Popular culture

What the High Court of Kerala must consider – marriage and its place in society is not set in stone

In his book, See like a feminist, academic Nivedita Menon recounts a story she heard from her mother: “Her brother, my maternal uncle, when she was eight years old in the early 1940s, was studying his English primer, swinging from back and forth, muttering aloud, “Family means wife and children, family means wife and children.” Their grandmother, hearing it, was appalled. She raged all over the house: “Is this the kind of Western nonsense they teach kids in school now? But family means sisters and their children… no wonder tharavadus are collapsing one by one…'” For Menon’s great-grandmother, the “tharavadu was the natural institution; it was the patriarchal nuclear family that was the bizarre Western practice”.

So what exactly is the High Court of Kerala talking about when, in its recent order, pronounced on matrimonial appeal by a man seeking a divorce, does it place marriage at the heart of the family and describe it as having been the case since “time immemorial”? As the story of Menon illustrates, not so long ago, even in some communities in Kerala, the man-woman-children family was considered an aberration.

The merits of the case and the decision itself are not a concern here. The real problem is the heavy moralization of the upper judiciary on non-marital relationships, which only obscures an important observation that the divisional bench of Justices A Muhammed Mustaque and Sophy Thomas made about the nature of marriage: “Mere quarrels , ordinary clothes and the tearing of marital relations or the occasional outburst of certain emotional feelings cannot be treated as cruelties justifying a divorce. Like everything on this earth, marriage too is subject to erosion. Even the happiest of marriages is not the stable state of happiness and togetherness that popular culture sells it, and can often become the state that Anton Chekhov probably had in mind when he wrote: “If you fear loneliness, do not marry. A marriage changes as the people involved change, subject to internal and external factors. Staying together until death do them part takes a lot of emotional work that individuals may or may not experience over time. So far, understandable.

What is annoying, however, is the reference to the “consumer culture of use and discard” and the unnecessary lectures on life relationships that are projected as mere convenience for those wishing to enter and leave relationships.

As mores change, society evolves. Marriage, perhaps, still serves a purpose for many, but for a growing number of people – especially women – it is an outdated institution that binds them to gender/sexual roles they reject. Granted, there are now many marriages where this is not the case, but these are very troubling exceptions to the norm. In such a scenario, it is natural for the idea of ​​family to broaden to include cohabiting relationships and other types of arrangements, including non-romantic arrangements, that work better for those involved. This is the reality that the Supreme Court, in an order issued last month in a case related to maternity leave, has already accepted – and is, in fact, pushing for its wider acceptance. It’s time for the rest of the judiciary to catch up and avoid indulging in a moral panic over the state of marriage.

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