By: Sneha Shukla
In the Supreme Court of India
|NAME OF THE CASE||Smt. Sarla Mudgal, President, … vs Union of India & Ors.|
|CITATION||1995 AIR 1531, 1995 SCC (3) 635|
|DATE OF THE JUDGEMENT||10 May, 1995|
|APPELLANT||Smt. Sarla Mudgal, President, Kalyani & Ors.|
|RESPONDENT||Union of India & Ors.|
|BENCH/ JUDGE||Kuldip Singh (J) Sahai, R.M. (J)|
|STATUTE/ CONSTITUTION INVOLVED||Constitution of India Indian Penal Code Hindu Marriage Act, 1955The Hindu Succession Act, 1956The Minority & Guardianship Act, 1956The Hindu Adoption & Maintenance Act, 1956The Special Marriage Act, 1872Divorce Act.|
|IMPORTANT SECTIONS/ ARTICLES||Constitution of India: Article 25, 44, 32 Indian Penal Code: Section 497 & 494. Hindu Marriage Act: Section 4,5, 11, 13,15 The Special Marriage Act: Section 17|
In this present case, the issue was whether a Hindu spouse who had been wed according to Hindu law could perform a second marriage after converting to Islam. According to the court, a Hindu marriage that has been solemnised under Hindu law may only be dissolved on one of the grounds listed in the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. A second marriage that is solemnised after converting to Islam would be unlawful under section 494 of the Indian Penal Code since it would not automatically invalidate the Hindu marriage under the legislation (IPC).
Indian marriage customs differ by area, religion, social class, and the individual preferences of the bride and groom. India is a nation where marriage is regarded as a religious rite. However, when the times evolve and we take a broader view, the institution’s loyalty and stability are seriously questioned. Matrimonial disputes are one of the most difficult areas for legal intervention in any system, but the situation is particularly complex in the Indian context because there are still differences between the personal laws of various religious communities due to the lack of unified civil laws, which makes it even harder to resolve matrimonial disputes, especially in inter-religious marriages.
While Muslim law in India allows for up to four spouses, Hindu personal law favours monogamy. This is the primary cause of bigamy, and as a result, Hindu men have begun to convert to Islam to get over Hindu law’s restrictions and shield themselves from the negative legal repercussions of bigamy.
The Supreme Court views its ruling in this case as a turning point. The practice of switching one’s religion to get married a second time without ending the former marriage was deemed invalid. Since it was against justice, equality, and morality. A person’s marriage remains intact even after conversion to a new religion. Only a divorce decision issued by the appropriate court on one of the grounds listed in Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 may terminate a marriage. The court further stated that if a person is found guilty, Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 will be used to prosecute him for bigamy.
There is no one civil code that applies to all of India’s citizens. Every citizen is subject to private law. Justice Kuldip Singh urged the government to examine Article 44 of the Constitution and establish a standard code for all citizens. The idea of a uniform civil code, which would apply to all religious sects, is one country, one rule. Part 4, Article 44 of the Indian Constitution specifically mentions the term “Uniform Civil Code.” The State should attempt to obtain for the Citizens a consistent civil code across the territory of India, as stated in Article 44.
Uniform Civil Code: “A Uniform Civil Code means that all sections of the society irrespective of their religion shall be treated equally according to a national civil code, which shall apply to all uniformly.” They address topics including marriage, divorce, child support, inheritance, adoption, and property succession. It is predicated on the idea that in contemporary culture, there is no relationship between religion and the law. Only the Indian state of Goa has a UCC that takes the form of common family law. The 19th century in Goa saw the introduction of the Portuguese Civil Code, which is still in effect today.”
FACTS OF THE CASE
In this case, petitions were filed under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. In Writ Petition 1079/89, there are two petitioners. The first petitioner is the president of “KALYANI,” a registered society that works to improve the lives of poor people, families, and women in difficult situations.
