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HomeNewsSindoor religious duty of married Hindu woman: Court

Sindoor religious duty of married Hindu woman: Court

Critics say the concept of sindoor as a symbol of marriage is rooted in patriarchy while traditionalists say it upholds the Hindu institution of marriage

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An Indore family court has ruled that wearing sindoor (crude translation: vermilion) is a religious obligation for a married Hindu woman while reinstating the marital rights of a husband. The husband had filed a petition against his wife who had left the marriage five years ago and initiated divorce proceedings.

The court had, on 1 March, issued a decree, instructing the woman to return to her husband.

The couple got married in 2017. They have a 5-year-old child.

Despite the wife’s allegations of dowry harassment, the court noted the absence of any supporting police complaint. Stressing the significance of upholding marital traditions to preserve the sanctity of marriage, the court cited a previous ruling by the Gauhati High Court, which deemed a wife not wearing sindoor as a “kind of cruelty”.

Overall, the case highlighted the complex intersection of religious beliefs, cultural practices, and legal rights in the context of marriage and divorce. It also underscored the need for a nuanced and sensitive approach to addressing issues of gender equality and marital rights within the legal system.

Celebrities sporting sindoor in real life, not on sets for shooting films: (L to R) Actresses Bipasha Basu, Anushka Sharma and Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan
Celebrities sporting sindoor in real life, not on sets for shooting films: (L to R) Actresses Bipasha Basu, Anushka Sharma and Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan

Sindoor: The debate

The ruling sparked a debate on social media and among legal experts, with some arguing that the court’s decision was regressive and violated the woman’s right to autonomy. Critics pointed out that the concept of sindoor as a symbol of marriage was rooted in “patriarchal” traditions and should not be imposed on women as a religious obligation. They also raised concerns about the court’s dismissal of the wife’s allegations of dowry harassment “without proper investigation”.

On the other hand, supporters of the verdict praised the court for upholding traditional values and promoting the institution of marriage. They argued that wearing sindoor was a personal choice that should be respected, especially in the context of Hindu marriage customs. Some also highlighted the importance of reconciliation and family unity in resolving marital disputes.

Gauhati HC judgment

The woman in that case in Assam, after walking out of her marriage, had filed a case against her husband and his family members under Section 498A (husband or his relative subjecting a married woman to cruelty) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in 2013.

Despite eventually being acquitted by the high court, the husband and his family members responded to the litigation above by filing for divorce on the grounds of cruelty inflicted by his wife.

The plea she filed, contesting the allegation above, claimed her husband and in-laws had harassed her for dowry — like the woman in the more recent case from Indore. Additionally, she asserted that she had been deprived of food and medical care, leaving her brother responsible for meeting her basic needs.

However, in 2020, the Gauhati High Court ruled that if a Hindu woman chose not to wear sindoor and shakha (bangles made of conch shells, typically worn by married Hindu women in Bengal, Odisha and the Northeast), it could indicate that she was unmarried or that she was rejecting the marriage. The court further noted that the wife’s decision to not adhere to this tradition demonstrated her own volition.

A two-member bench of the high court, comprising then Chief Justice Ajai Lamba and Justice Soumitra Saikia, ruled that not wearing sindoor could not be considered cruelty to the extent of justifying the dissolution of the marriage. Previously, the husband’s request for divorce was dismissed by a family court in Assam due to the lack of evidence showing any mistreatment by the wife towards the complainant.

However, acknowledging the importance of the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, which emphasises the responsibility of children to support and care for their parents and senior citizens, the high court pointed out that the family court had disregarded the fact that the woman had compelled her husband to neglect his obligations towards his elderly mother as mandated by the Act. This, the court said, could result in imprisonment or a fine for non-compliance.

Notably, the estranged wife had not disputed the claim of her to-be-divorced husband that she used to refuse to wear the Hindu signs of marriage on her body.

“Under such circumstances, compelling the husband to continue to be in matrimony with the wife may be construed to be harassment,” the high court held in its 19 June 2020 order.

The Gauhati High Court finally granted divorce to the man in Assam. “The allegation of subjecting the wife to cruelty was not sustained. Such acts of lodging criminal cases on unsubstantiated allegations against the husband and/or the husband’s family members amounts to cruelty,” the high court order said.

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