SHOULD A SUBSEQUENT LIVE IN RELATIONSHIP BY A MARRIED PERSON BE INCLUDED IN THE AMBIT OF BIGAMY? BY MANSI AGARWAL
Amit is married to Neha and has fathered a daughter with her, the daughter is now well past her teenage. Amit, for whatever reasons, leaves his first wife and daughter and marries Prema in a secret ceremony. He now resides with Prema and has fathered two children with her. Neha, the first wife, files a complaint against Amit under Section 494 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 to seek justice for the wrong suffered by her, but is unable to prove that the marriage between Amit and Prema is a valid one, she is left with no remedy apart from seeking divorce, which she is not keen upon. Does Neha deserve justice?
The above story you just read, is a real one, with names changed for maintaining the privacy of the parties involved. There are many more Nehas out there questioning the Indian laws and awaiting justice. And there are many more Amits out there who go scot free when their first wives are unable to prove the bigamous second marriage of their husband’s, even though all the societal ingredients of a valid marriage are present except proof of ceremony.
What is Bigamy?
Bigamy, in layman words, means marrying again even though ones spouse is still alive.
Bigamy was an acceptable practice amongst Hindus, as there was no customary bar on a Hindu man having more than one wife. Sawai Man Singh II, the former ruler of Jaipur, was married thrice, his third wife being the famed Maharani Gayatri Devi, an epitome of elegance. After the passage of The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, a second marriage contracted by a person having a spouse alive was rendered void.
Section 5 of The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 provides condition precedents for a valid Hindu marriage, the first one being, “neither party has a spouse living at the time of the marriage”.
Section 11 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 declares that after the commencement of this act any marriage solemnised shall be null and void if it contravenes certain conditions specified in Section 5, “neither party has a spouse living at the time of the marriage”, being one of them.
Section 17 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 reiterates that a second marriage during the lifetime of a spouse shall be void and also declares that if such a marriage does take place then the provisions of section 494 and 495 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 shall apply.
Let’s take a quick look at some other provisions related to valid marriage and a bigamous marriage:
Section 7 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 states that a Hindu marriage is complete and binding when a man and woman have been married in accordance with the customary rites and ceremonies practiced by any of the two contracting parties, this includes the ritual of saptapadi.
Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, declares that any person found guilty of Bigamy shall be punished with imprisonment of upto seven years and or fine.
Section 495 of Indian Penal Code, 1860, declares that any person found guilty of Bigamy as well as conceals the fact that he/she is already married from the second spouse shall be punished with imprisonment of upto 10 years and or fine.
Bigamy does NOT apply when:
- The first husband or wife is dead
- The first marriage has been dissolved by the court. (Under the provisions of Section 13 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 or other allied provisions).
- The first marriage has been annulled by the court as they are voidable nunc pro tunc in nature. (Under the provisions of Section 12 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 or Section 3 or The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 or other allied provisions)
- The first marriage is Void-ab-initio and may have been declared so by the court. (Under the provisions of Section 11 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 or Section 12 of The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 or other allied provisions)
- The first spouse has been unheard of for seven continuous years. A person missing for 7 years is presumed dead by virtue of Section 108 in The Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
How penalty of bigamy was being escaped in the past?
Prior to the judgment passed by the Apex Court in Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India(AIR 1995 SC 1531), Hindu men converted to Islam to solemnize second marriage without dissolving the first marriage. The court held that a marriage performed under Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 can only be dissolved under the provisions of this act. A second marriage by the apostate husband, under the shelter of conversion to Islam, shall still be violative of the Hindu Laws and deemed to be illegal.
Polygamy is a permitted practice under Muslim Personal Laws. Many men took this as a convenient route to bypass the penalty attached with the practice of bigamy. A conversion, without having faith in the religion, only to place a veil of legality on a misdeed is wrong on the face of it.
The Apex Court in Lily Thomas v. Union of India (2000) 6 SCC 224, stated that,
“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 earlier marriage under the Act dissolved. The second marriage after conversion to Islam would, thus, be a in violation of the rules of natural justice and as such would be void and argued that such finding would render the status of the second wife as that of a concubine and children born of that wedlock as illegitimate.”
Thus, putting a stop to the menace of Bigamy by conversion to Islam.
How penalty of bigamy is being escaped in the present?
With the advent of liberal thinking, especially in metropolitan cities, live-in relationships have gained desultory acceptance. The practice, more commonly adopted by husband, of deserting one’s spouse and entering into a live-in relationship, without attracting the penal consequences of Section 494 Indian Penal Code,1860 is sadly gaining momentum. The escape hole here is that the first wife or the prosecution is unable to prove that the subsequent relationship entered into by the husband fulfills the requirement of Section 7 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 i.e. solemnization of second marriage by performing the requisite ceremonies.
