Current Affairs (19th July 2021)
- In the coming week, the Supreme Court is expected to begin hearing a fresh challenge to the provision allowing restitution of conjugal rights under Hindu personal laws. In 2019, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court had agreed to hear the pleas.
What is the provision under challenge?
- Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, which deals with restitution of conjugal rights, reads: “When either the husband or the wife has, without reasonable excuse, withdrawn from the society of the other, the aggrieved party may apply, by petition to the district court, for restitution of conjugal rights and the court, on being satisfied of the truth of the statements made in such petition and that there is no legal ground why the application should not be granted, may decree restitution of conjugal rights accordingly.”
What are conjugal rights?
- Conjugal rights are rights created by marriage, i.e. right of the husband or the wife to the society of the other spouse.
- The law recognises these rights— both in personal laws dealing with marriage, divorce etc, and in criminal law requiring payment of maintenance and alimony to a spouse.
- Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act recognises one aspect of conjugal rights — the right to consortium and protects it by allowing a spouse to move court to enforce the right.
- The concept of restitution of conjugal rights is codified in Hindu personal law now, but has colonial origins and has genesis in ecclesiastical law.
- Similar provisions exist in Muslim personal law as well as the Divorce Act, 1869, which governs Christian family law.
Incidentally, in 1970, the United Kingdom repealed the law on restitution of conjugal rights.
How can a case under Section 9 be filed?
- If a spouse refuses cohabitation, the other spouse can move the family court seeking a decree for cohabitation.
- If the order of the court is not complied with, the court can attach property. However, the decision can be appealed before a High Court and the Supreme Court.
- Normally, when a spouse files for divorce unilaterally, the other spouse files for restitution of conjugal rights if he or she is not in agreement with the divorce.
- The provision is seen to be an intervention through legislation to strike a conciliatory note between sparring spouses.
Why has the law being challenged?
- The law is being challenged now on the main grounds that it violative of the fundamental right to privacy.
- The plea by two law students argues that a court-mandated restitution of conjugal rights amounted to a “coercive act” on the part of the state, which violates one’s sexual and decisional autonomy, and right to privacy and dignity.
- In 2019, a nine-judge Bench of the Supreme Court recognised the right to privacy as a fundamental right.
- Although the provision of restitution of conjugal rights has been upheld by the Supreme Court earlier, legal experts have pointed out that the nine-judge Bench’s landmark verdict in the privacy case set the stage for potential challenges to several laws such as criminalisation of homosexuality, marital rape, restitution of conjugal rights, the two-finger test in rape investigations.
- Although the law is ex-facie (‘on the face if it’) gender-neutral since it allows both wife and husband to seek restitution of conjugal rights, the provision disproportionately affects women.
- Women are often called back to marital homes under the provision, and given that marital rape is not a crime, leaves them susceptible to such coerced cohabitation.
- It will also be argued whether the state can have such a compelling interest in protecting the institution of marriage that it allows a legislation to enforce cohabitation of spouses.
What has the court said on the law earlier?
- In 1984, the Supreme Court had upheld Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act, holding that the provision “serves a social purpose as an aid to the prevention of break-up of marriage”.
- Leading up to the Supreme Court intervention, two High Courts — those of Andhra Pradesh and Delhi — had ruled differently on the issue. A single-judge Supreme Court Bench of Justice settled the law.
Israeli spyware Pegasus
- In 2019, the popular messaging platform WhatsApp was used to spy on journalists and human rights activists in India earlier that year.
- The surveillance was carried out using a spyware tool called Pegasus, developed by an Israeli firm, the NSO Group.
- WhatsApp sued the NSO Group in a federal court in San Francisco, accusing it of using WhatsApp servers in the United States and elsewhere “to send malware to approximately 1,400 mobile phones and devices (‘Target Devices’) for the purpose of conducting surveillance of specific WhatsApp users (‘Target Users’).
- The surveillance was carried out “between in and around April 2019 and May 2019” on users in 20 countries across four continents, WhatsApp said in its complaint.
- WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, is the world’s most popular messaging app, with more than 1.5 billion users worldwide. About a quarter of those users — more than 400 million, or 40 crore — are in India, WhatsApp’s biggest market.
- The NSO Group is a Tel Aviv-based cyber-security company that specialises in “surveillance technology” and claims to help governments and law enforcement agencies across the world fight crime and terrorism.
What is Pegasus?
- All spyware do what the name suggests — they spy on people through their phones.
- Pegasus works by sending an exploit link, and if the target user clicks on the link, the malware or the code that allows the surveillance is installed on the user’s phone. (A presumably newer version of the malware does not even require a target user to click a link.) Once Pegasus is installed, the attacker has complete access to the target user’s phone.
- Pegasus can “send back the target’s private data, including passwords, contact lists, calendar events, text messages, and live voice calls from popular mobile messaging apps”.
- The target’s phone camera and microphone can be turned on to capture all activity in the phone’s vicinity, expanding the scope of the surveillance.
- The malware can also access email, SMS, location tracking, network details, device settings, and browsing history data. All of this takes place without the target user’s knowledge.
- Other key features of Pegasus, according to the brochure are: ability to access password-protected devices, being totally transparent to the target, leaving no trace on the device, consuming minimal battery, memory and data so as to not arouse suspicion in more alert users, a self-destruct mechanism in case of risk of exposure, and ability to retrieve any file for deeper analysis.
- Moon wobble is expected to lead to more flooding here on Earth in the middle of the next decade.
What is wobble?
- It is a regular oscillation, and it is one of many factors that can either exacerbate rising sea levels or counteract them, alongside other variables like weather and geography.
- Rising temperatures caused by greenhouse gas emissions are not the only cause of higher flood risks, and there are many variables that push and pull at ocean levels like the moon wobble.
- This wobble will heighten high tides in the middle of the 2030s, but it also showed that this prediction does not apply uniformly to every coastline everywhere.
Where does this wobble come from?
- High tides on this planet are caused mostly by the pull of the moon’s gravity on a spinning Earth. On most beaches, you would see two high tides every 24 hours.
- The moon also revolves around the Earth about once a month, and that orbit is a little bit tilted. The moon’s orbital plane around the Earth is at an approximate 5-degree incline to the Earth’s orbital plane around the sun.
- Because of that, the path of the moon’s orbit seems to fluctuate over time, completing a full cycle — sometimes referred to as a nodal cycle — every 18.6 years.
- At certain points along the cycle, the moon’s gravitational pull comes from such an angle that it yanks one of the day’s two high tides a little bit higher, at the expense of the other. This does not mean that the moon itself is wobbling, nor that its gravity is necessarily pulling at our oceans any more or less than usual.
- High-tide flooding related to climate change is expected to break records with increasing frequency over the next decade, and people who want to accurately forecast that risk have to work with a lot of noisy data, including weather patterns, astronomical events and regional tidal variation.
- The moon wobble is part of that noise, but it has always maintained its own slow, steady rhythm.
What is the effect of wobble?
- The effect of the wobble could cause high tide levels at a beach to oscillate by 1 or 2 inches over the course of its long cycle.
- It just kind of raises the baseline. And the more your baseline is raised, the smaller weather event need to cause a flooding event.