'Not making tea for husband no provocation for assault'

Not making tea no provocation for husband to assault wife: Bombay High Court says wife 'not chattel or object'

The succumbed to her injuries after being in the hospital for about a week

Bombay High Court. Credit: iStock Photo

Upholding a 35-year-old man's conviction for assaulting his wife, the Bombay High Court has said the wife's refusal to make tea for her husband could not be accepted as a provocation for him to assault her and observed that wife is "not a chattel or an object".

In an order passed earlier this month, Justice Revati Mohite Dere said "marriage, ideally, is a partnership based on equality". But, notions of patriarchy and the idea that the woman is a man's property still prevail in society, leading a man to think that his wife is his "chattel", the court observed.

The HC also said the testimony of the couple's 6-year-old daughter inspires confidence and cannot be disbelieved.

Also read: Skin-to-skin contact verdict: SC sends notice to Bombay HC

The court upheld the conviction and 10 years' imprisonment awarded to Santosh Atkar (35), a resident of Pandharpur in Solapur district, by a local court in 2016.

He was found guilty on the charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

As per the order, Atkar and his wife had been having disputes for some time.

On the day of the incident in December 2013, his wife insisted on going out without making a cup of tea for him.

The man then struck her with a hammer, injuring her grievously.

As per the case details and testimony of the couple's daughter, Atkar then cleaned the spot of the crime, gave his wife a bath and took her to the hospital.

She succumbed to her injuries after being in the hospital for about a week.

The defence argued that Atkar had been provoked into committing the crime because his wife refused to make tea.

The HC, however, rejected the argument and held that there existed adequate evidence, including testimony of the man's daughter, to prove the charges against him.

"The deceased, by refusing to make tea for the appellant (Atkar), by no stretch of imagination, can be said to have offered grave and sudden provocation for the appellant to assault her, much less, such a brutal assault," it said.

"It would not be out of place to observe that a wife is not a chattel or an object," the HC said.

Such cases reflect the imbalance of gender and skewed patriarchy, the socio-cultural milieu one has grown up in, which often seeps into a marital relationship, it said.

The court said an imbalance of gender roles exists in society, where the wife is expected to do all the household chores.

"Emotional labour in a marriage is also expected to be done by the wife. Coupled with these imbalances in the equation, is the imbalance of expectation and subjugation," Justice Mohite Dere said.

Social conditions of women also make them handover themselves to their spouses, she said.

"Thus, men, in such cases, consider themselves as primary partners and their wives, chattel," the judge said.

She said it is unfortunate that such a "medieval notion" of the wife being the husband's property still exists, and the wife is expected to do what her husband wished her to do.

"Thus, the submission of the learned counsel for the appellant that the deceased by refusing to make tea for the appellant offered grave and sudden provocation, is ludicrous, clearly untenable and unsustainable and as such deserves to be rejected," the HC said while dismissing the man's appeal against his conviction and sentence.

The defence also raised questions on the testimony of the couple's daughter, saying it was recorded after a delay of some days and it could not be believed.

But, the high court rejected the argument and said, "Her testimony inspires confidence and cannot be disbelieved. There is nothing in the cross-examination of this witness to disbelieve her presence in the house at the relevant time."

She (the daughter) is a natural witness, who woke up on hearing the quarrel between her parents and witnessed the assault on her mother by her father, and saw her father clean the spot soon thereafter, the court added. 

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