Sunday, March 23, 2008

Of Possessions & Obsessions

The recent suicide of a techie, after killing his wife, had me thinking. Apparently, the reason was jealousy- he suspected his wife of an affair. Where do the self stop and the other begin? If one identifies with the other so much that parting would be like tearing of flesh then what is left of self and such identification is possible only if the other allows it. What if the other wants to be free- then the other becomes a possession- which is a cultural construct we are all familiar with especially with regard to women and children in whom we think are bound up lofty ideals like family honour etc which only intensify the chains for people who want to be unbound- a series of perpetuation of the Prometheus myth.

These are the kind of questions which exercise the mind of Isabel Dalhousie- editor of the Review of Applied Ethics, who in Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘ The Careful Use of Compliments has to deal with a whirlpool of emotions from which the only release is death as a complete change of life, the righting of an unfair dismissal by a careful and controlled takeover, the redistribution of inherited and therefore unearned wealth for social justice, all with whimsy and gentle humour, like the protagonist herself.
Talking of cultural constructs, the Law Commission’s recommendation that the age of marriage in the marriage laws be amended to make 18 the age of marriage for both men and women has raised a storm not least being the protest that it would result in under age girls getting married as the social norm is to allow younger girls to marry older boys. The amendment if it comes about will only bring it in line with laws elsewhere in the world. Anyway, our laws will still have an anomaly where child marriage is an offence but the marriage remains valid until revoked! The Supreme Court has added another anomaly to the issue by allowing a live-in partner to inherit a share in the partner’s property, though it only says that the partner would hold it in trust for the legal and absconding wife. The SC was giving the illegitimate children who are legal heirs their share, under the guardianship of the mother, without splitting the first wife’s share as she was not there to claim it. This is equity, but if we were to talk of legal change to accommodate second wives and partners, there would be a storm of protest- iniquitously. Anyway, the Supreme Court can only interpret or strike down law, not legislate when there is already a statute. This is also an artificial barrier of separation of powers that the Supreme Court has erected for itself. Just as in the Gita Hariharan case, the woman was given limited powers, not the right to recognition of the full exercise of powers possible, in the case