Observing that a wife is not only an 'ardhangini' but also a 'sahadharmini', the Bombay High Court on Thursday appointed a woman as guardian for her husband, who has been comatose for the last two years. The court said that partners in a marriage must support each other, especially in trying times.
A bench of Justices Ujjal Bhuyan and Milind Jadhav, while appointing the woman as guardian, also ordered the Maharashtra State Legal Services Authority (MSLSA) to monitor the functioning of the woman.
"According to Hindu Vedic philosophy, marriage is a 'sanskar' or sacrament. What is essentially contemplated is a union of two souls. The eternal being is composed of two halves i.e. the man and the woman. Both the halves are equal and one half is incomplete without the other," Justice Bhuyan said.
The bench further said that a husband and wife are considered "equal partners".
"As long as the wife survives, one half of the husband survives. Ancient Hindu tradition says that a man's life can never be complete without a wife i.e., his 'ardhangini' or his better half. A wife is not only considered to be 'ardhangini' but also referred to as 'sahadharmini'," the judges observed.
The bench said that a Hindu woman is associated with her husband in the journey of life for fulfilment and for attainment of all goals. "She is also referred to as 'sahayogini', co-operating with her husband in all his activities, as well as a 'sahakarmini', which means having an equal share in the actions of her husband. Together, they are referred as 'dampati'," the judges said.
"In Manusmriti, Manu had declared the wife as not just 'patni' but 'dharmapatni', meaning thereby that under dharma she is under obligation to discharge and perform all duties of her husband," the bench added.
The judges were dealing with a plea filed by a city woman, seeking her appointment as a guardian to her husband, who is in a vegetative state from 2018. She claimed that her husband, a businessman, is now unable to even sign the bank or financial documents but the family, comprising of two children and an old mother, needs money for survival.
The woman, accordingly urged the judges to declare her as the guardian so that she could sign bank and other business related documents on behalf of her husband.
The bench, while considering her contentions, referred to a Supreme Court ruling and said, "Life is made up of good times and bad, and the bad times can bring with them terrible illnesses and extreme hardships. Partners in a marriage must weather these storms."
"There can be no manner of doubt that conceptually the wife can be said to be best-suited to be the guardian of her husband who is under a state of incapacity or disability on account of being in a comatose condition or vegetative state," Justice Bhuyan said.
In their 22-page order, the bench further noted that the couple had been married since last 20 years.
"Twenty years is a long enough period to judge stability of a relationship, more so in the backdrop of the wife coming forward to assume guardianship of her husband, who is lying in a comatose state. Though in today's world a stray case of foul play cannot be ruled out, it will be wrong on our part to take such a jaundiced view of any claim made by a wife to guardianship of her husband who is lying in a vegetative state," the judges held.