The Indian Supreme Court has struck a firm blow against skin colour bias. It has confirmed a two-year jail term for a man found guilty of driving his wife to suicide by constantly taunting her on her dark complexion.
It ruled that tormenting one by calling her "black" amounted to severe mental torture and rejected the husband's plea such remarks were not of the order that could make one end one's life.
The court said derogatory and contemptuous remarks about a woman's dark complexion could be worse than physical torture in the case of sensitive persons.
Syed Fathima from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu had immolated herself in August 1999, within two months of their marriage at that, unable as she was to put up with the relentless ridicule by her husband Farook Batcha.
In her dying declaration, Fathima blamed her husband squarely for her desperate step.
A Madurai sessions court as well as Madras High Court found the husband guilty under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (cruelty to women in matrimonial home) and sentenced him to two years of imprisonment. Batcha then appealed to the apex court, but in vain, as it has turned out now.
The order from a Bench comprising Justices Altamas Kabir and J M Panchal marks a new sensitivity towards skin-related prejudice, quite common in the country, reports the Times of India.
While the court and legislature have reacted strongly to caste-based discriminations, and lately even against gender bias, the colour "handicap" has not engaged their attention so far.