In the tense court room as the bench led by the Chief Justice of India heard Akhila alias Hadiya, there were some light moments when she asked the judges if her husband Shefin Jahan could be her guardian during her house surgeoncy at the medical college in Salem, and Justice D Y Chandrachud replied that “no husband can be the guardian of his wife. At least, I am not”.
Amid peals of laughter, Justice Chandrachud told senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing Shefin Jahan who had challenged the annulment of his marriage: “Please explain to her, wife is not chattel. She is an individual entitled to her own status in society. I think she needs to understand that.”
Roughly an hour and half into the hearing, the judges indicated that they would hear the matter again Tuesday morning and asked Sibal to assist the court in deciding whether it should first talk to the woman or decide on other issues brought before it and then take a call on when to talk to her.
Sibal who wanted the court to hear the woman Monday itself expressed helplessness: “How can I respond to an NIA report? To what will I respond? Then your lordships can take a decision without hearing us.”
Sibal’s co-counsel Indira Jaising said the court must hear the woman Monday itself. She said this sort of a treatment would not have been meted out had Hadiya been a man.
This elicited a loud “no, no” chorus from the bench with Justice Chandrachud remarking “man or woman, we would place on the same pedestal”. Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra sought to know why Jaising was making it a gender justice issue.
Jaising stuck to her stand and asked the court not to trivialise what she had said. At this, the CJI told her: “Mam, you are trivialising the issue… it’s absolutely unfair on your part.”
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When Sibal raised objections again, Justice Chandrachud reminded him: “Mr Sibal, your freedoms give you liberty not to assist us. But the Constitution does not give us the liberty to abdicate our constitutional obligation. You have the liberty to walk out of court, we can’t. We are sworn by our oath of office.”
The court subsequently interacted with Hadiya and allowed her to resume her homoeopathy house surgeoncy in Salem. The matter will now come up for hearing in the third week of January.