on the interpretation of the phrase “RELATIONSHIP IN THE NATURE OF MARRIAGE“, from the DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT 2005. Marriage as an institution has been brought to the current levels in our Indian society through ages of trial and error, customs, practices and finally legislation. So the structure of MARRIAGE is the norm achieved through collective effort of innumerable human beings who have lived in various types of society. This has to be fine tuned through INTERPRETATION of the statutes to serve the present needs of the society.

 MARRIAGE has many purposes, firstly it offers SECURITY– otherwise like in feudal times when the BADSHA eyes the wife of an AMIR, the AMIR has to instantly divorce his wife to accommodate the fancy of the BADSHA!! This was the case during Biblical times of King David too. David eyed Bathsheba and got rid of her husband Uriah. Chengiz Khan used to reserve most of the women for his personal sexual use when he overcame a country that stood in his way. So the society has instilled a mores in the public mind that once a person is “married”, the married person was out of bounds to his desires till the subsistence of the marriage. Thereby MARRIAGE has offered SECURITY to the weak & the preoccupied.

Secondly, MARRIAGE has lent a GENETIC CONTINUITY, even before genes were discovered. Thereby an enormous level of identification of the individual with one’s offspring.

Thirdly, the laws of inheritance have stabilized owing to the MARRIAGE laws, leading to peaceful passing of property.

Fourthly, the society has accepted FAMILY the building block of the society and MARRIAGE is the bedrock of the structure of the family.

So MONOGAMOUS MARRIAGE has become the norm, and any act that would destroy the structure or pervert it, ought to be seen as an effort to destabilize the structure that holds the society.

The Justices of the Supreme Court have RE-EMPHASIZED the importance of the structure, by questioning the second marriage of  Mr. D. Velusamy with Patchiammal, when he was already married to Lakshmi. If at all there was any desertion, it was the first wife who should be aggrieved. All the more so, if it is proven in evidence that Patchiammal was aware of Velusamy’s earlier marriage to Lakshmi.

There was a time when women were considered chattels, weaker sex  et al. May be it is still true in the uneducated sections of  our society where the finances and systems are controlled by men. But when educated, earning and self-confident adult women have consensual sex or relationship with men and when the relationship sours to take recourse to DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT 2005, on one ground or the other seems travesty of the social purpose for which the Act was passed. The profile of the woman who alleges domestic violence should also be factored while giving benefit to women under the Act. 

The best part is that the SUPREME COURT has declared through this judgment that women are equally responsible for their ways. Gone are those days when women were not made responsible for their behaviour! By ensuring that Patchiammal does not take advantage of her own wrongs, the SC has set right a much needed structural correction.

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