CASE ANALYSIS: SARLA MUDGAL AND ORS. V. UNION OF INDIA
Author: Manali Agrawal
CITATION: AIR 1995 SC 1531;1995 SCC (3) 635
PETITIONER: Smt. Sarla Mudgal, President, Kalyani & Ors.
RESPONDENT: Union of India & Ors.
BENCH: Kuldeep Singh, R.M. Sahai
DECIDED ON: 10 May 1995
Since Hindu personal laws provides for monogamy and the Muslim law permits as many as four wives in India, the Hindu husbands started embracing Islam to circumvent the provisions of the Hindu law and to evade from penal consequences. This had become a widely followed practice among Hindu husbands and thus, the case of Sarla Mudgal v. Union of Indiais a landmark judgment that held the practice of conversion to another religion in order to secure second marriage as against the basic principles of Justice, Equity and good conscience. The judgment discontinued the practice of conversion to Islam for the purpose of constituting a valid second marriage when the first Hindu marriage is subsisting. It held that such marriages are offences undersection 494 of IPC.[i]
The case is also important in the light of the fact that it discusses the urgent need of bringing a Uniform Civil Code in the country so as to give meaning to Article 44 of the Constitution and thus implement the mandate of the framers of the Constitution.
The facts of the case are as follows:
The case consists of four writ petitions under article 32 of the constitution of India.
Petitioner 1,Sarla Mudgal is the President of ‘Kalyani’, a society working for the welfare of needy people and distressed women.
Second petitioner Meena Mathur, wife of Jitendra Mathur, found that her husband had married another woman, Sunita Narula alias Fathima, after converting to Islam religion.
Sunita Narula is the third petitioner states that Jitendra after marrying her,under the influence of his first wife gave an undertaking that he had reverted back to Hinduism and agreed to maintain his first wife and children from this wedlock. But, she continues to be a Muslim and has no maintenance and protection under either of the personal laws.
Geeta Rani is the fourth petitioner who married Pradeep Kumar in 1988,in1991, she learned that her husband ran away with Deepa and married her after converting to the Muslim religion.
1. Whether a Hindu husband married under the Hindu law by embracing Islam can solemnize a second marriage?
2. Whether such a marriage without having the first marriage dissolved under law, would be valid marriage qua the first wife who continues to be Hindu.
3. Whether the apostate husband would be guilty of the offence under Section 494 of the India Penal Code, 1960.
The following arguments were mainly presented before the Apex Court in relation to the case.
1. Arguments on behalf of the Petitioners:
The petitioners’ common contention was that the respondents converted themselves to Islam to evade the provisions of bigamy given under action 494 IPC and facilitate their second marriage with other women.
2. Arguments on behalf of the Respondents:
Respondents to the case collectively assertedthat once they convert to Islam,they can have four wives despite having a first wife who continues to be a Hindu. Therefore,they are not subject to the applicability of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code.
The Division bench of 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 a convert would be in violation of the Hindu Marriage Act and would stand void in terms of Section 494 IPC.
When a marriage is solemnized under the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, certain rights and status are acquired by both spouses, if one of them is allowed to dissolve the marriage by adopting a new personal law; it would dismantle the existing rights of the spouse who continues to be Hindu. Therefore, this practice must not be allowed.The court referred to the judgment in Robasa Khanum v. Khodadad Irani case[ii] and held that such marriage is violative of justice, equity and good conscience.
The court thus ruled that an apostate husband would be guilty under section 494 of IPC. It can be inferred from the ingredients of section 494 that the second marriage would be void and the apostate husband would be guilty under IPC.
The court also advocated the necessity of the uniform civil code in the Indian legal system that will stop the Indians from trespassing in the personal law of one another.
The court further directed the government of India through the secretary of the ministry of law and justice, to file an affidavit regarding the steps taken by the government towards securing a Uniform Civil Code for the citizens of India.
In the case, Hon’ble justice R.M.Sahai gave dissenting judgment with respect to the implementation of UCC in the Indian legal system. However, with respect to the ratio decidendi that second marriage after converting to Islam is void and illegal, he was in concurrence with HON'BLE MR. JUSTICE KULDIP SINGH. He argues that:
1. Implementation of UCC will cause dissatisfaction and disintegration among different religions.
2. Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and forcing UCC would be arbitrary and unconstitutional.
3. UCC can be implemented only when there is harmony among religions.
CONCLUSION AND ANALYSIS:
The case is popular as the Sarla Mudgal case. The judgment is appreciable and landmark in matrimonal aspects in India, as it gave a positive approach to the concept of apostasy and bigamy by providing a new dimension to expression ‘void’ under section 494 of IPC.
The judgment discussed another exigent issue of Uniform Civil Code as it is necessary that there should be harmony between the two systems of law as well as two communities.Until the Uniform Civil Code is enacted for all citizens of the country, there will be always a loophole in the system as different faiths have different beliefs, and naturally due to different practices and beliefs of different communities, there will be a conflict which can hamper unity and integrity of India.
[i]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 [ii]Robasa Khanum v. Khodadad Irani case, AIR 1947 Bom. 272.