The Supreme Court recently rejected a plea by an 89-year-old man to divorce his 82-year-old wife [Nirmal Singh Panesar v Paramjit Kaun Panesar].
A bench of Justices Aniruddha Bose and Bela M Trivedi observed that “irretrievable breakdown of marriage” cannot be viewed as a straightjacket formula to always grant divorce.
“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,” the Court said.
The judges further emphasised that marriage is still considered a pious institution in India, even if divorce cases are on the rise.
“Despite the increasing trend of filing the 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 the Indian society,” the Court said.
In this case, the Court also noted that the wife was willing to look after her husband and had no plans to leave him in their later years. The Court further observed that the wife had expressed that she did not want to live with the stigma of being called a “divorcee” woman.
Considering this aspect, the Court opined that if divorce is granted on the ground of there being an irretrievable breakdown of marriage, then it would amount to injustice to the wife.
“In contemporary society, it may not constitute to be 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, would rather be doing injustice to the respondent,” the Court said.
The Court was hearing a plea filed by an 89-year-old man for divorce.
The Supreme Court was told that the couple’s relationship had turned sour when the husband, who had served in the Indian army, was stationed in Madras (now Chennai) 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 husband eventually sought divorce on the ground that his wife’s refusal to join him in Chennai indicated her intention to permanently terminate cohabitation without justifiable grounds.
A district court initially allowed the plea to dissolve the marriage under the Hindu Marriage Act. However, the Punjab and Haryana High Court set aside the district judge’s order prompting the man (appellant) to file an appeal before the Supreme Court.
The appellant contended before the Supreme Court that the High Court made a mistake by overturning the well-founded divorce decree which had concluded that the wife had been cruel by deserting the appellant without an explanation.
His wife’s counsel countered that a mere long period of separation does not constitute an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and that she had made all efforts to respect their sacred relationship.
The Supreme Court eventually agreed with these submissions, observing that the wife had maintained the sacred relationship since 1963 and had nurtured three children, even when the husband displayed hostility towards them.
It, therefore, rejected the the husband’s plea to dissolve the marriage and dismissed the appeal.
Advocate Vipin Gogia represented appellant-husband. Advocate Madhurima Tatia represented respondent-wife.