Sarla Mudgal, President, Kalyani and Ors. v. Union of India (AIR 1995 SC 1531)

Court – Supreme Court of India

Citation- AIR 1995 SC 1531

Date of Judgement – May 10th 1995


Facts of the Case –

  • The first petitioner was Kalyani, a NGO that works with needy and distressed women, which is heeded by Sarla Mudgal.
  • The next petition was Meena Mathyr, married to Jitendra Mathur, in 1988, Mena FOUNDS That Jitendra converted to Islam and solemanised second marriage with Sunita Narula, also known as Fathima. Meena Mathur complains that her husband converted to Islam only for the purpose of getting married again and circumvented the provisions of Section 494 of IPC.
  • In Writ Petition 424 of 1992, Geeta Rani, married to Pradeep Kumar alleged physical and mental violence by her husband. She later found out that her husband, Pradeep eloped and married another women after converting to Islam, in 1991.
  • Susmita Ghosh petitioner in Civil Writ Petition 509 of 1992 married G.C.Ghosh according to Hindu rituals in 1984. The husband told her that she wanted a divorce and the petitioner argued that she was the legally wedded wife. The husband embraced Islam and wanted to marry Vinita Gupta. The petitioner has prayed not let her husband to entre a marriage with Vinita Gupta.

Issues Raised before the Court –

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

Rules –

  • Article 44 – According to Article 44 of the Indian Constitution deals with Uniform Civil Code that ‘The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.
  • Section 494 – According to Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with punishment of Marrying again during the 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 tem which may extend to 7 years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Arguments from the side of Petitioner

  • Meena Mathur was of the view that the marriage was solemnised after they converted themselves into Islam. The conversion of the husband was only for the purpose of marrying Sunita, and just to avoid the problems of provision in Section 494 of IPC. 
  • Petitioner Geeta Rani in Writ Petition of 424/1992, alleged that the conversion to Islam by Pradeep was only to make his second marriage possible with Deepa.
  • Petitioner in Civil Writ Petition of 509/1992, Susmita Ghosh, asserted that she was the legally married wife and wanted to live with her husband, and there is question of divorce arises. So her husband should not be allowed to enter into the second marriage with Vinita Gupta.

Arguments from the side of Respondent.

  • All the respondents of the petitions assert a common contention that having embraced Islam, so they can have 4 wives at a time with the fact that first wife continues to be Hindu.
  • Hence, they are not subject to the applicability of Hindu Marriage Act 1955, under Section 11 that makes bigamous marriage void.

Judgement

          The Court held that this Writ Petition of second marriage of the Hindu Husband after conversion to Muslim without dissolving the first marriage is held as a void marriage. The person who does so would be held guilty of the offence under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code. In the Judgement the judge gets into detailed examination of the case, Justice Kuldip Singh, while delivering the judgement remarked, “When more than 80% of the citizens have already been brought under the codified personal law there is no justification whatsoever to keep in abeyance, any more, the introduction of the ‘Uniform Civil Code’ for all citizens in the territory of India.” There was an appeal to the government to have a re-look at Article 44 of the Indian Constitution, which deals with Uniform Civil Code for the citizens.

Precedents –

(In Re) Ram Kumari 1891[i]

Hindu wife converted to Islam to marry a Muslim was charged with bigamy under Section 494 of IPC. It was held that there was no authority under Hindu law for the proposition that an apostate is absolved from all civil obligations and that so far as the matrimonial bond was concerned. Such view was contrary to the spirit of the Hindu Law.

In Nandi alias Zainab v. The Crown[ii]

Nandi the wife of the complainant changed her religion and became a Mussalman and thereafter married a Mussalman named Rukan Din. She was charged with an offence under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code. It was held that the mere fact of her conversion to Islam did not dissolved by a decree of court.

Sayed Khatoon’s case[iii]

It was held that since India do not have general matrimonial law there is not authority for the view that a marriage solemnized according to one personal law can be dissolved according to another personal law simply because one parties changed his/her religion.

Robasa Khanum v. Khodadad Bomanji Irani[iv]

The husband and wife has solemnised according to Zoroastrian law, later on wife became Muslim whereas husband decline to do so. The wife claimed that her marriage stood dissolved because of her conversion to Islam. The learned judge dismissed the suit.

Andal Vaidyanatham v. Abdul Allam Vaidya[v]

The Court held that when two persons married under the Special Marriage Act, 1872, subsequently become converted to Islam, the marriage can only be dissolved under the provisions of the Divorce Act and the same would apply even if only one of them becomes converted to Islam. Such a marriage is not a marriage in the Mohomedan sense which can be dissolved in a Mahomedan manner. It is a statutory marriage and can only be dissolved in accordance with the Statute.

Analysis –

In this case, there we can see the conflict between the provisions of different personal laws of India. I belief that both the religion are good in their own place. Therefore, religious should not be made an issue for the misconduct of any individual. In the case I found positive response of the Court to punish individual who intentionally, converted himself to the Islam in order to solemnize the second marriage and to be safe from legal punishment.

Marriage is the very foundation of the civilized society, the religion once formed the law steps in and binds the parties to various obligations and liabilities there under. Marriage is an institution in the maintenance of which the public at large is deeply interested. It is the foundation of the family, and in turn of the society which no civilisation can exist. Marriage cannot be taken so simple that it would void after one party convert herself/himself to the other Religion. If they are not happy with their marriage life, they can have divorce under the same personal law.

For abolishment of the misconduct and misuse of conversion of religion like in this case, conversion of religion act can be unacted which will only look after the misuse of conversion of religion but not affect other religious values.

Conclusion –

          The case is popularly known as Sarla Mudgal Case also, which is a landmark judgment in the history of family and matrimonial cases in India. The case clearly put the flashlights on the point that, until and unless the Uniform Civil Code is enacted for all the citizens of the country, there will be always a loophole in the system because different faiths in the religion have different beliefs, and naturally due to different beliefs and practices of communities, there will be a conflict. It also gave a constructive approach towards the concept of apostasy and bigamy.


References

[i] (1891) ILR 18 Cal 466

[ii] ILR (1920) 1 Lah 440

[iii] 49 CWN 745

[iv] (1946) 48 BOMLR 864

[v] AIR 1946 Mad 205

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