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Clarifying the Scope of Bigamy: Surajmani Stella Kujur v/s Durga Charan Hansdah

There are basically two types of law- General Laws and Personal Laws. General Laws are governed by the government and followed by everyone while on the other hand, Personal Laws are governed by a certain community or religion and followed only by them. This is a very interesting case revolving around 2001 and we will get to know who is a Hindu and who are not. This case moreover gives the interpretations of the law that if a request is not recorded accurately or under the jurisdiction of the court than what will be the consequences

Surajmani Stella Kujur v Durga Charan Hansdah case bargains with the scope of provision of bigamy and its punishment.

In India, Bigamy is considered to be an offence and is a punishable under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The law relating to bigamy is applicable to Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians (except Muslims).

Relevant Provision:
According to Section 494 of IPC:

"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 not exceeding seven years and shall also be liable to fine."

Citations: Surajmani Stella Kujur v. Durga Charan Hansdah AIR [2001] 3 SCC 13.

Parties Involved:
Petitioner: Dr. Surajmani Stella Kujur
Respondent: Durga Charan Hansdah

Jurisdiction: Supreme Court of India.

Bench: Justice K.T. Thomas, Justice R.T. Sethi

Dr Surajmani Stella Kujur, petitioner, from Oraona tribe was married to the respondent Durga Charan Hansdah, a member of Santhal tribe. Respondent committed the offence of second marriage in the presence of first marriage i.e., Bigamy. The appellant has submitted before the hon'ble court that respondent shall be prosecuted under the section 494 of the Indian Penal Code. Appellant has also submitted that the marriage was done according to the Hindu rites and customs. First accused did not had the divorce with his wife instead, he solemnized the marriage with the second accused and it contravenes the provisions of Section 494 of the IPC.

Legal Issues:
  • Who is a 'Hindu' for the purpose of the applicability for the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955?
  • Whether a mere pleading of a custom stressing for monogamy could be taken into account for the conviction of appellant?
  • Whether the appellant was able to prove sufficient evidences in order to prove the crime of bigamy being committed by the appellant?

Contentions Of The Appellant:
  • The appellant failed to cite any legal precedent or established custom that prohibits the solemnization of a second marriage.
  • The appellant failed to provide compelling evidence to demonstrate the invalidity of the respondent's second marriage.
  • The appellant asserts her religious affiliation as 'Hindu' but appeared uncertain in her remarks.

The court initiated the clarification of the definition of "who constitutes a Hindu" according to the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. Additionally, it delineated those individuals who do not meet the criteria to be considered 'Hindu'. The court too expressed the highlights of 'Hinduism' and moreover specified that the social conduct of this religion is exceptionally strict under distinctive cast frameworks and segments. Especially Virashaiva, Lingayat, followers of Brahmo, Prarthana or Arya Samaj along with adherents of Buddhism, Jainism and Sikh come under the definition of a 'Hindu'. Muslims, Parsis, Jews and Christians dwelling inside the domain of India are not classified as 'Hindi'.

Furthermore, since the appealing party might not produce sufficient evidence to appear the presence of custom, which demonstrate that the second marriage of the respondent is void, the court announced that no offence beneath section 494 of IPC will be made against the respondent. Secondly, court expressed that the appealing party is still entitled for maintenance from the respondent as she was still his lawfully married spouse.

This case highlighted the exceptionally imperative and vital angle when it comes to filing a complaint. It is exceptionally much genuine that the respondent committed polygamy, since as per the actualities of the case the respondent indeed married second time during the lifetime of his first wife.

However, the wife was not able to provide sufficient evidence, custom or any guideline to demonstrate that the respondent was blameworthy of bigamy. Her apple was expelled due to need of sufficient confirmation against the respondent. Marriage is a sacrosanct agreement between two people and if one of them commits polygamy, it is self evident that distressed spouse would look for justice.

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