When the Supreme Court recently turned down the divorce appeal of Narinder Kumar Verma — who has been separated from his wife for 16 years — it made headlines. We would imagine that if a marriage had broken down, and the couple had stayed apart for more than a decade, getting a divorce shouldn't be difficult. However, the complex divorce laws in this country ensure that getting a divorce — when it is not mutually consensual — can be a knotty affair.
The Supreme Court delivered its verdict in accordance with the provisions of existing laws. It is not for us to comment on the merits of the case and the ruling. However, a few gratuitous comments that the judges made while passing the verdict — that Verma would have to live with a dead marriage if it was the will of God — are unwelcome. This is not the first time that judges adjudicating divorce proceedings in India have made value-laden observations. There have been cases in the past where judges have made sanctimonious comments about how couples must try to work out their differences and stay together. They have delivered sermons on the sanctity of marriage as an institution and expressed dismay at the erosion of values in Indian society. While the judges are entitled to their personal opinions on marriage and divorce, they must observe restraint in expressing them.
This particular case brings to the fore, once again, the issue of divorce in our society. There is no denying that divorce is more commonplace in contemporary Indian society than it ever was before. As Indians interact more with global ideas and markets, and with an increasing number of women becoming economically independent, there are complex social transformations taking place in society. There are some happy and some not-so-happy outcomes of this churn. Increasing instances of divorce must be seen in this context, not through any prism of morality alone.
There are different laws governing divorce for different religious groups, apart from the civil law in India. Some of the provisions of these laws have long passed their sell-by dates. More than half a century old, they are in urgent need of revision in keeping with changed social realities. For starters, it would help if our lawmakers simplified the various laws, brought about a semblance of uniformity and legislated changes that would make getting a divorce less cumbersome. In the end, it must be the couple alone that should take a call on whether or not to part ways. The government and courts must be no more than facilitators easing the way for the couple to take a decision.
6 months ago