It seems the Supreme Court’s patriarchal actions in the Hadiya case, where they put a 24-year-old woman in the ‘custody’ of her parents, weren’t just a one-off aberration. On Wednesday, a two-judge bench comprising of Justices Kurian Joseph and Deepak Gupta actually directed a grown woman to leave the company of her husband without the Court’s permission.
The SC was hearing an appeal on a judgment by the Punjab and Haryana High Court that refuses to grant a couple, Rajpal and Harjinder Singh, a divorce. Upon hearing the facts of the case and meeting the couple, the judges decided between themselves that the couple should “have the chance” to live with each other for a few weeks, and directed the wife’s family members not to interfere in this.
Here’s the really crazy bit. The order goes on to actually read, “Respondent/Rajpal is directed to go with the petitioner/Harjinder Singh today from the Court. The respondent is directed to behave herself properly and look after the petitioner and his aged mother.”
This wasn’t even a casual oral remark the judges made, it’s the actual court order.
It’s hard to swallow that courts can issue directives like these. What does it even mean? Will the wife be held in contempt if she refuses to “behave herself properly” or “look after the petitioner’s aged mother”? Can you imagine the court specifically directing any man to look after his aged mother-in-law and behave himself? It speaks to the shockingly regressive roles that the court continues to see women in, and the utter ease with which it subsumes women’s agency.
At this point, perhaps it’s silly to be surprised. This is, after all, the same court that once granted a man divorce on the grounds of “cruelty” as his wife refused to live with his parents, and said that “in normal circumstances, a wife is expected to be with the family of the husband after the marriage”. That same judgement saw the court cruelly waving away the fact that the wife had once attempted suicide as a “plot” to “torture” her husband and his relatives.