Case Summary: Sarla Mudgal, President, Kalyani and Ors. Vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors.

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Title of case : Sarla Mudgal, President, Kalyani and Ors. Vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors.

Citation : AIR 1995 SC 1531

Court : Supreme Court of India

Bench : Kuldip Singh and R.M. Sahai

Date Decided: 10th May, 1995

Appellant: Sarla Mudgal, President, Kalyani  and Ors.

Respondent : Union of India (UOI) and Ors.

Facts

  • These are four petitions under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. There are two petitioners in Writ Petition 1079/89. Petitioner 1 is the President of “KALYANI” – a registered society – which is an organisation working for the welfare of needy- families and women in distress.
  • Petitioner 2, Meena Mathur was married to Jitender Mathur on February 27, 1978. Three children (two sons and a daughter) were born out of the wed-lock. In early 1988, the petitioner was shocked to learn that her husband had solemnised second marriage with one Sunita Narula   The marriage was solemnised after they converted themselves to Islam and adopted Muslim religion. According to the petitioner, conversion of her husband to Islam was only for the purpose of marrying Sunita and circumventing the provisions of Section 494, IPC. Jitender Mathur asserts that having embraced Islam, he can have four wives irrespective of the fact that his first wife continues to be Hindu.
  • Rather interestingly Sunita alias Fathima is the petitioner in Writ Petition 347 of 1990. She contends that she along with Jitender Mathur who was earlier married to Meena Mathur embraced Islam and thereafter got married. A son was born to her. She further states that after marrying her, Jitender Mathur, under the influence of her first Hindu-wife, gave an undertaking on April 28, 1988 that he had reverted back to Hinduism and had agreed to maintain his first wife and three children. Her grievance is that she continues to be Muslim, not being maintained by her husband and has no protection under either of the personal laws.
  • Geeta Rani, petitioner in Writ Petition 424 of 1992 was married to Pradeep Kumar according to Hindu rites on November 13, 1988. It is alleged in the petition that her husband used to maltreat her and on one occasion gave her so much beating that her jaw bone was broken. In December 1991, the petitioner learnt that Pradeep Kumar ran away with one Deepa and after conversion to Islam married her. It is stated that the conversion to Islam was only for the purpose of facilitating the second marriage.
  • Sushmita Ghosh is another unfortunate lady who is petitioner in Civil Writ Petition 509 of 1992. She was married to G.C. Ghosh according to Hindu rites on May 10,1984. On April 20, 1992, the husband told her that he no longer wanted to live with her and as such she should agree to divorce by mutual consent. The petitioner was shocked and prayed that she was her legally wedded wife and wanted to live with him and as such the question of divorce did not arise. The husband finally told the petitioner that he had embraced Islam and would soon marry one Vinita Gupta. He had obtained a certificate dated June 17,1992 from the Qazi indicating that he had embraced Islam. In the writ petition, the petitioner has further prayed that her husband be restrained from entering into second marriage with Vinita Gupta.

Issues

  • Whether a Hindu husband, married under Hindu law, by embracing Islam, can solemnise second marriage?
  • Whether such a marriage without having the first marriage dissolved under law, would be a valid marriage qua the first wife who continue to be Hindu?
  • Whether the apostate husband would be guilty of the offence under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)?

STATUTES AND PROVISIONS DISCUSSED

  1. Section 494 of Indian Penal Code – According to section 494 of Indian penal code, Whoever, having a husband or wife living, marries in any case in which such marriage is void by reason of its taking place during the life of such husband or wife, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine. It’s a non-cognizable bailable offence.
  2. Article 44 of Constitution of India – Uniform civil code for the citizens The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India

 Arguments Advanced from the side of Petitioner

  • Meena Mathur contended that the marriage was solemnised after they converted themselves to Islam and adopted Muslim religion. According to the petitioner, conversion of her husband to Islam was only for the purpose of marrying Sunita and circumventing the provisions of Section 494, IPC.
  • Geeta Rani, petitioner in Writ Petition 424 of 1992, alleged that conversion to Islam by Pradeep Kumar was only to facilitate his second marriage with Deepa.
  • Sushmita Ghosh, who is petitioner in Civil Writ Petition 509 of 1992, asserted that she was the legally wedded wife and wanted to live with her husband and as such the question of divorce did not arise. Moreover, her husband be restrained from entering into second marriage with Vinita Gupta.

