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Deliberate denial of conjugal rights is cruelty: Mahila court

By A. Subramani

CHENNAI, FEB. 9. Deliberate denial of conjugal rights and denial of a legitimate opportunity for a wife to bear child will amount to mental cruelty, the Mahila Court here has ruled.

S. Vimala, special judge, made the observation after convicting S. Arun and his father Sreedharan for having abetted the former's wife, Malathi, in self-immolation in November 2002, less than 13 months after her marriage.

In his statement to a tahsildar, Arun said he married Malathi only out of his mother's compulsion. He admitted that he beat up his wife for her taking her jewels to her maternal home without his consent.

While Arun, who has never had sexual relationship with his wife, wanted her out of the house, his family members did not want Malathi to go anywhere. Once Sreedharan asked Malathi to give in writing that she would not go to her maternal home without permission from her in-laws. Arun made an endorsement, saying he would not ask her to leave the house.

Driven to "choose between two equally disagreeable alternatives," Malathi ended her life, the judge said. In her dying declaration, she clearly mentioned that her husband alone was responsible for her death. She gave a clean chit to her mother-in-law, stating she treated her well.

Finding Arun and his father guilty of harassing Malathi for dowry, among other things, Ms. Vimala sentenced them to rigorous imprisonment for eight and three years and slapped a fine of Rs. 5,000 and 1,000.

`Not contractual'

The judge said, "marriage is based on mutual trust, affection, understanding and confidence. Though marital relationship can be brought to an end just like a contract, even day-to-day living inside a house cannot be on a contractual basis."

`Tongue-tied,

tight-lipped'

Referring to the defence argument that Malathi did not complain of harassment to anyone, Ms. Vimala said: "Available evidence indicates that unless silence is her mother tongue, she would not be able to survive in the matrimonial home. She was expected to be tongue-tied, close-mouthed and tight-lipped and live like a deaf and dumb. It definitely amounts to mental cruelty."

Rejecting the defence stand that Malathi's handwriting was not verified to ascertain the genuineness of the dying declaration, Ms. Vimala said there was enough evidence to show that it was not a fabricated document. "The court cannot be indifferent to the illegality committed in the investigation."

The judge referred to the advice given by Malathi's father, a retired railway clerk, that the proper place for a married woman was her husband's home, and said: "Such kind of compulsions on the part of parents gives an opportunity for the in-laws to commit cruelty to their daughter-in-law."

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