The Supreme Court of India has dismissed a divorce appeal by 89-year-old man to divorce his 82-year-old wife, insisting that “marriage is still considered to be a pious, spiritual and invaluable emotional life-net between husband and wife in Indian society”.
The case involved Dr. Nirmal Singh Panesar, the appellant, and Mrs. Paramjit Kaur Panesar, the respondent. Dr. Panesar, a retired Air Force officer, had filed
A bench of Justices Aniruddha Bose and Bela M Trivedi, while dismissing the husband’s plea on October 10, said, “It would not be desirable to accept the formula of ‘irretrievable break down of marriage’ as a strait-jacket formula for the grant of relief of divorce under Article 142 of the Constitution of India.”
“Despite the increasing trend of filing divorce proceedings in the courts of law, the institution of marriage is still considered to be a pious, spiritual, and invaluable emotional life-net between the husband and the wife in Indian society,” the court said in its 24-page judgment.
The bench noted in its order that the wife was willing to look after her husband and had no plans to leave him in their later years, saying she didn’t want to die as a divorcee.
Bringing down the curtains on a 27-year-old marital discord, the Supreme Court refused to grant divorce to a couple in the “late evening of their lives” saying the institution of marriage occupies an important place and plays a key role in the society.
The court order said, “In contemporary society, it may not constitute stigma, but here we are concerned with the respondent’s (wife) own sentiment. Under the circumstances, considering and respecting the sentiments of the respondent wife, exercising the discretion in favour of the appellant under Article 142 by dissolving the marriage between parties on the ground that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, would not be doing complete justice to the parties, it would rather be doing injustice to the respondent.”
“In our opinion, one should not be oblivious to the fact that the institution of marriage occupies an important place and plays an important role in society… It is governed not only by the letters of law but by the social norms as well. So many other relationships stem from and thrive on the matrimonial relationships in the society. Therefore, it would not be desirable to accept the formula of ‘irretrievable breakdown of marriage’ as a strait-jacket formula for the grant of relief of divorce under Article 142 of the Constitution of India,” the bench said.
The top court noted the wife all throughout her life has maintained the sacred relationship since 1963 and has taken care of her three children despite the fact that her husband exhibited total hostility towards them.
“The respondent (wife) is still ready and willing to take care of her husband and does not wish to leave him alone at this stage of life. She has also expressed her sentiments that she does not want to die with the stigma of being a ‘divorcee’ woman. In contemporary society, it may not constitute a stigma but here we are concerned with the respondent’s own sentiment,” the bench said, in its order dated October 10.
It said, “Under the circumstances, considering and respecting the sentiments of the respondent wife, the court is of the opinion that exercising the discretion in favour of the appellant (husband) under Article 142 by dissolving the marriage between parties on the ground that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, would not be doing “complete justice” to the parties, would rather be doing injustice to the respondent. In that view of the matter, we are not inclined to accept the submission of the appellant to dissolve the marriage on the ground of irretrievable breakdown of marriage.” Justice Trivedi, who penned the verdict on behalf of the bench, noted that the husband, who is a qualified doctor and retired from the Indian Air Force, had initiated divorce proceedings in March 1996 under the Hindu Marriage Act on grounds of ‘cruelty’ and ‘desertion’ by his wife, a retired teacher.
The man alleged that his estranged wife had treated him cruelly and deserted him by not joining him when he was transferred to Madras, and thereafter not taking care of him though he had a heart problem. He had further claimed the wife had made complaints to the Air Force authorities against him to malign his image and these were the acts of ‘cruelty’, entitling him to a decree of divorce.
He submitted in the top court that they have been staying separately since the time he had filed the divorce petition in the district court, and the marriage having been irretrievably broken down, the apex court should exercise its plenary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution and grant a decree of divorce.
On other hand, the wife submitted in the top court that she being an aged lady, does not want to die with the stigma of a “divorcee” and she had made all efforts to respect the sacred relationship between the parties all through out and is still ready to look after her husband with the assistance of her son. She submitted that a mere long period of separation could not tantamount to irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and her husband had failed to make out any ground either of ‘cruelty’ or ‘desertion’.
The wife urged the top court not to interfere with the order of the high court, which has accepted her plea of not granting divorce.
The bench said looking at the fact that both the parties are in the “late evening of their lives”, the court had expected them to sit together and explore the possibility of an amicable settlement. The effort having failed, the court decided to adjudicate the matter on merit, the bench said.
According to lawyers, the couple’s relationship had turned sour when the husband, who had served in the Indian Army, was stationed in Madras in January 1984 and the wife chose not to accompany him. Instead, she opted to reside initially with her husband’s parents and later with her son.
The district court had allowed the plea of the husband to dissolve the marriage but the Punjab and Haryana High Court set aside the district judge’s order, following which he approached the Supreme Court.