SARLA MUDGAL VS. UNION OF INDIA
Marriages in India vary according to the region, the religion, the community and the personal preferences of the bride and groom. Marriage is considered to be sacrosanct institution in the country such as India. But as the times are modernizing and as we look at the bigger picture the faithfulness and tranquility of this institution is being majorly questioned. Matrimonial disputes are one of the most challenging areas for legal intervention within any system, what makes the situation complex particularly in the Indian context is the fact that in the absence of uniform civil laws, the personal laws of various religious communities continue to be different, thus making the matrimonial disputes, especially in inter-religious marriages, even more difficult to deal with.
As the Hindu Personal law supports monogamy on the contrary Muslim law permits as many as four wives in India. This somewhere is the root cause of bigamy and the Hindu husbands have started embracing Islam to avoid the provisions of Hindu law and protect themselves from legal consequences of bigamy.
FACTS OF THE CASE AND PROVISION INVOLVED:
In Sarla Mudgal vs. Union of India, there were four petitions which were filed under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution which provides for right to Constitutional Remedies through Writ petitions in Supreme Court.
- There were two petitioners in the first writ petition 1079/89. First one being Sarla Mudgal, Head and President of a registered society named ‘KALYANI’. This organisation worked primarily for the welfare of needy families and women in distress. Another petitioner was Meena Mathur, who was married to Jitender Mathur and had three children. In early 1988, the petitioner got to know about her husband’s second marriage with Sunita Narula alias Fathima, which they solemnised after converting into Islam. The petitioner asserted that her husband converted to Islam just to marry Sunita Narula and further to protect himself from Section 494 of IPC.
- The next petitioner in the writ petition 347 of 1990 was none other than Sunita Narula alias Fathima. She contended that she along with Jitender Mathur, who already had a marriage alive with Meena Mathur, converted into and adopted Islam and thereafter got married. A son was born to her. Further, she stated that after marrying her, Jitender Mathur gave an undertaking in April, 1988 that he had reverted back to Hinduism and will be maintaining his wife and children out of first wedlock. She grieved for maintenance by her husband.
- In Writ Petition 424 of 1992, another petition was filed by Geeta Rani, who was married to Pradeep Kumar in 1988. She alleged that her husband was abusive and violent. He used to beat her up and one day he abused and beat her so badly that led to her jaw being broken. In December 1991, the petitioner learnt that Pradeep Kumar married to Deepa, after conversion to Islam. The petition stated that the conversion was only for the purpose of facilitating second marriage.
- In Writ Petition 509 of 1992, Sushmita Ghosh, who was the petitioner, was married to G.C. Ghosh according to Hindu rites in the year 1984. In April 1992, her husband asked her to take divorce by mutual consent because he didn’t want to live with her. The petitioner prayed that she was his legally wedded wife and she wanted to live with him, so that divorce can be avoided. Later in time her husband claimed that he had obtained a certificate dated June 17, 1992 that he had embraced Islam and will soon marry another woman named Vinita Gupta. Hence it was prayed by the petitioner that her husband must be stopped from entering into a second marriage.
SECTION 494 of Indian Penal Code is about marrying again during lifetime of husband or wife. —Whoever, having a husband or wife living, marries in any case in which such marriage is void by reason of it 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.
In simple terms bigamy is an offence under Section 494 of IPC. This section makes both male and female liable for the offence irrespective of their religion. As the Muslim males are allowed polygamy, they are allowed to have up to four marriages under Muslim law but this section 494 applies if a fifth marriage is conducted during the subsistence of first four marriages.
The necessary ingredients of the Section 494 are as follows:-
- having a husband or wife living;
- marries in any case;
- in which such marriage is void;
- by reason of its (marriage) taking place during the life of such husband or wife.
- Whether a Hindu husband, married under Hindu law, by embracing Islam, can solemnise second marriage?
- Whether such a marriage without having first marriage dissolved under law, would be a valid marriage qua the first wife who continue to be Hindu?
- Whether the husband would be guilty of the offence under Section 494 of Indian Penal Code?
- Petitioner’s Argument: All the petitioner’s involved in the case collectively argued that the respondents converted to Islam so that they can hold a second marriage and further they can protect themselves from the consequences of Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code.
- Respondent’s Argument: All the respondent’s asserted that once they converted to Islam, they can have four wives despite having the first wife who continues to be Hindu. They also argued that due to the conversion they are not liable under Section 494 of IPC and are not bound by the applicability of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
- The Supreme Court held that a Hindu marriage solemnized under the Hindu Marriage Act can only be dissolved on any of the grounds specified under the Act. Until the first marriage is dissolved as per the Act, none of the spouses can contract a second marriage. The Court laid that conversion to Islam and marrying again does not dissolve the Hindu marriage by itself. Therefore, the second marriage by conversion would be in violation of the Hindu Marriage Act.
- In the case of Sarla Mudgal, all the four ingredients of Section 494 were satisfied that is when a Hindu husband who marries for the second time after conversion to Islam. He also has a wife living and then too marries again. The said marriage is void by the reason of it taking place during the life of the first wife. The court therefore held that the second marriage of a Hindu husband after his conversion to Islam as a void marriage in terms of Section 494 of IPC. The court thus ruled that an apostate husband would be guilty under section 494 of IPC.
Sarla Mudgal case is one of the landmark cases in the matrimonial aspect that prevail in India. The judgement discussed the ambit of Section 494 and gave it a new point of view that how conversion alone cannot just dissolve the marriage. It is important to take into consideration the Hindu Marriage Act and the grounds mentioned in it for dissolution of marriage. Hence, the ruling in this case where a person cannot convert into other religion and leave the spouse from first marriage also acts like a bright light in darkness where equal status is given to all the citizens and ensuring that the people have a faith in the judicial system prevailing in the country.