Over the years, the courts in India have been firm in their decision when Maintenance is sought by a wife against her husband and parents over their children. Married women and parents’ significance is sacrosanct in upholding the sanctity of a family. In a state of financial constrain and poverty, one cannot expect parents and wives to run in search of relatives or neighbours to fill their financial gap. Be it separation with one’s wife or separation with one’s parents after marriage, no matter what, the wife and parents deserve to be in a stable financial condition and to live with dignity.
In a country like India, there exists a great social disparity in the matter of economic resourcefulness between men and women. In such a situation it becomes incumbent upon the male bread earners to keep their dear ones in a stable financial position. Maintenance is a statutory promise guaranteed by the provision under the Criminal Procedure Code and also some other statutory laws. This beneficial legislation reflects the constitutional vision of equality liberty and justice, more particularly social justice to the marginalized section of the society like children, a destitute wife and old and infirm parents.
If approached judicially, rights and remedies come as a surprise when one is aggrieved and deprived of what is rightfully entitled to, but as pointed out by a famed Indian jurist, the one who sleeps over his rights will certainly suffer even if the entitlement tilts toward him or her.
Disdain and disheartenment
I recount a story of a particular woman, who after having a successful marriage for over 10 years had to leave her husband’s house due to differences that crept in the relationship with her husband. Disturbed and disheartened, she came back to her maternal house hoping to find forgiveness but over a period of time, she realized it was a betrayal. Having no clue about her rights and perturbed by what she had gone through, the only option she had and that could save her from the naysayers of her society was to remarry, thereby completely cutting off herself from the legal entitlement and the dignity she deserved.
There are an ample amount of examples in our society, where senior citizens are completely torn off by their sons and daughters by being deprived of not only of love and affection but also financial security. In some cases, we also see children making their parents stay in a dungeon-like room and their properties being forcefully taken away. With the manifestation of all these examples, we can have a fair presumption that the greatest danger in our lives is not just from extraneous factors or by a stranger but sometimes from within the spaces we inhabit and call home.
If we observe carefully, we see isolation, deprivation, and neglect trumping love, care and protection by a person who has the means to secure his/her loved ones. But if we question ourselves, on how far we have been successful in availing these remedies guaranteed under maintenance provision in the state of Sikkim? I am sure that the answer will be in the negative.
Major policy concern or failure in execution
Indian societies have always been proud of the way they treat elderly persons but somewhere the picture has become melancholic and dwindled down the line. Yet, on the other hand, the government has also been pushing on various policy counts to give security to women and parents but to those who do not have any other financial means, they can hardly be benefitted by those policies which have already been paralyzed by red tape.
Parents are the purest souls every child witnesses but as soon their wrinkles appear, the signs of deprivation, isolation and humiliation overshadow care and protection. In one case, an 82-year-old widow who could not handle the constant abuse and irritation from her son and daughter-in-law decided to leave her household and chose to live a lonely life, reeling and whirling until one fine day when she came to know that she could claim financial security from the court. She gathered courage and filed a petition against her son under the provision of the “Maintenance and Welfare of Senior Citizen Act, 2007”. Happy and relieved after it, she realized the silver lining behind leaving her son’s house. To add greater relief, the Delhi High court in another matter has given its verdict that the parents can seek their children’s eviction from any type of property on the ground of non-maintenance and ill-treatment.
On the other hand, a married woman and a divorcee who is not yet remarried are also equally entitled to claim maintenance (financial grant) under Section 125 of CRPC and also under various statutory legislation. The court on several occasions has held that even if the wife is capable of earning, it will not absolve the husband from paying maintenance.
The sordid state of affairs today is that despite parents and wives facing all sorts of problems, these issues find no relevance in our daily discourse. The high and mighty who are well aware of their rights go to court and restores the status quo but those who even do not know about the remedies available are completely left in the dark, with no legal option which ultimately results in parting away with their near ones with no security and further compromising their dignity, financial and mental security.
Pramit Chhetri is a lawyer practising in the Supreme Court of India.
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