The Case Of The Party-Going Wife
Can a wife attending late-night parties be deemed as cruelty towards her husband?
Rohit B. Khurana was convinced he had strong grounds to divorce his wife—Neha Rohit Khurana—and the trial court agreed. Married in April 1999, they had built a family with two children, but conjugal bliss had been elusive. The marital discord persisted, and in 2008, Khurana filed a petition under section 13 (1) (i-a) of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 for grant of a decree of divorce on grounds of cruelty. Neha, a working woman, was allegedly in the habit of attending late-night parties—and according to him, was lacking in respect for the institutions of marriage and family.
Rohit complained to the court about Neha’s supposed aggressive and abusive ways—it seems she was short-tempered, made unreasonable monetary demands and often made a public scene to get her way. To support his petition for a divorce, Rohit cited several instances where he had felt slighted by Neha and her family: He especially had a bone to pick with his mother-in-law’s treatment of him.Despite the friction, the couple continued to live together—Neha apologized for their arguments in August 2002—and both parties decided to give their marriage a chance. But this armistice did not last long. Rohit alleged that Neha was back to attending late-night parties on the ‘pretext’ of having to entertain her clients from work and neglected her maternal duties. He pleaded that his wife’s ‘misdemeanours’ had brought on severe depression and he had been advised complete bed rest. The trial court granted his petition in February 2011.
Neha filed an appeal against the trial court’s judgement before the district court of Raigad. The appellate court was of the view that the trial court had not considered the entire evidence and the conduct of both parties. The trial court had also admitted several ‘verbose’ statements as part of evidence, which the appellate court struck down. In July 2012, the district judge ruled in Neha’s favour—the judgement and decree passed by the trial court was set aside. The appellate court had found the evidence against her insufficient. In January 2013, Rohit moved the Bombay High Court by way of a second appeal against the appellate court’s judgement.
Does a wife’s role and behaviour need to be defined and determined by her husband? What are the conjugal norms that couples should follow in a 21st-century marriage? Was Rohit Khurana’s concerns about his wife’s socializing, as grounds for a divorce, legitimate? You be the judge.
In July 2015, the Bombay High Court ruled that a wife attending late-night parties cannot be deemed ‘cruelty’. The court addressed the various incidents that Rohit had presented as evidence of his wife’s ‘cruel behaviour’ towards him and ruled that it found the appellate court’s view of the evidence correct. Regarding Neha’s conduct, the court ruled that, “element of mental or physical cruelty is not proved even by probabilities.” It could not be proven that on a particular date Neha consumed excess liquor and had reached home late. In fact, Neha had produced evidence to show that in one instance, Rohit had brought home a drunk friend, who was unable to return to her residence alone. Justice M. L. Tahaliyani ruled, “Socializing ... in the present society is permissible … This indicates that life of the Appellant and Respondent No. 1 was not a normal life of conservative married couple[s]. Both of them ... were in [the] habit of enjoying parties. Therefore, it cannot be concluded that Respondent No. 1 had subjected the Appellant to cruelty, either physical or mental ... therefore, he is not entitled for a decree of divorce on the ground of cruelty.”
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