Women suffer in marriages, why talk about beating: Judge

On August 9, during the hearing of a matrimonial dispute, Karnataka High Court Judge K Bhaktavatsala told a young woman lawyer that she was unfit to argue the matter since she was unmarried. "Family matters should be argued only by married people, not spinsters. You should only watch. Bachelors and spinsters watching family court proceedings will start thinking if there is any need to marry at all. Marriage is not like a public transport system. You better get married and you will get very good experience to argue such cases," he advised her.

Last week, hearing a case between a separated couple, in which the woman accused her husband of regularly beating her, the judge told the woman, "Women suffer in all marriages. You are married with two children, and know what it means to suffer as a woman. Yesterday, there was a techie couple who reconciled for the sake of their child. Your husband is doing good business, he will take care of you. Why are you still talking about his beatings?" He then pointed towards the lady judge Justice B S Indrakala sitting next to him, suggesting to the lawyer, "I know you have undergone pain. But that is nothing in front of what you undergo as a woman. I have not undergone such pain. But madam (Justice Indrakala) has."

These are just two instances of Justice Bhaktavatsala speaking his mind on what he thinks is an acceptable viewpoint on matrimonial issues.

But woman rights groups are not amused. Mumbai-based rights activist Kamayani Bali Mahabal has sent a petition signed by over 500 people to Chief Justice of India S H Kapadia, requesting him to "conduct an inquiry into the remarks passed by the judge and intervene to ensure that there is no miscarriage of justice in all cases relating to women because of such biased views". The petition contains a list of statements made by him in court. These include asking a woman in a matrimonial dispute to ask her father in open court if he had never beaten his wife!

Bali told The Indian Express, "We have sent the petition to the CJI. The judiciary needs to be sensitised on how to deal with woman issues. I am shocked at the comments made by him. Judges are supposed to protect and enforce human rights of citizens, but here we have a judge who seems to be against women rights and is even encouraging them to continue to stay in a violent relationship."

National Commission for Women Chairperson Mamata Sharma agrees: "On one hand we talk of gender equality and on the other we have such statements. Judges should be more careful with what they speak, especially when it comes to issues related to women," she said.

"This is very disturbing. More so, because he is not the only member of the judiciary holding such views. The CJI must intervene," said Flavia Agnes, founder of woman rights group Majlis.

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