Karnataka High Court judge K Bhaktavatsala’s misogynistic comments during a divorce petition proceedings sets a dangerous precedent that would make laws such as the Domestic Violence Act ineffective
‘If you can tolerate birth pangs, can you not tolerate the husband’s beatings’ reads the headline of a leading Kannada daily quoting Justice K Bhaktavatsala of Karnataka High Court’s observation while hearing a divorce petition. The wife had filed for divorce citing domestic violence as a reason.
The judge went on to say that in marriage “these kind of things happen and she should just move on”. He also referred to the Kannada actor Darshan’s case, where he was first arrested for domestic violence and then let go because the wife retracted the complaint, and said ‘see now they are living quite happily why can’t you learn from them.’
As per news reports, despite the facts – the description of domestic violence (the woman had bruises and boils all over her body) and the photographic evidence, the judge said that there was no merit in the case. It is not clear whether this was just an observation during the hearing or the words in the ruling denying the divorce. Either way, this was a disturbing remark. What was worse was the suggestion he made for the husband to take the wife and children out for a snack to sort it out. How different is this from the police officials who invariably end up brokering a compromise when a woman goes to file an FIR in a domestic violence case?
Though his recent observations have created uproar among women’s rights activists who are campaigning to remove him, with an online petition gathering steam, Justice K Bhaktavatsala is known for his patriarchal comments in divorce cases. He had famously argued with a female lawyer that since she was single, she had no business arguing a divorce case. Reports quote him saying, “You are unfit to argue this case. You do not know real life….Family matters should be argued only by married people, not spinsters. You should only watch….You better get married and you will get very good experience to argue such cases.”
This is not the first time judges have made inappropriate remarks in divorce cases. Earlier in May, division bench judges in Bombay High Court observed that a ‘wife should be like goddess Sita who followed her husband Lord Ram.’ In this case the husband was filing for divorce because the wife was refusing to move with him to Port Blair, where he was being transferred on work.
There have been reports of family courts in general being a nightmare of humiliation for a woman seeking divorce. It is no secret that there have been systematic efforts to change the section 498(A) in order to ‘Save Indian families’. Every attempt to make the divorce process woman-friendly is termed as a new ploy to exploit men. The recent amendment to the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill has upset the conservative forces in the country. The amendment suggests that the woman will get a certain share in husband’s property post divorce.
Comments such as the ones given by Justice K Bhaktavatsala’s not only re-enforce patriarchy in the mainstream psyche but also give impetus for those arguing against the Domestic Violence Act. These comments have become a part of public record. If the presiding judges also decide that these laws are harmful to men or Indian families and hence deny divorce applications, they set a very dangerous precedent.
Padmalatha Ravi is based in Bangalore and works as an Associate Editor with www.Citizenmatters.in
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