Sarla Mudgal v Union of India(1995): Second marriage is invalid unless and until first marriage is dissolved.

CaseSarla Mudgal v Union of India, AIR 1995 SC 1531
CourtBefore Supreme Court of India
BenchJustice Kuldip Singh and Justice R M Sahai
Author of the judgementJustice Kuldip Singh
Decided On10th May 1995
AbstractIn the present case, the court held that the second marriage would be invalid unless and until the first marriage is dissolved by decree under the Hindu marriage act. According to the factual matrix, the husband has converted himself to Muslim religion from Hindu Religion and observed polygamy. There is no punishment prescribed for such acts. But the court in the interpretation of section 494 of Indian Penal Code held that such marriages are invalid as it does not serve the purpose behind the enactment.
Author of the BriefParth Oberoi
KeywordsHindu Marriage Act, Polygamy, Monogamy, Indian Penal Code.

Brief Facts and Procedural History:

There 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 @ Fathima. 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 Prasad, 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 is restrained from entering into second marriage with Vinita Gupta.

Issues before the Court:

  • 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 the law, would be a valid marriage qua the first wife who continues to be Hindu?
  • Whether the apostate husband would be guilty of the offence under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)?

Ratio of the Court –

Until Uniform Civil Code is enacted for all the citizens of the country, there is an open inducement to a Hindu husband, who wants to enter into a second marriage while the first marriage is subsisting, to become a Muslim.

Since monogamy is the law for Hindus and the Muslim law permits as many as four wives in India, errand Hindu husband embraces Islam to circumvent the provisions of the Hindu law and to escape from penal consequences. The doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage, under the traditional Hindu law, did not recognise that conversion would have the effect of dissolving a Hindu marriage. Conversion to another religion by one or both the Hindu spouses did not dissolve the marriage.

It was held by the court that no authority could be found to support the view that a marriage solemnised according to one personal law can be dissolved according to another personal law simply because one of the two parties has changed his or her religion.

It is, thus, obvious from the catena of case-law that a marriage celebrated under a particular personal law cannot be dissolved by the application of another personal law to which one of the spouse’s converts and the other refuses to do so. Where a marriage takes place under Hindu Law the parties acquire a status and certain rights by the marriage itself under the law governing the Hindu Marriage and if one of the parties is allowed to dissolve the marriage by adopting and enforcing a new personal law, it would tantamount to destroying the existing rights of the other spouse who continues to be Hindu.

The Court, therefore, hold that under the Hindu Personal Law as it existed prior to its codification in 1955, a Hindu marriage continued to subsist even after one of the spouses converted to Islam. There was no automatic dissolution of the marriage.

A marriage solemnised, whether before or after the commencement of the Act, can only be dissolved by a decree of divorce on any of the grounds enumerated in Section 13 of the Act. One of the grounds under Section 13 (i) (ii) is that “the other party has ceased to be a Hindu by conversion to another religion”.

It is obvious from the various provisions of the Act that the modern Hindu Law strictly enforces monogamy. A marriage performed under the Act cannot be dissolved except on the grounds available under section 13 of the Act.

It is no doubt correct that the marriage solemnised by a Hindu husband after embracing Islam may not be strictly a void marriage under the Act because he is no longer a Hindu, but the fact remains that the said marriage would be in violation of the Act which strictly professes monogamy.

The expression “void” for the purpose of the Act has been defined under Section 11 of the Act. It has a limited meaning within the scope of the definition under the Section. On the other hand, the same expression has a different purpose under Section 494, IPC and has to be given the meaningful interpretation.

A Hindu marriage solemnised under the Act can only be dissolved on any of the grounds specified under the Act. Till the time a Hindu marriage is dissolved under the Act, none of the spouses can contract a second marriage. Conversion to Islam and marrying again would not, by itself, dissolve the Hindu marriage under the Act. The second marriage by a convert would, therefore, be in violation of the Act and as such void in terms of Section 494, IPC. Any act which is in violation of mandatory provisions of law is per-se void.

The real reason for the voidness of the second marriage is the subsisting of the first marriage which is not dissolved even by the conversion of the husband. It would be giving a go-bye to the substance of the matter and acting against the spirit of the Statute if the second marriage of the convert is held to be legal.

The second marriage of a Hindu husband after embracing Islam being violative of justice, equity and good conscience would be void on that ground also and attract the provisions of Section 494, IPC. Looked from another angle, the second marriage of an apostate-husband would be in violation of the rules of natural justice. Assuming that a Hindu husband has a right to embrace Islam as his religion, he has no right under the Act to marry again without getting his marriage under the Act dissolved. The second marriage after conversion to Islam would, thus, be in violation of the rules of natural justice and as such would be void.

Held:

All the four ingredients of Section 494 IPC are satisfied in the case of a Hindu husband who marries for the second time after conversion to Islam. He has a wife living, he marries again. The said marriage is void by reason of its taking place during the life of the first wife. The Court, therefore, hold that the second marriage of a Hindu husband after his conversion to Islam is a void marriage in terms of Section 494 IPC.

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