Kastoori Devi v/s Chiranji Lal, AIR 1960 ALL 446

CaseSmt. Kastoori Devi v/s Chiranji Lal, AIR 1960 All 446
CourtBefore the Allahabad High Court
Case NumberCivil Revn. No. 223 of 1957
BenchJustice SS Dhavan
Decided OnOctober 19, 1959
Advocate for the appellantMr Gayanendra Kumar
Advocate for the respondentMr SBL Gaur
Author of the BriefAditya Gor

Synopsis of the Judgement:

The present decision given by the single judge bench of Allahabad High Court concerns itself with an important question under the law. Plaintiff is a wife of the respondent who had married to another woman. He at the primary stage entered into an agreement to pay maintenance to the wife but subsequently stopped doing so. He contended before the court that the agreement was obtained under coercion and that he was not the husband of the plaintiff. The trial court held that there was no valid marriage in the present case as the ceremonies were not completed and moreover the Hindu Law does not recognize inter-caste marriages. This decision of the trial court was erroneous according to the High Court. The trial court restricted itself to the commentaries of the law but the High Court held that there should be more importance given to the words of law giver then the commentators. The High Court allowed the revision appeal and decreed the suit in favor of the plaintiff.

Brief Facts and Procedural History:

Kastoori Devi was the lawfully wedded wife of Chiranji Lal having been married to him for more than 20 years ago. The marriage was inter-caste the husband being a Brahman and the wife a Thakur. At the time of this marriage Kasturi Devi was a widow. They lived and cohabited for 20 years but in 1954, the defendant Chiranji Lal took another wife and then turned the plaintiff out of his house. He even refused to maintain her and she was compelled to make an application for maintenance against him-under the Code of Criminal Procedure. (Para 1)

On 29-4-1954, there was a gathering of the village Panchayat resulting in a settlement and a written agreement under which the husband Chiranjilal agreed to pay a maintenance allowance of Rs. 30/- per month to her. But he did not honour the agreement and did not pay her a single-pie. Whenever she made a demand he gave an evasive answer and ultimately refused point-blank, to pay her anything. She was thus forced to file a suit to enforce the agreement and claim arrears of maintenance due to tier. The defendant Chiranjilal contested the suit and denied that the plaintiff was his wife or that he had ever married her. His case was that she was engaged by him as a maid servant but subsequently turned her out when he discovered that she was stealing his things. (Para 1)

He admitted that the plaintiff had made an application for maintenance against him in the criminal court but alleged that the application was baseless and had been made at the instigation of a man called Nathhoo Singh. Chiranji Lal admitted having signed the agreement, but explained that he had done it under coercion. He alleged that the Sub-Inspector in charge of Police Station Tanda tried to persuade him to provide accommodation and maintenance for Kasturi Devi. On his refusal, he was taken to the police station on the night of 28th April 1954 and detained there. He was threatened and told that if he did not agree to provide accommodation and maintenance for the plaintiff he would be implicated in a criminal case. Faced with this threat, he had no option but to sign the document. (Para 2)

The learned Judge after hearing the evidence of the parties, disbelieved the defendants’ allegation that he had signed, the agreement for maintenance under coercion, but he dismissed the suit on two grounds. First, he held that a marriage, between a Brahman husband and a Thakur wife is invalid being an inter-caste marriage. He took the view that “parties to a Hindu marriage must belong to the same caste, a marriage between persons who do not belong to the same caste, is invalid unless it is sanctioned by custom.” Secondly, he held that the marriage ceremony alleged by the plaintiff had not been properly solemnised. Accordingly he dismissed the plaintiffs’ suit for maintenance with costs. (Para 3)

Aggrieved by that decision the plaintiff Kastoori Devi has come to the High Court in revision. (Para 4)

The current bench agreed that the view taken by the high court is completely erroneous and thus this appeal was allowed. (Para 13)

Arguments of the plaintiff:

  • It was argued that the findings which stated that the marriage of the plaintiff with Chiranjilal was invalid, being an inter-caste marriage, is erroneous. (Para 12)
  • It was also urged that the finding that this marriage had not been properly solemnised and was therefore invalid, is also wrong in law. (Para 12)

Arguments of the respondent:

  • The suit is not maintainable in small cause court on account of Entry No. 38 of the second schedule of provincial small cause courts Act wherein it is mentioned that suits regarding maintenance are not admissible. Thus the suit before the trial judge is without jurisdiction and no revision is maintainable under the revision petition. (Para 5)
  • Mr Gaur made somewhat a half-hearted attempt to prove that the document under which the defendant agreed to maintain the plaintiff does not amount to an agreement under the Indian Contract Act. He endeavoured to show that the agreement is without consideration. (Para 9)
  • It was argued that the word used in Sec. 29 is “marriage” which impliedly excludes re-marriage and in any case excludes a remarriage of a widow, if it is out of caste. (Para 16)
  • It was contended that the agreement between the plaintiff and her husband was invalid as it was obtained by coercion. (Para 33)

Ratio given by the author of judgement:

The said item no 38 of the Provincial Small Cause Court Act was amended by the state legislature by UP Act XXIV of 1954 wherein a suit for the recovery of arrears of maintenance based upon a decree or written statement is now admissible. Thus the objection of the respondent was overruled. (6, 7 and 8)

The second objection of the respondent ignores the terms of the agreement itself. The husband agreed to provide a room for the residence of the plaintiff and also to pay her a sum of Rs. 30/- per mensem in lieu of maintenance and the wife had withdrawn her application before the District Magistrate. It is therefore clear from the terms of the agreement, that in consideration of the husband’s promise, the wife dropped the proceedings which were pending against him. It is a well-known principle of the law of contract that an agreement compromising a dispute is binding on the parties. (Para 9 and 10)

The learned Judge completely overlooked two statutes which were passed recently by the Central legislature which validated all inter-caste marriages with retrospective effect. The first was the Hindu Marriages Validity Act, 1949 which laid down that no marriage between Hindus would be deemed to be invalid or ‘ever to have been invalid by reason only of the fact that the parties thereto belong to different religions, caste, sub-castes or sex.’ The second is the Hindu Marriage Act No. 25 of 1955 which was passed by Parliament. Section 29(1) of this Act provides that “a marriage solemnized between Hindus before commencement of this Act, which is otherwise valid, shall not be deemed to be invalid or ever to have been invalid by reason only of the fact that the parties “thereto belong to the same Gotra or Pravara or belong to different religion, castes or sub-divisions of the same caste.” Section 4 expressly provides that any text, rule or interpretation of Hindu Law or any custom or usage of Hindu Law shall cease to have effect in any matter for which provision is made in the Act. Thus Sec. 29 had the effect of “repealing” any principle or custom of Hindu Law under which inter-caste marriages were regarded as invalid. (Para 15)

The court refused to put a restricted interpretation on the word “marriage” in the section. The whole policy of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 is against such view. It provides for divorce between the parties in certain cases and enables a divorced Hindu wife to marry again. It also validates inter-caste marriages. Thus the view of the trial Court that the marriage of the plaintiff Smt. Kastoori Devi with the defendant Chiranji Lal, being an inter-caste marriage was invalid is erroneous. (Para 16 and 29)

The trial courts finding that the marriage was not properly solemnized because there was no evidence of the vital ceremony of Saptapadi are also wrongs to establish a valid marriage, there must be evidence of parties who were present at the marriage ceremony and who should state that they saw the marriage being performed. In the present case such evidence was established. (Para 30)

Decision held by the court:

The revision was allowed and the plaintiff’s suit for maintenance is decreed. The defendant respondent shall pay the costs of the plaintiff in the High Court as well as in the Court below. (Para 36)

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