Jitender Mathur and Meena Mathur wed on February 27, 1978, and Meena is the second petitioner. Out of wedlock, the couple had three children—two sons and a daughter. When the petitioner learned that her spouse had entered into a second marriage with a woman named Sunita Narula in early 1988, she was astounded. After they converted to Islam and took up the Muslim religion, the marriage was formally celebrated. The petitioner claims that her husband’s conversion to Islam was solely done so that he may wed Sunita and avoid the penalties imposed by IPC Section 494. Even though his first wife is still Hindu, Jitender Mathur claims that having converted to Islam allows him to have four spouses.
The petitioner in Writ Petition 347 of 1990, Sunita alias Fathima, is intriguing. She asserts that after converting to Islam, she and Jitender Mathur, who was previously married to Meena Mathur, were hitched. Her first child was a boy. She further claims that after they were married, Jitender Mathur, under the influence of her first Hindu wife, made a commitment on April 28, 1988, stating that he had converted to Hinduism once more and had pledged to support his first wife and their three children. She complains that she continues to practise Islam, is not supported by her husband, and is not covered by any personal laws.
Geeta Rani, the petitioner in Writ Petition 424 of 1992, wed Pradeep Kumar on November 13, 1988, following Hindu customs. The petition claims that her spouse used to abuse her and once beat her so severely that her jaw bone was damaged. The petitioner discovered in December 1991 that Pradeep Kumar had left with a woman named Deepa before marrying her after converting to Islam. It is said that the conversion to Islam was done solely to make the second marriage possible.
Another unfortunate woman who filed a petition in Civil Writ Petition 509 of 1992 is Sushmita Ghosh. On May 10, 1984, she wed G.C. Ghosh by Hindu customs. The spouse informed her that he no longer wanted to live with her and that she should consent to a divorce by mutual consent on April 20, 1992. She was her lawfully wedded wife and wanted to live with him, so the petitioner was astonished and pleaded that the issue of divorce would not come up. Finally, the spouse informed the petitioner that he had converted to Islam and was about to wed Vinita Gupta. He had gotten a certificate from the Qazi stating that he had accepted Islam, dated June 17, 1992. The petitioner has further requested in the writ suit that her husband be prevented from getting married a second time to Vinita Gupta.
ARGUMENTS FROM THE APPELLANT SIDE
- The learned Counsel on behalf of the appellant argued that Meena Mathur claims that her husband’s conversion to Islam was solely done so that he might wed Sunita and get over the restrictions of Section 494 of the IPC.
- The learned Counsel said that In Writ Petition 424 of 1992, Geeta Rani, the petitioner, claimed that Pradeep Kumar’s conversion to Islam was merely done to help him get married to Deepa.
- The learned counsel argued that the petitioner in Civil Writ Petition 509 of 1992, Sushmita Ghosh, claimed that because she was the lawfully wedded woman and desired to coexist with her husband, the issue of divorce did not come up. Additionally, her spouse should be forbidden from wed Vinita Gupta a second time.
- Collectively, all of the petitioners engaged in the case claimed that the respondents converted to Islam to have a second marriage and further shield themselves from Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code’s repercussions.
ARGUMENTS FROM THE RESPONDENT SIDE
- The learned Counsel on behalf of the respondents held that all of the aforementioned petitions make the same claim, claiming that because they converted to Islam, they are now permitted to have four spouses, even though their first wife is still Hindu. Therefore, they are not covered by the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, which declares bigamous marriages null and invalid under Section 11.
- All of the respondents said that even if their first wife is still Hindu, they may have four spouses once they convert to Islam. Additionally, they claimed that because of the conversion, they are exempt from Section 494 of the IPC and the restrictions of the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955.
ISSUES RAISED BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT
- Does a Hindu Spouse, married under Hindu law, by embracing Islam, can solemnise a second marriage?
- Would the apostate husband be guilty of the offence under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)?
