30 years on, child bride will be paid Rs. 500 a month

Mumbai: After a protracted legal battle for over three decades, a Pune woman will finally get a paltry sum of Rs 500 as monthly maintenance from her estranged husband. It was at a tender age of ten that she was married to a 30-year-old. A year later, she was compelled to leave her matrimonial home.

The high court has directed the estranged husband, who is now 60, to pay arrears of the maintenance dues to his wife, who is now 40, within a period of two weeks. The pronouncement was made by a single-judge bench of Justice Mridula Bhatkar while hearing the plea of this woman, who claimed to have been a victim of cruelty and harassment.

Justice Bhatkar, in this important order, held that there was no requirement for a woman to depose and bring on record any evidence to show that she had been driven out of her matrimonial home. The judge further ruled that the very fact that she walked out on her husband showed that she was neglected and hence was constrained to leave the matrimonial house.

“It is not required for a woman to depose that she was driven out of the house by the husband. Due to physical assault or unbearable mental harassment, if she is compelled to leave the house of her husband, then it is not a voluntary withdrawal from his company. Instead, it is to be considered as neglect or refusal on the part of the husband to maintain his wife,” Justice Bhatkar ruled.

According to the wife, who was the daughter of a gardener, she was married off to her father’s employer before 1990. She claims to have left the matrimonial house within one-and-a-half years of her marriage, due to constant harassment and physical assault by the husband. After getting separated from the husband, who subsequently got married to another woman, the petitioner-wife had sought maintenance in 1993. The trial court had rejected her plea but the Pune Sessions Court directed the husband to pay her Rs 500 as monthly maintenance.

The husband, while opposing the plea, highlighted discrepancies in his wife’s statements and also the other witnesses, regarding her age at the time of their marriage.While considering the material on record, Justice Bhatkar noted that almost all the parties involved in the matter were illiterate and from rural Maharashtra.

“The trial judge could not get the pulse while appreciating evidence in the present matter and has taken a very technical and pedantic view, which is not expected in matters of maintenance, but a gender-friendly approach is required,” Justice Bhatkar said. “In such cases, a judge needs to be sensitive enough to know the social fibre of rural people in India.

The wife is not educated and has deposed about her plight after the marriage. She was beaten up and harassed by her husband after marriage and he insisted she should give him a divorce. Therefore, she left her husband,” Justice Bhatkar noted. The judge accordingly directed the husband to pay the maintenance and its arrears from the date of filing the application within two weeks.

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