Women’s rights activists in India have expressed their fury over incendiary comments by a male judge that suggested husbands had the right to beat their wives as long as they provided for them.
Justice K. Bhakthavatsala, a High Court judge in Karnataka state in the southern part of the country, reportedly made the remarks during a court case in which a woman was seeking to divorce her violent husband. The judge apparently told the wife to “adjust” to the harsh realities of her spouse for the sake of their children.
"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?" Bhaktavatsala told the plaintiff, according to The Bangalore Mirror newspaper.
Critics blasted the judge’s declaration as "outrageous and sexist.”
Activists have filed a formal complaint with the state’s chief justice and also introduced an online campaign to condemn the judge and remove him from the bench.
India’s Zee News service reported that more than 500 people signed the online petition asking the Chief Justice of India, S.H. Kapadia, to take action against Bhaktavatsala.
A woman attorney, Pramilla Nesargi, who said she was present in court when the judge issued his remarks, also condemned him.
"The chief justice should transfer [Bhaktavatsala’ or restrain him from hearing cases relating to women's issues," she said.
Donna Fernandes of a local women's rights group called Vimochana, told the BBC: "He should be impeached. His continuance as a judge is unacceptable. Is he trying to defend domestic violence? What is the message he is trying to convey by his statements? We are planning public action to seek his removal.”
In response to the uproar, Bhakthavatsala said his statements were "twisted out of context" and that he never meant to endorse physical violence against women. The Hindu newspaper also noted that the judge had recently condemned a spate of violent attacks on women in the area.
However, Bhakthavatsala has previously made a number of inflammatory comments against women.
Zee News reported that recently he chastised an unmarried woman lawyer for working on a divorce suit, citing that single women were not “qualified” to argue such a case.
The judge’s comments have touched a nerve because domestic violence is believed to be widespread (and under-reported) in India.
All across the width and breadth of India – regardless of religion or social class – women are beaten, stoned, raped, decapitated, murdered, burned, or forced to commit suicide with alarming regularity.
The Delhi-based Centre for Social Research estimates that more than one-third of Indian women between the age of 15 to 49 have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. At least one in seven married or divorced women have suffered serious injury from their husband’s violent abuse.
“Definitely there is a feeling that beating wives is not a big thing,” Madhumita Das at the International Center for Research on Women’s Asia regional office, told the Global Post newspaper. “In most of the cases a woman doesn’t report [the abuse] because of fear.”
Noor Jehan Safia Niaz of the Indian Muslim Women’s Movement, told the Post: “Violence against women has a lot to do with patriarchal values which are not challenged within our educational system. Once deeply engrained it is very difficult to dislodge them.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.