Posted by My Nation on April 7th, 2008
New Delhi: For a society often seen to reflect a deeply ingrained bias for “fairness”, a Supreme Court ruling sentencing a man to two years in jail for driving his wife to suicide over repeated taunts over her “dark” complexion will serve as both a warning and a mirror to its uglier traits.
The apex court was firm that ridiculing a wife by calling her “black” amounted to severe mental torture. It rejected the husband’s plea that mere remarks about his spouse’s complexion could not be taken into consideration as they did not amount to mental torture and so the conclusion that this drove her to commit suicide was erroneous.The court said derogatory and contempuous remarks about a woman’s dark complexion, which could be worse than physical torture for a sensitive person, caused enough mental trauma to drive the accused’s wife to take the extreme step.
This order on Friday from a Bench comprising Justices Altamas Kabir and J M Panchal for the first time marks a new sensitivity towards a discrimination that has often been so common that it is not even considered as out of the ordinary. While the court and legislature have acted against caste-based and, lately against gender-based prejudices, the colour handicap had not engaged its attention so far.
The SC intervention on Friday may be a salutary lesson in a country which despite its claim to be at the vanguard of the global fight against racial apartheid, remains acutely colour conscious. This colour preference has been embossed onto the popular consciousness through Bollywood with its songs often in praise of the “chand sa mukhda” and “gore gaal”.
So high are societal pressures that creams and therapies promising colour correction sell briskly. The fairness creams market is as big as Rs 800 crore in India. In the facts of the case, Syed Fathima, within two months of her marriage to Farook Batcha in August 1999, got so distressed with the constant bickering and quarrels in her matrimonial home because of her dark complexion that she finally decided to end her life by pouring kerosene and setting herself alight.
In her dying declaration, she stated that since her complexion was dark, her husband did not like her and there were frequent quarrels. A day after giving the statement, she died in hospital. A Madurai sessions court as well as the Madras High Court found that the husband was guilty under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (cruelty to women in matrimonial home) and sentenced him to two years imprisonment. Batcha appealed against the HC judgment in the Supreme Court.