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In an order with societal implications, the Madras HC has asked the centre and states numerous questions about whether certain TV shows have stimulated an increase in extramarital relationships

By R Ramasubramanian in Chennai   

In an interesting development with deeper consequences, the Madras High Court has asked both the central and state governments to find out if exposure to television mega serials, among other things, is responsible for the increase in extramarital relationships and the resultant spurt in murders, attempted murders, abductions, assaults, and the like. The Court also wanted to know whether economic independence of couples, the internet, sexual dysfunction, social media, westernisation and lack of quality time for the family were also responsible for the increase in extramarital relationships. The Court ordered notices to both the central and state governments, and posted the case for further hearing to June.

A division bench of the Court headed by Justice N Kirubakaran and comprising Justice Abdul Quddhose passed these orders. This was done after quashing a detention order passed under the “much misused Goondas Act by the authorities of Tamil Nadu” against a person who was allegedly connected with a murder case which, in turn, was related to an extramarital affair.

The bench said: “Extramarital relationships have become a dangerous social evil nowadays. Many heinous crimes including ghastly murders, assaults and kidnappings are committed because of clandestine relationships and they are alarmingly increasing day-by-day. Most of the killings are either by husbands or wives to eliminate his or her cheating life partner, the paramour, and shockingly, even children. Moreover murders are being committed either by husband or wife to continue the relationship with the paramour.”

It further said: “Marriage in India was based on love, faith, trust and legitimate expectations. The marital relationship was considered to be sacred. However, what were to be sacred were dangerously fast becoming scary and shattering families due to outside conjugal relationship, and therefore to adjudicate the said issue of extramarital relationships between men and women, this court suo motu impleads the Union of India, represented by its Secretary, Ministry of Family Welfare, New Delhi, and the state of Tamil Nadu, represented by its Secretary, Ministry of Home Department as respondents.” The bench then framed 20 questions for both the central and state governments to respond to.

The bench seemed cautious about the whole exercise when it said: “In view of the spurt in offences, especially murders due to extramarital affairs, it was the bounden duty of this court to address the issue. In an effort to find out the reasons and find ways and means to address the extramarital relationship and to prevent/reduce the related offences, queries are being raised by this court. Therefore, the queries are neither opinion nor the findings or conclusions of this court.”

Among the 20 queries the Court asked were the following:

(a) How many murders took place in Chennai as well as Tamil Nadu and India in the past 10 years due to extramarital affairs?

(b) How many offences like suicide, kidnapping and assault, other than murder, were committed due to illicit intimacy in Chennai, Tamil Nadu and in India in the past 10 years?

(c) Is it a fact that television mega serials and cinemas are major reasons for the increase in scandalous relationships in our country?

(d) Do TV serials and cinemas invariably give a clue to the people involved in a clandestine relationship to commit offences, such as murder and kidnapping?

(e)  Are spouses increasingly engaging paid killers to get rid of their life partners?

(f)  Does the spurt in scandalous affairs due to the internet, which offers platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, give many opportunities for strangers to get connected?

(g) Is the increase in clandestine relationships due to westernisation of our culture and way of life?

(h) Is the breaking up of the joint family system and formation of the nucleus family responsible for the increase in extramarital relationships?

(i) Why are central and state governments not constituting an expert committee headed by a retired Supreme Court judge/High Court judge, consisting of psychologists, psychiatrists, andrologists, neurologists, physicians, social activists and NGOs working for safeguarding the families to study and analyse the reasons for this menace?

(j) Why are the concerned authorities not constituting family counselling centres to give counselling to spouses in every district?

Surprisingly, the reactions to the bench’s orders were varied. P Sundararajan, an advocate and a psychologist, told India Legal: “In my view, this is judicial overreach. The high courts and the Supreme Court are supposed to give correct interpretations of written legislation. They cannot and should not create legislation. The concept and practice of counselling is a science and not magic. Through counselling, you cannot solve all issues. We have to understand that the existing social structure is one of the major reasons for the present-day problems. As for extramarital affairs, this is an issue existing in all societies since time immemorial.”

He added: “This tendency of developing relationships outside the institution of marriage is individualistic and psychological. So the judiciary should keep away from it and allow the existing social structure to solve the problem, if at all it is a major problem. The motives of the bench are noble, but it cannot overstretch itself.”

BJ Ajitha, an advocate practising in the Madras High Court, told India Legal: “Though the motives are noble, courts can only speak through their orders. So we have to wait and watch how the questions and answers that will be given will be used for the betterment of society. Courts should also understand the position of women and their rights. The basic structure of our society must also be taken into cognisance while dealing with such matters.

A retired family court judge who did not want to be named said: “The apex court’s ruling decriminalising adultery has also become an added factor for extramarital affairs. Its decision in abrogating a British legacy law like adultery was mainly on the point that the said law punishes only a man and not a woman. So it was on the ground that an over 100-year-old law was
gender-specific and discriminatory and thus the Supreme Court quashed it. But that has become one of the reasons for adultery growing. Also, the bench raised 20 queries. But there is another query: Is the Supreme Court’s decision to decriminalise adultery one of the reasons for extra­marital affairs growing these days?”

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