How Indian courts define a married woman’s place

In defining ‘cruelty’ in divorce cases—wives who don’t wear a mangalsutra or prioritise careers or want to live separately from their in-laws or do not make tea—Indian courts often fall back on stereotypes of the role of wives in marriage. My report with Surbhi Karwa for Article14.

Illustration: Tara Anand for Article14

Momita was visiting her grandmother at 7 pm on 13 January 2018 when Alamin Miah dropped by and asked her to step outside. Then, he threw acid on her face. The attack left her with third-degree burns on her forehead and eyelids and second-degree deep burns on her face and right shoulder. The damage and disfigurement are permanent.

Alamin Miah is Momita’s husband.

They had married in March 2017 but within days Alamin began beating Momita for failing to bring a dowry of Rs 10,000. Five months later, he dropped her off at her father’s house. When he changed his mind some weeks later and asked her to return, she refused.

A sessions judge gave Alamin the maximum sentence under the law against acid violence: imprisonment for life and a Rs 100,000 fine payable to Momita. For violating section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, he was sentenced to another three years in jail with an additional Rs 5,000 fine.

Alamin appealed against the decision. On 20 July 2020, a two-judge bench of the Tripura High Court reduced the sentence, citing Momita’s refusal to return to her matrimonial home, the same home where she was being beaten by her husband, as a mitigating factor.

The judges found Momita’s testimony about the acid attack “cogent and consistent”. Yet, they observed, “His reluctant wife was not willing to reunite with him which might have caused a sense of frustration…we cannot overlook this mitigating circumstance.”

Alamin’s sentence was reduced from life to 10 years, the minimum under the law. The fine payable to his wife was also brought down from Rs one lakh to Rs 25,000.

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