- Whether such a marriage without having the first marriage dissolved under law, would be a valid marriage for the first wife who continues to be Hindu?
RELATED PROVISIONS IN THE CASE
Constitution of India:
Articles 25: “Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion
- Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion
- Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law
- regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice;
- providing for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus Explanation I The wearing and carrying of kirpans shall be deemed to be included in the profession of the Sikh religion Explanation II In sub clause (b) of clause reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly.”
Article 32: “Remedies for enforcement of rights conferred by this Part
- The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part is guaranteed
- The Supreme Court shall have power to issue directions or orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari, whichever may be appropriate, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by this Part
- Without prejudice to the powers conferred on the Supreme Court by clause ( 1 ) and ( 2 ), Parliament may by law empower any other court to exercise within the local limits of its jurisdiction all or any of the powers exercisable by the Supreme Court under clause ( 2 )
- The right guaranteed by this article shall not be suspended except as otherwise provided for by this Constitution.”
Article 44: “Uniform civil code for the citizens The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.”
Indian Penal Code:
Section 494: “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 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.”
Exception- “This section does not extend to any person whose marriage with such husband or wife has been declared void by a Court of competent jurisdiction, nor to any person who contracts a marriage during the life of a former husband or wife, if such husband or wife, at the time of the subsequent marriage, shall have been continually absent from such person for the space of seven years, and shall not have been heard of by such person as being alive within that time provided the person contracting such subsequent marriage shall, before such marriage takes place, inform the person with whom such marriage is contracted of the real state of facts so far as the same are within his or her knowledge.”
Section 497: “Adultery.—Whoever has sexual intercourse with a person who is and whom he knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of another man, without the consent or connivance of that man, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape, is guilty of the offence of adultery, and shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both. In such case the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor.”
The Special Marriage Act:
Section 17: “Appeals from orders under section 16.—Any person aggrieved by any order of a Marriage Officer refusing to register a marriage under this Chapter may, within thirty days from the date of the order, appeal against that order to the district court within the local limits of whose jurisdiction the Marriage Officer has his office, and the decision of the district court on such appeal shall be final, and the Marriage Officer to whom the application was made shall act in conformity with such decision.”
Hindu Marriage Act:
Section 4: “Overriding effect of Act .Save as otherwise expressly provided in this Act,
- any text rule or interpretation of Hindu law or any custom or usage as part of that law in force immediately before the commencement of this Act shall cease to have effect with respect to any matter for which provision is made in this Act;
- any other law in force immediately before the commencement of this Act shall cease to have effect in so far as it is inconsistent with any of the provisions contained in this Act.”
Section 11: “Void marriages. Any marriage solemnised after the commencement of this Act shall be null and void and may, on a petition presented by either party thereto 11 [against the other party], be so declared by a decree of nullity if it contravenes any one of the conditions specified in clauses. ( i ) (iv) and (v) of section 5.”
Section 13: Divorce.
(1)”Any marriage solemnised, whether before or after the commencement of this Act, may, on a petition presented by either the husband or the wife, be dissolved by a decree of divorce on the ground that the other party
has, after the solemnisation of the marriage, had voluntary sexual intercourse with any person other than his or her spouse; or]has, after the solemnisation of the marriage, treated the petitioner with cruelty; or
has deserted the petitioner for a continuous period of not less than two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition; or]
(2) has ceased to be a Hindu by conversion to another religion; or
(3) has been incurably of unsound mind, or has been suffering continuously or intermittently from mental disorder of such a kind and to such an extent that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent.”
Section 15: “Divorced persons when may marry again. When a marriage has been dissolved by a decree of divorce and either there is no right of appeal against the decree or, if there is such a right of appeal, the time for appealing has expired without an appeal having been presented, or an appeal has been presented but has been dismissed, it shall be lawful for either party to the marriage to marry again.”
