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HAPPY END

Families can be a pain. There is nothing new in this revelation; thousands of lives and innumerable pages of fiction are fettered to this unfortunate truth. Even in India, where the joint family is still thought by many to be economically and socially the most comfortable and the most convenient, courts have been compelled to acknowledge the problems families can create, especially with regard to young married couples. Recently, a young couple on the verge of a divorce case ó filed by the husband ó and dowry harassment and domestic violence cases ó filed by the wife ó have agreed to be reconciled under a Supreme Court mandate that they live away from the husbandís parents, and continue to do so even after the husbandís retirement. The institutional tendency to reconcile warring couples has led courts to instruct them to live apart from their parents earlier, but this may be the first time that the direction includes the period after the husbandís retirement.

It seems to be a happy ending, especially since there is nothing, according to lawyers, in the courtís mandate to stop the couple from living with the husbandís parents later on if they so wish. The really interesting aspect of the case lies in the paradox it exposes within the patriarchal system. The same values that insist on the wifeís duty towards her husbandís family also assume that marriages should not be broken. A reality that includes an unending stream of dowry deaths, sharper awareness about rights, womenís education and so on has forced institutions to accept that in-laws may not be the best thing for a burgeoning relationship between two young people. To negotiate this conflict within the value system, the court now has the help of the Mediation Act, 2012, in force since August last year. The mediation cell brought the husband and wife together in this case. The ending, undoubtedly, is happy, but it is a little strange that a resolution that any thinking adult could have come to had to be made by a court.