Arguments advanced from the side of Respondent

  • The respondents in all the above petitions assert a common contention that having embraced Islam, they can have four wives irrespective of the fact that the first wife continues to be Hindu. Thus, they are not subject to the applicability of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the Section 11 of which makes bigamous marriage void.

Judgement

  1. Referring to Re Ram Kumari 1891 Calcutta 246, Ram Kumari in Budansa v. Fatima1914 IC 697, and Nandi Zainab v. The crown (ILR 1920 Lahore 440 the court held that mere fact of conversion to Islam does not dissolve the marriage. A marriage could be dissolved only by the decree of court. The court observed that as per Hindu Law that existed before 1955, the marriage subsistseven if one of the spouse converts to Islam. There is no automatic dissolution of Marriage.

In marriages under Hindu Law the parties acquire certain rights, and if one of the spouse converts to another religion and enforce it, it would destroy the rights of the other spouse violating the rules of justice, equity, and good conscience. Considering the plurality of laws and interest of both the communities the court stated that it is not the intention of the enlightened Muslim community to encourage Hindu husbands to convert to Islam only for the purpose of legitimising their second marriage. Therefore, they concluded that the Hindu husband married under Hindu Law cannot solemnize second marriage by embracing Islam.

  1. In order to answer the question of validity of second marriage, the court stated that
  2. The marriage can only be dissolved by decree of divorce obtained on any of the ground enumerated in Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act, and
  3. A marriage which contravenes any of the conditions specified in clause (I), (iv), and (v) of S. 5 is void. I.e. the marriage performed when the spouse is living is void.
  4. A divorced person can marry again on dissolution of marriage by decree of divorce and there is no right to appeal against such decree if the time to appeal is over.

Considering the above legal propositions, the court concluded that the Hindu Marriage Act strictly enforces monogamy. The marriage performed under Hindu Law cannot be dissolved except on the grounds available in sec. 13. Therefore, the husband and the first wife remain married and hence the second marriage violates the provisions of the Act. Therefore the apostate’s second marriage would be illegal.

  1. The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that the expression ‘void’ defined under S.11 of the Act has limited meaning, whereas it has been used in much wider sense in S. 494 of IPC. A conversion to another religion would not, by itself, dissolve the Hindu Marriage. Before dissolution of first marriage, no spouse can perform second marriage. It would go against the spirit of the Act if the second marriage is held to be legal. The second marriage by Hindu husband would violate principle of justice, equity, and good conscience and thus also attract S. 494 IPC.

Considering the above discussion the court held that the second marriage of Hindu husband, without dissolution of the first marriage, would be invalid. The second marriage would violate S. 494 and therefore the husband would be guilty of bigamy.

Conclusion

The case of Smt. Sarla Mudgal, President, Kalyani & Ors. v. Union Of India & Ors., popularly known as Sarla Mudgal Case, is a landmark judgment in the history of family and matrimonial cases in India. It gave a constructive approach towards the concept of apostasy and bigamy, providing a new dimension to expression ‘void’ under S. 494 of IPC. The interpretation given to Section 494 IPC was an effort to advance the interest of justice. It is necessary that there should be harmony between the two systems of law just as there should be harmony between the two communities. Until Uniform Civil Code is enacted for all the citizens of the country, there will be always a loophole in the system because different faiths have different beliefs, and naturally due to different beliefs and practices of communities, there will be a conflict.

References

This post has been written by Aditi Singh, a first year law student from Hidayatullah National University, Raipur.

 

 

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