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SC grants musician divorce over humiliation

New Delhi, Dec. 27: The Supreme Court has upheld a plea for divorce by U. Shrinivas, a child prodigy who made the little-known mandolin a mainstream instrument in Carnatic and world music, saying false allegations of infidelity or humiliating a spouse in public amounted to “cruelty” and a ground for granting permanent judicial separation.

A two-judge bench said Shrinivas, 43, who burst upon the music world as an 11-year-old and has since been one of the foremost Carnatic musicians, had “clearly deposed about the… consistent ill-treatment” by his estranged wife U. Shree, who had shown “immense dislike” of his “sadhana” in music and “in a way, contempt” for the tradition of teacher and disciple.

Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra said it had also been “graphically” demonstrated that Shree, a veena player, had not shown the “slightest concern” for the “public image” of her husband, an internationally renowned artiste.

The bench said she had made “wild allegations” that her husband’s family wanted to “get him re-married for the greed of dowry” but there was “no iota of evidence on record” to substantiate this.

“This, in fact, is an aspersion not only on the character of the husband but also a maladroit effort to malign the reputation of the family,” the court said.

It dismissed Shree’s appeal that had challenged the findings of a family court and Madras High Court, which had both rejected her plea for restitution of conjugal rights and instead granted divorce to Shrinivas.

The couple have been living separately for about 15 years.

In his petition, Shrinivas had opposed Shree’s plea for restitution of conjugal rights. He said there was total incompatibility in their marital relationship as she found fault with his lifestyle, his daily routine, his likes and dislikes and picked up quarrels on trivial issues.

While she was at Hyderabad, at her parental home, Shrinivas said she spread rumours among relatives and friends regarding his fidelity, character and habits.

He also said Shree had filed her petition only to harass him. The manner in which he had been treated clearly exhibited mental cruelty and, therefore, the said relief should not be granted, Shrinivas said in his petition.

His petition also noted that Shree would hurl abuses and scream when he practised in the presence of his father, who was also his “guru”.

Shrinivas, whose name has become synonymous with the mandolin — a western string instrument that was used only in orchestra, said Shree was expected to show “respect towards elders and to senior artistes”. Yet, she would walk away creating a scene, to his utter embarrassment. Such behaviour totally ruined his public image, he said.

Shree had denied Shrinivas’s allegations. She said she was aware of the traditional values of music, understood the devotion and dedication as she herself played the veena, and claimed that because of her “sacrifice”, her husband gained his reputation and popularity that had enhanced his financial status. But as he rose, he failed to perform his duties as a husband, she claimed.

In fact, his parents and other relatives thought of a second marriage so that he could get an enormous dowry, she said. Shree also claimed she was proud of her husband’s accomplishments.

But the apex court rejected her contentions. “The learned family judge as well as the high court has clearly analysed the evidence and recorded a finding that the wife had treated the husband with mental cruelty. We have no trace of doubt that the finding returned by the family judge which has been given the stamp of approval by the high court relating to mental cruelty cannot be said to be in ignorance of material evidence or exclusion of pertaining materials or based on perverse reasoning.

“In our view, the conclusion on that score clearly rests on proper appreciation of facts and, hence, we concur with the same,” Justice Misra, writing the judgment, said.

The apex court said the husband had proved his case of mental cruelty, which was the foundation for seeking divorce. The bench, however, awarded Shree a permanent alimony of Rs 50 lakh, keeping in view Shrinivas’s status.

The couple had married at Tirupati on November 19, 1994. In 1997, Shree had filed her petition before the family court for restitution of conjugal rights under the Hindu Marriages Act. Shrinivas filed the petition for divorce in 1998.