In Bhaurao Shankar Lokhande v. State of Maharashtra,AIR 1965 SC 1564, the Apex Court held that:
“We are of opinion that unless the marriage which took place between appellant no. 1 and Kamlabai in February 1962 was performed in accordance with the requirements of the law applicable to a marriage between the parties, the marriage cannot be said to have been ‘solemnized’ and therefore appellant no. 1 cannot be held to have committed the offence under s. 494 I.P.C.”
Let’s not ignore that the above precedent was laid down in 1965 when the concept of Live-In relationships was either unheard of or hushed up.
In the past decade or two, Live-In relationships are in vogue. Plus, they have gained legal sanction under The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 which recognises “relationship in the nature of marriage” and protects female partners from domestic violence. The Apex Court in Indra Sarma v. V.K.V. Sarma (2013) 15 SCC 755 , provided extensive guidelines as to what may be qualified as a Live-In Relationship akin to marriage under
Section 2(f) of the DV Act:
- The relationship should have persisted for a reasonable period of time.
- It includes living in the same house.
- It includes pooling of resources, sharing ownership in tangible and intangible assets
- The woman has predominance over making decisions related to home management.
- The man and woman share an intimate relationship, not just a sexual one.
- They have birthed and parented a child(or children).
- They are recognized by the society as husband and wife.
- Their intention and conduct is analogous to that of a married couple.
Under the DV Act the female counterpart is entitled to protection from domestic violence as well as maintenance. Although, in Indra Sarma case, the court did not grant any maintenance to the appellant. The decision is partially incongruous on the face of it. The court labelled the appellant as a mistress and freed the man from all liabilities. We will surely discuss this case individually and in-depth, but not today. However, the silver lining in this case was that the Apex Court did define a Live-In Relationship similar to that of marriage.
Hypothetically speaking, if the appellant in Indra Sarma Case would have been able to prove that her Live-In relationship with VKV Sarma was similar to that in the nature of marriage, she would have received maintenance under the DV Act. Would that have opened the window of opportunity for the first wife to file a complaint under Section 494 of IPC for the wrong suffered by her?
The husband or wife, whosoever, enters into a relationship similar to marriage without performing the essential ceremonies, escapes the penalty of Section 494 of IPC. The loophole in law has given such defaulters an escape route. Or even if such a ceremony is performed, it is done so in closed doors. The proof of a closed door marriage may never be found.
The Malimath Committee, in its report published in 2003 made 158 recommendations. One of which is:
“Section 494 of the I.P.C be suitably amended to the effect that if the man and woman were living together as husband and wife for a reasonable long period the man shall be deemed to have married the woman according to the customary rites of either party.
Hence, the above situation triggers the following questions…
Is it legally possible to include Live-in relationship akin to marriage within the ambit of Bigamy Laws?
Will it be successful in giving justice to first wife?
Will it promote monogamy or push the erring spouses towards “walk-in-walk-out” live-in relationships?
About the Author:
Mansi Agarwal is a lawyer, presently pursuing LLM from AIALS (Amity University) with specialisation in Family Laws. Her interest is tilted towards expounding the humanitarian rationale behind all laws. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets at @sociallylost_me
Read Bare Acts @LatestLaws.com:
- Anand Marriage Act,1909
- Arya Marriage Validation Act,1937
- Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act, 1886
- Caste Disablities Removal Act, 1850
- Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act,1987
- Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act,1939
- Divorce Act,1869
- Dowry Prohibition Act,1961
- Family Courts Act,1984
- Foreign Marriage Act,1969
- Foreign Marriage Act,1969
- Guardians and Wards Act,1890
- Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act,1956
- Hindu Marriage Act,1955
- Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act,1956
- Hindu Succession Act,1956
- Indian and Colonial Divorce Jurisdiction Act, 1940
- Indian Christian Marriage Act,1872
- Indian Succession Act,1925
- Kazis Act,1880
- Marriages Validation Act, 1892
- Married Women’s Property (Extension) Act, 1959
- Married Women’s Property Act, 1874
- Maternity Benefits Act,1961
- Matrimonial Causes (War Marriages) Act 1948
- Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act,1937
- Muslim Women (Protection of Rights On Divorce) Act, 1986
- Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act,1986
- National Commission for Women Act,1990
- Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act,1936
- Special Marriage Act,1954
- Women’s And Children’s Institutions (Licensing) Act, 1956
- Working Journalists (Fixation of Rates of Wages) Act, 1958