THE SUNDAY STORY
The Justice Karnan judgment has whisked off into debates about the definitions of marriage and sexual relationships, but at the very core of his verdict is justice for a woman spurned by a man who gave her two children.
In that sense, this judgement probably sets a sort of legal precedent, and as such reassures women who prefer the legal route that they are not disadvantaged by the lack of marital status, and that justice is possible for them too. “There are, nearly every day, a number of women who complain they have been cheated by a man with the promise of marriage and left with child,” says K. Shanthakumari, president of the Tamil Nadu Federation of Women Lawyers.
However, in most of these cases, the battle seldom reaches the courtroom, and out-of-court settlements are the norm.
“The problem is especially significant in rural areas, where women come to us complaining that they have been jilted by lovers who had promised to marry them,” she adds. In some cases, the plea is to unite them with the man, and in others, comparatively a minority, to get the woman and her family some financial compensation.
But even this attempt to settle out of court does not work very well, and is often just a pathetic attempt to clutch at straws, says U. Vasuki, general secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association in Tamil Nadu. “They come, with family in tow, and say, why don’t you unite us with the man, or simply, just settle that we get an amount from him. But when we begin to hunt for the man in the case, we find that they have no clue to where he lives, or he has provided a false address, and we cannot even trace him. If we explain this to the women, they give up, resigning themselves to their fate.”
Salma, who has served as chairperson of the Tamil Nadu Social Welfare Board, says that sometimes, even at the instance of the Board, the men accused of cheating would refuse to turn up for questioning. “Then we will be left with no option but to turn the case over to the police. Only summons from the police will put the fear in them.” However, in practice, police officers also try to convince both parties involved to go in for an out-of-court settlement, scotching even the rare instance where the woman wants to go to court.
A number of such amorous liaisons happen in situations where women and men work in relative proximity, for instance, in sweatshop-like establishments, throughout the State, Ms. Vasuki explains.
In cases where the woman has ventured out to a police station to file a complaint, the police charge the man only under 419/420 (cheating) of the Indian Penal Code.
“It is 420 whether you steal Rs. 50 or you abandon a woman after offering the promise of marriage. In fact, we at AIDWA have been campaigning for another section under the Indian Penal Court to handle such cases. Given the numbers we have, it is not superfluous to bring in such a section.”
The more recent Domestic Violence Act recognises a ‘live-in’ relationship as a status, and promises the same protection and rehabilitation that a married women can get under this Act to a live-in partner.
“This means the live-in status has been recognised legally, and many young women complaining of being cheated after a pre-marital relationship can actually seek redress under this law,” says Vasanthi Devi, educationist and former chairperson, Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women. The nub of the matter, however, is that not many are aware of this provision.
Tamil Nadu Social Welfare Minister B. Valarmathi says women who have such complaints can approach the District Social Welfare Officer, even if they are hesitant to go to the police station.
Keywords: Justice Karnan judgment, Madras High Court, religious customs, wedding solemnisation, presumption of marriage, marriage formalities, premarital sex, proof of marriage, Justice C.S. Karnan, The Sunday Story, out-of-court settlements, Tamil Nadu Social Welfare Board