Wife’s Refusal To Make Tea No Reason to Hit Her, Court Tells Husband She Is Not An Object

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In 2013 a man killed his wife with a hammer because she refused to make a cup of tea for him. Today the Bombay High Court ruled in favour of the woman saying she “not a chattel or an object.” Using this case, the court highlighted the “imbalance of gender” in Indian marriages, saying the wife as husband’s property is a “medieval notion.”

Santosh Atkar, sentenced to ten years of prison when his wife succumbed to her injuries, recently filed an appeal in court against his conviction. However, Justice Revati Mohite Dere, earlier this month, upheld his sentence, saying his justification of provocation to assault, “much less such a brutal assault,” was “ludicrous.”

It’s enraging and humbling to know that our courts of law still have to spoon feed to an almost obtuse section of the public the painfully simple matter that a woman’s refusal to make tea is not provocation for assault. The fight to get there is ongoing, but the horizons of equal marriages built on mutual respect and decency are invisibly far in the distance.

Refusal To Make Tea: One Fight Out Of A Million

It indeed is also “ludicrous” that situations as this still exist, and thus, require to be addressed as such. While it reveals much about how layered the subject of equality is – wherein maximum layers remain to be peeled back wholly – it also represents the extent of the spectrum upon which women are fighting their battles.

The wife’s refusal to make tea, in this case, may or may not have come as a directed warcry against patriarchy. But the reaction it invoked from the husband is revelatory of a world whose tectonic plates are shifting at rates, speeds, levels incommensurate with each other.

Wife’s Refusal To Make Tea No Reason to Hit Her, Court Tells Husband She Is Not An Object

At one end, lies a society where women are engaging intellectually and professionally to prove their mettle in menacingly male-dominated workplaces. And on the other end are women, whose brave household resiliences that come through in the odd refusal to make tea are met with death.

In between those two ends, lie a million other mutinies – some heard, most others unheard.

Marriages Are More Than Chai And Compromise

“Marriage ideally is a partnership based on equality… Such cases, reflect the imbalance of gender – skewed patriarchy, the socio-cultural milieu one has grown up in, which often seeps into a marital relationship,” the judgment in this case rightly outlined, also bringing notice to how both emotional and physical labours in the household fall in women’s domains.

And where entire universes pivot on it – from the time a potential bride brings out a tray for the in-laws who come to see her till the time she, as a wife, is tasked with toiling in the kitchen over endless cups to serve the guest – tea has been a measure of a woman’s worth, within and without Indian marriages for years.

A refusal to make tea then is counted among the very dereliction of her duty as a woman, a question of her womanhood, a wound to her entire identity as anything.

Refusal to make tea: Why is it seen as an assault on manhood?

What is this, if not “subjugation,” as the HC notes? How did a simple genderless activity of refreshment as making tea transform into the monstrously unequal division of labour between man and woman? Why should a refusal to make tea come to be an assault on the male ego so much so that it beckons real assault?

Though infuriating that the most simple designs of equality – in marriage, in relationships, in gender – have to be spelled out in courts for the unknowing public to know, it’s probably in empowering judgments like the Bombay HC’s that you know slowly but surely, we’re headed towards some iota of progress. Even if spoon by spoon.

Views expressed are the author’s own.