The Hon. Kuldip Singh J. argued in favour of the need for the application of a uniform civil code and stated that Article 44 of the Indian Constitution expressly commands the State to “seek to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” This is an important step towards national consolidation. He firmly believed that all Indians should be subject to the same personal laws to prevent infringing upon one another. He said that a Hindu spouse who wishes to get into a second marriage while the previous marriage is still going strong is openly encouraged to convert to Islam till we attain the aim of a universal civil code for all Indian people. Hindu law forbids polygamy, but Muslim law in India allows for up to four wives, thus an errant Hindu husband converts to Islam to avoid Hindu law’s restrictions and avoid punishment.
A marriage that was conducted under one personal law cannot be invalidated by applying a different personal law to which one spouse converts while the other refuses to do so. When a marriage is governed by Hindu Law, the parties automatically acquire status and certain rights under that law. If one of the parties is permitted to dissolve the marriage by enacting and enforcing a new personal law, that would essentially mean destroying the rights of the other spouse who remains Hindu. As a result, a Hindu marriage persisted under the Hindu Personal Law as it existed before it was codified in 1955, even after one of the couples converted to Islam. The marriage was not automatically dissolved. A marriage conducted under the Act cannot be annulled other than for the reasons specified in section 13 of the Act. The other party has “ceased to be a Hindu by conversion to another faith,” according to Section 13(i)(ii), which is one of the reasons. Because his wife was married to him under the Act and is still a Hindu, the second marriage of an apostate would be prohibited.
According to Section 11 of the Act, the term “invalid” has been defined for Act purposes. Within the parameters of the definition provided by the Section, it has a specific meaning. However, under Section 494 of the IPC, the identical term serves a distinct function and requires a reasonable interpretation.
This term under Section 494 of the IPC has been applied broadly. The following conditions must be met for the Section to apply: (1) having a living husband or wife; (2) getting married; (3) having the marriage be invalid; and (4) doing so while the husband or wife is still alive. Under the Act, converting to Islam and getting remarried do not, by themselves, terminate a Hindu marriage. Therefore, a convert’s second marriage would be illegal under the Act and invalid under Section 494 of the IPC. A Hindu husband who marries for a second time after converting to Islam satisfies all four requirements of Section 494 IPC.
As a result, the Honourable Bench determined that a Hindu husband’s second marriage following his conversion to Islam is invalid under Section 494 of the IPC and that the apostate husband is guilty under section 494 of the IPC.
Regarding the issue of a “uniform civil code,” the Court ordered the Government of India, through the Secretary of the Ministry of Law and Justice, to submit an affidavit in this Court in August 1996 outlining the measures and efforts the Government of India had made to secure a “uniform civil code” for its citizens.
One of the defining cases in India’s marriage system is the Sarla Mudgal case. The court’s discussion of Section 494’s scope provided it with a fresh perspective on how conversion alone cannot end a marriage. It provided a new dimension to the term “void” under Section 494 of the IPC and provided a constructive approach to the concepts of apostasy and bigamy. It is crucial to take into account the Hindu Marriage Act and the reasons for divorce that are listed in it. Therefore, the decision in this case that a person cannot change their religion and divorce their spouse from their first marriage also functions as a bright light in the darkness by giving all citizens equal status and guaranteeing that the people have trust in the legal system.
 Author is 3rd semester student of Amity Law University.
 Byjus, https://byjus.com/free-ias-prep/need-for-a-uniform-civil-code-in-a-secular-india/ ( last visited 27/ Jun./ 2022).
 INDIA CONST. art 25.
 INDIA CONST. art 32.
INDIA CONST. art 44.
 INDIAN PENAL CODE. §. 494.
 INDIAN PENAL CODE. § 497.
 SPECIAL MARRIAGE ACT. §.17.
 HINDU MARRIAGE ACT. §. 4.
 HINDU MARRIAGE ACT. §. 11.
 HINDU MARRIAGE ACT. §. 13.
 HINDU MARRIAGE ACT. §. 15.