Mallika Writes: Just Speaking

Of Kept Women

Velusamy was married to Lakshmi in 1980. A son was born to them. A few years later Velusamy started a relationship with Patchaiammal. He lived with her for three years in her father’s house and then deserted her to return to his wife. Patchammal filed a petition for alimony and maintenance before a family court in which she alleged that she was married to Velusamy in 1986. In his counter affidavit in the same court Velusamy produced a marriage certificate and photos of his wedding with Lakshmi to prove that he was married to her and not to Patchaiammal. In a judgement in 2004 the judge at the family court held that Velusamy was married to Patchaiammal and not Lakshmi. He neither called Lakshmi as a witness nor took note of the proof produced. The High Court of Tamil Nadu upheld the judgement. Velusamy filed in the Supreme Court and the judgement came out a few days ago, from the court of Markandey Katju and T S Thakur. They rightly set aside the judgements of the two lower courts and returned the case for a reopening at the family court level. So far so good, though I am not even going into the punishment due to men who do this in our society, leaving a trail of broken lives.

What is shocking however are the comments made by the judges, and included in the judgement. As also their understanding of “traditional Indian society”.

Starting by saying that live in relationships are new and few in India (have the learned judges not heard of gandharva vivah practiced since the times of Dushyanta and Shakuntala at least?) but that with changing times they have now been included in The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 ( a huge if mixed victory for all of us fighting for women's rights) the judges go on to quote a series of judgements from US courts, where, they claim, such relationships are more commonplace. They then go on to define what such a relationship means, that it means that the  couple must be seen by society  as a couple, that they should have remained together for a longish period, that both should be there voluntarily and be legally unmarried and above marriageable age. They then go on to say, “In our opinion not all live in relationships will amount to a relationship in the nature of marriage to get the benefit of the Act of 2005. To get such a benefit the conditions mentioned by us above must be satisfied, and this has to be proved by evidence. If a man has a ‘keep’ whom he maintains financially and uses mainly for sexual purpose and/or as a servant it would not, in our opinion, be a relationship in the nature of marriage”.

‘Keep’? What kind of regressive minds use a word like this in a Supreme Court judgement? Can there be a more insulting word ? Who is a kept woman? Someone used primarily as a servant and for sex? Does not then a wife dependent financially on a husband who abuses her and uses her sexually or rapes her every night become a ‘keep’? How many such wives do we have in India? Judging from testimonies given in courts or in the many women’s NGOs and the National Commission for Women, several million. Do the learned judges only think in these terms? And again, do women who have live in long term relationships where due to work or other conditions, they spend the night with their partners only once or twice a week become ’keeps’? What about the men in such relationships - are they also 'kept'? If not, why not?

In a country which has just shown that it can throw out laws like the one that made gays criminals in the face of changing mores and relationships, can a word like ‘keep’ remain as a precedence in a Supreme Court judgement? And what do we make of judges with this regressive mindset?

When Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaisingh objected to this remark, the judge sarcastically asked her if she preferred the word ‘concubine’!

How about ‘partner’ my dear judges? If you are so regressive in your thoughts and vocabulary what hope can we have for society in general? When will we come out of the dark ages?

October 31st, 2010, DNA


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