New Delhi: The Madras high court recently came under severe criticism from social media users online after newspaper reports in several prominent publications claimed that it had ruled that a wife’s removal of ‘thali’ (mangalsutra) constituted “mental cruelty of the highest order”.
First #MarriageStrike by @realsiff
And now Removal Of Mangalsutra is Highest Order of Cruelty by Madras HC.
Burns the Feminist ego and their agenda. Now they start crying about their freedom.
Suggestion: Stop Marrying & live freely WOMEN.https://t.co/SV93rpuR8H
— Untold Story of Common Boy/Men (@untoldStoryMens) July 15, 2022
Should women be upset that their husbands never wear a signifier of marriage at all? Removal of Mangalsutra by wife is mental cruelty of highest order: Madras HC | https://t.co/BlGds9SD5V
— Nayanika (@nayanikaaa) July 15, 2022
However, the entire controversy appears to have stemmed from a misunderstanding of the court’s judgment, which, in reality, held the opposite of what was being claimed.
On July 5, the Madras high court was hearing the case of C. Sivakumar versus A. Srividhya, wherein it was hearing a plea by the husband (Sivakumar) against a 2016 order by a family court which dismissed his petition to divorce his wife.
Observing that the appellant’s wife (Srividhya) had come to his place of work and levelled accusations against him of having extramarital affairs in front of his colleagues, and that she had allegedly filed an “unsubstantiated” police complaint against him, the court granted Sivakumar’s plea, observing that his wife’s acts amounted to mental cruelty.
The court also made certain observations regarding Srividhya’s removal of the mangalsutra. While it made observations regarding the “sacred” and “symbolic” nature of the mangalsutra, it went on to qualify the same in the following:
“The removal of thali chain is often treated as an unceremonious act. We don’t say for a moment that removal of thali chain per se sufficient to put an end to the marital knot, but the said act of respondent is a piece of evidence in drawing an inference about the intentions of the parties. The act of respondent in removal of thali chain at the time of separation coupled with various other evidences available on record, compel us to come to a definite conclusion that the parties have no intention to reconcile and continue the marital knot.” (emphasis added).
As such, the court actually observed the opposite of what was being claimed; that the removal of mangalsutra is not sufficient to put an end to the marriage.
Rather, the court cited the removal of the mangalsutra as an indication that the couple had no intention of reconciling. Coupled with the wife’s other acts, mentioned above, the court had held that her actions amounted to mental cruelty and thus, granted the relief of divorce to the appellant.
News platforms, however, carried stories with headlines such as, ‘Removal of Mangalsutra by wife is mental cruelty of highest order: Madras HC’ (Hindustan Times, NDTV) for a story taken from a syndicated feed provided by news agency PTI. In these articles, the wife’s allegations and confrontation of her husband in front of his colleagues were only mentioned towards the end.
What’s more, the portion of the judgment quoted above was present in the articles published by the news outlets. However, the headlines, ostensibly, caused the court of public opinion to judge the Madras high court unfavourably.
The PTI article, reproduced by the news outlets, also quoted another part of the judgment: “Thali around the neck of a woman was a sacred thing which symbolises the continuance of married life and it is removed only after the death of the husband. Therefore, its removal by the petitioner/wife can be said to be an act which reflected mental cruelty of the highest order as it could have caused agony and hurt the sentiments of the respondent.”
However, as LiveLaw reported, this section was taken from a 2016 judgment by another court in which it was held that the removal of ‘thali’ amounted to mental cruelty.