HC Deb 18 March 1887 vol 312 cc717-8
MR. COZENS-HARDY (Norfolk, N.)

asked the "Under Secretary of State for India, "Whether his attention has been called to the case of Rukmabai, a defendant in an action, pending in the Bombay High Court, for the restitution of conjugal rights; whether this lady, when only a child of 11, was married without her consent; whether she has since received a high English education and developed considerable literary power; whether, while she is a lady of refinement, her nominal husband is a labourer earning only 10 rupees a month, unable to support her, and suffering from consumption; whether the Judges of the High Court have ordered her to join her nominal husband within a month, and whether she will be liable to be sent to prison for six mouths if she refuses to do so; and, whether the Government propose to take any action to prevent the Courts of Law from being used to compel adult Hindoo women, whose child marriages have never been followed by cohabitation, to live with their nominal husbands?


The proceedings of the Courts in India, which are public, are not officially reported to the Secretary of State. I have thus no means of information not equally open to the hon. Member. It appears from the Indian law reports that Rukmabai when a child of 11 was married with the consent of her guardians to a husband then aged 19. After the marriage she continued to live with her mother, and the marriage was never consummated. Eleven years afterwards the husband called upon his wife to live with him and she refused. I have no reasons to doubt the statements as to the relative positions of the husband and wife implied in the Question. The husband instituted a suit for institution or restitution of conjugal rights. The Court of First Instance held that the suit was not maintainable. This judgment was reversed by the Court of Appeal in March, 18sG, and the case was remanded to the Court of First Instance for a decision on the merits. The decision of this Court appears to have been now given in favour of the husband. How the decision of the Court is to be enforced, and what would be the consequence to the wife disobeying its orders, are questions of Indian Law upon which I must decline to give an opinion. But the wife may appeal to the Court of Appeal against the decision on the merits, and the two judgments of the Court of Appeal—that on the law and on the merits—if given—may be re-viewed by the Privy Council; while the case is thus still pending any consideration such as that suggested in the last paragraph of the Question would be premature.