Why Madras HC’s 20 questions on 50 shades of extramarital affairs are problematic

The court is very worried because a large percentage of murders are apparently triggered by extra marital affairs. But somewhere, they seem to have lost focus on what exactly the issue is…
Why Madras HC’s 20 questions on 50 shades of extramarital affairs are problematic
Why Madras HC’s 20 questions on 50 shades of extramarital affairs are problematic

The Government of India and Government of Tamil Nadu have been given a strange new homework exercise by the Madras High Court. They each have to answer 20 questions on extramarital affairs by the third week of June, including whether mega TV serials are influencing people in extramarital relationships to commit murder, and whether women ‘mingling with third parties’ in their offices is leading to affairs.

The reason? The Madras High Court bench of Justices N Kirubakaran and Abdul Quddhose have a hunch that extramarital affairs are leading to lots of murders. The bench was hearing a writ petition for the release of a man who is accused in a murder case involving an extra marital affair, and said, “Extra-marital relationship has become a dangerous social evil nowadays. Many heinous crimes including ghastly murders, assaults, kidnappings, etc., are committed because of clandestine relationships and they are alarmingly increasing day-by-day.”

“Marriage in India is based on love, faith, trust and legitimate expectation. The marital relationship is considered to be sacred. However, what is to be sacred is dangerously fast becoming scary shattering families due to outside conjugal relationship,” it observed.

So the court believes that several murders are being committed by people on many sides of extramarital relationships. Well if data supports that hypothesis, fair enough, let’s get the data and figure out what to do from there on. However, the manner in which the court has framed its 20 questions for the governments makes it appear like the court is less worried about the murders and more worried about the morality of these relationships. This despite the court claiming, “the queries are neither opinion nor finding or conclusions of this Court.”

50 shades of extramarital affairs

Perhaps the judges, like writers and editors, hate redundancy. We get that – it’s not pretty to use the same words again and again. However, does that mean synonyms.com has all the answers? Well, perhaps in order to avoid saying ‘extramarital relationship’ repeatedly in the 20 questions and the rest of the judgment, the bench decided to use the following, colourful terms – each, very obviously, filled with moral judgment:

  • Illicit intimacy
  • Immoral relationship
  • Scandalous relationship
  • Clandestine relationship
  • Scandalous affair
  • Illicit affair
  • Illicit connection

Additionally, the court is of the view that extramarital relationships are social evils and a ‘social menace’.

Here’s the thing, sirs. You may hold whatever moral values you please – indeed, my personal ‘moral value’ is to wonder how people have the time and energy for multiple relationships – however, as High Court Justices, what you say holds a lot of weight. And the manner in which you have described these relationships and framed these questions seem to suggest that extramarital affairs somehow justify murder.

Focus on the violence, please

Sirs, in case you forgot, the Supreme Court recently decriminalised adultery. But your 20 questions seem to be geared towards re-criminalising it.

The thing is let’s say the numbers find a correlation between extramarital relationships and murders. Even then, the real problem is the murder – the violence – and not whether people are in affairs or not.

Saying murders are committed by people in extramarital relationships, therefore let’s all focus on stopping ‘illicit’ ‘scandalous’ extramarital relationships, is akin to saying most rapes are committed by men who are known to women, and therefore let’s focus on stopping men and women coming to know each other.

It’s like looking to Mars for solutions to sociological problems.

If people in extramarital relationships are killing their partners and children or vice versa, we must ask the question – why is violence even considered a response to hurt feelings and rejection? And if we – the society, governments, courts, sociologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, whoever – can answer that question, and address that issue, it will be much more useful to a lot more people.

Like women who are killed and maimed and thrown acid at by men who cannot stomach rejection.

Like inter-caste couples who are chased and abducted and killed by parents who cannot digest any challenge to their caste hegemony.

Stop making life difficult for women

In addition, society has already placed enough barriers for working women to grow within their companies and as professionals. Right from having to take on a lion’s share of housework to dealing with sexual harassment at the workplace, the patriarchy continues to stifle women.

So, to insinuate that 'women mingling with their colleagues' is leading to extramarital relationships, will only further weaken the cause of the working woman.

Somehow, these questions seem to look over the fact that having an affair is a choice, whether it is a man or a woman. A workplace setting or economic freedom of women cannot be shown in a bad light for the same.

Oh, and in case you were wondering what the 20 questions are, here's the list:

  1. How many murders took place in Chennai as well as in Tamil Nadu and in India for the past 10 years due to extra-marital affairs? [Yearwise details to be given.]
  2. How many offences like suicide, kidnapping, assault, etc., other than murder were committed due to illicit intimacy in Chennai, Tamil Nadu and in India for the past 10 years?
  3. Whether there is phenomenal increase in the number of offences due to immoral relationship year by year?
  4. Is it a fact that the Mega Television Serials and Cinemas are major reasons for the increase in scandalous relationship in our country?
  5. Whether Mega Television Serials and Cinemas invariably give clue to the people involved in clandestine relationships to commit the offences including murders and kidnapping?
  6. Whether spouses are increasingly engaging paid killers to get rid off their life partners?
  7. Is it a fact that the economic independence of both the spouses is responsible for spurt in extra-marital affairs?
  8. Is it a fact that the increase in illicit relationships is because of sexual dysfunctions or deficiencies of the spouses?
  9. Does the spurt in scandalous affairs due to internet which offers platforms, like, Facebook, Facetime, Whatsapp, Instagram, etc., giving many chances for strangers to get connected?
  10. Whether the increase in clandestine relationship is due to westernisation of our culture and way of life?
  11. Are illicit affairs due to invalidity of men due to their alcohol addiction?
  12. Whether illicit intimacy is due to lack of quality time spent by the spouses with each other, depriving of their emotional, psychological support and physical comfort and pleasure?
  13. Whether better public exposure of women, who rightly broke restrictive customs, and their mingling with third parties in their offices or professions are some of the reasons for clandestine relationship?
  14. Whether breaking away of joint family system and formation of nucleus family are responsible for the increase in extra-marital relationship?
  15. Is it correct to say that non-teaching of moral and ethical values in the schools is primarily responsible for many social evils including illicit affairs?
  16. Is it a fact that scandalous relationships are due to conduct of arranged marriages contrary to the wishes of the bride or bridegroom?
  17. Does mismatch of couples cause illicit intimacy?
  18. What are all the sociological, psychological and economical factors responsible for spurt in extra-marital relationship?
  19. Why not the Central Government and the State Government constitute an Expert Committee headed by a Retired Supreme Court Judge/Retired High Court Judge, consisting of psychologists, psychiatrists, andrologists, neurologists, physicians, social activists, Non-Governmental Organisations who work for safeguarding the families, to study and analyse the reasons for the social menace of extra-marital relationship and find out the reason for increase in illicit relationship/extra-marital relationship and give suggestions/solutions to arrest the evil and prevent connected offences in the interest of famillies/society?
  20. Why not the respondents constitute Family Counselling Centre to give counselling to the spouses in every District?

With inputs from Sanyukta Dharmadhikari and Priyanka Thirumurthy.

Ragamalika Karthikeyan is a journalist who writes about gender, sexuality and the law. Views expressed are the author's own.

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