The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Experience is an unconventional teacher. While adjourning a case of divorce-cum-settlement between two intransigently opposed spouses, one of the two Supreme Court judges advised the husband to be ever compliant. The secret of a happy married life lies in always agreeing with the wife and doing whatever she asks. The judge’s remarks amused the attending lawyers, especially when he suggested that such advice sprang from a common pool of experience.

It would be humourless to read into this incident anything more than a casual lightening of the atmosphere at the adjournment of a case that must have been acrimonious and long-drawn-out. At the same time, it is impossible to forget that what judges say, even when they are not passing sentence, has a special weight. There is a certain all-married-men-unite kind of flavour in this brand of humour that may make people a little uncomfortable when it comes from a judge. An application for divorce is particularly sensitive, especially from the point of view of gender justice. Funny jibes at the dominating nature of wives — all of whom are portrayed as shrews in the joke — are excavations from that arch old seam of conjugal humour popularly known as the ‘battle of the sexes’. It dates from a time when men still assumed an amused superiority while benignly watching women try to match up. There is no harm in that, for the world has passed that stage. Even then, the all-male quality of the remarks made in court, however lightly, in the context of a divorce case, whatever the truths of it, falls somewhat short of the desired level of comfort. A woman thinking of filing for divorce and who is presumably less belligerent than the wife pictured through the court’s comments, may feel a little insecure about making her complaint. Perhaps cultural reflections in court are inevitable, and humour welcome. But gender justice in word and deed has become somewhat of a minefield.

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