India’s top court has denied an octogenarian man the right to divorce his wife of six decades, 27 years after he first applied to dissolve their marriage.
Divorce remains taboo across much of India, with only one in every 100 marriages ending in dissolution, often owing to family and social pressure to sustain unhappy marriages.
Those seeking divorce must get approval from the courts, which typically only grant it if proof of cruelty, violence or undue financial demands is presented.
Nirmal Singh Panesar, 89, married in 1963 but said in filings with India’s notoriously glacial criminal justice system that his relationship had broken down irretrievably in 1984.
That year his wife Paramjit Kaur Panesar, now 82, had refused to move with him to the southern city of Chennai when the Indian Air Force posted him there.
Nirmal first filed for divorce in 1996 on the grounds of cruelty and desertion, granted by a district court in 2000 but overturned later that year after an appeal by Paramjit.
His case took another two decades to make its way before the Supreme Court, which denied the divorce petition despite agreeing their marriage was “beyond salvation”.
“The institution of marriage is still considered to be a pious, spiritual, and invaluable emotional life-net between the husband and the wife in Indian society,” said the court’s judgement, which was published on Thursday.
The judgement said that granting the dissolution would be an “injustice” to Paramjit, who had told the court she did not want to die with the “stigma” of being a divorcee.
She also said she had made all efforts to respect their “sacred relationship” and was still ready to look after her husband in his old age.
The couple have three children together.
Chronic backlogs in India’s criminal justice system mean some cases take decades to reach a resolution.
Around 43.2 million cases were pending before courts across the country, the government said last year.