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Case Comment On Neelavva Somnath Tarapur v/s Divisional Controller KSRTC, Bijapur 2002

Facts
Plaintiff was married to a man named Somnath Tarapur, a resident of Bijapur in the year 1982,  out of the wedlock two daughters were born namely Sunitha and Anita in the year 1983 and 1984 respectively. Their marriage was alright, but later, the husband was indulged in bad habits and started ill-treating his wife and his daughters.

After two years of their marriage, The husband had an extra-marital relationship with another woman named Shanta who is the 2nd defendant, in this case, they both got married as per the customary marriage rites in 1983. This strained the relationship between the husband and the plaintiff, and she was forced to have shelter at her parent's house. As her husband neglected to take care of the plaintiff and her daughters So, the plaintiff filed a petition for maintenance against the husband demanding 250/- in favour of herself and 150/- in favour of her minor daughters.

Subsequent of filing the petition, B died in 1991 and plaintiff was forced to file a recovery petition as her husband didn't pay the amount of the maintenance. After the death of the husband, the second defendant started claiming herself to be the legally wedded wife of the deceased husband and filed a suit against the plaintiff and her mother-in-law declaring that she is the legally wedded wife of the deceased and she alone is entitled to claim all the benefits which will be given by the employer of the deceased  i.e.

The Division Controller KSRTC. In view of this situation, the Plaintiff was forced to file a suit against the first and the second defendant claiming that she alone is the legally wedded wife of the deceased Somnath Tarapur and she and her daughters are entitled to claim all the benefits payable to her deceased husband and the second defendant are not entitled to claim such benefits.

The suit claim was resisted in the court. The second defendant claimed that she is the legally wedded wife of the deceased Somnath and stated that Plaintiff is not the widow and her marriage with the deceased Somnath Tarapur is false, further she added that they never resided together.

The Trial Court passed the judgment in favour of the second defendant and declared the marriage between the plaintiff and the deceased husband to be void and not as per the customary rites and ceremonies of the Hindu marriage. The plaintiff being aggrieved by the dismissal of the suit wanted to decree the suit in her favour and filed an appeal in the High Court of Karnataka.
 
Issues
  1. Whether the plaintiff proved that she was the legally wedded wife of the deceased Somnath Tarapur.
  2. The plaintiff and her daughters alone are entitled to claim all the benefits payable by the employer to the deceased Somnath Tarapur.

Judgemnt/Law Point
Initially, the Trial Court answered relating to the second defendant's ability to prove that she is the legally wedded wife of the deceased Somnath and is entitled to claim the relief in the suit and hence dismissed the suit filed by the petitioner.

The plaintiff was required to prove her solemnization of marriage with the deceased Somnath Tarapur by the completion of customary rites and ceremonies including that of taking seven steps together before the sacred fire as per the provisions stated in Section 7 of The Hindu Marriage act, 1955:

Ceremonies of Hindu Marriage:

(1) A Hindu marriage may be solemnized in accordance with the customary rites and ceremonies of either party thereto. (2) Where such rites and ceremonies include the Saptapadi (that is, the taking of seven steps by the bridegroom and the bride jointly before the sacred fire), the marriage becomes complete and binding when the seventh step is taken”[1].

It was since the plaintiff failed to prove the solemnization of her marriage with the deceased Somnath Tarapur as per the requirements of law i.e. as per the provisions of Section. 7 of The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. So, the Trial Court is bound to dismiss the suit filed by the plaintiff against the second defendant.

The plaintiff ought to file an appeal in the High Court of Karnataka against the decree passed by the Trial Court. It was stated that Section 7 of The Hindu Marriage Act recognizes customary rites and ceremonies and does not necessarily mean that in ‘all' Hindu marriages it is only the taking of seven steps before the sacred fire that solemnizes the marriage.

As per Section 7(1), it has been noticed that The Hindu Marriage can be solemnized in any ceremony or customary rites, it may or may not include the taking of seven steps before the sacred fire by the couple together. It was observed that the customary practice or ceremony of ‘yadhi' was followed by the plaintiff and her husband.

The High Court of Karnataka said that the learned Trail Judge has misdirected in examining the evidence on the record presented by the plaintiff and failed himself in applying the proper tests to determine the marriage between the plaintiff and the deceased Somnath Tarapur. He has totally ignored the factum of marriage proved by the plaintiff and that the plaintiff and the deceased Somnath Tarapur were as husband and wife for quite a long period of time with two daughters.

It was just because the husband was involved in an extra-marital relationship with the second defendant; the marriage broke down and the plaintiff was forced to file a petition for maintenance. Plaintiff, in support of her case, deposed that her marriage was preceded by an engagement ceremony at her parent's place in 1982, and several persons were witnesses for the engagement ceremony. She also deposed the birth certificates of her daughters; Sunitha born in the year 1983 and Anita born in the year 1984.

Moreover, it was stated in the certificates that the plaintiff and the deceased Somnath Tarapur are the parents of the daughters. In her cross-examination, there were 15 witnesses, among them the Prosecution Witness.2-Shanta Bai who is the mother-in-law of the plaintiff spoked about the marriage of the plaintiff and the deceased and that their marriage was as per the customary rites and ceremonies of the Hindu Marriage. P.W. 2, Saheblal, the owner of the house, deposed that the plaintiff and her the husband lived as husband and wife as tenants along with their two daughters. The deceased was working as a conductor in the K.S.R.T.C. bus and he used to bring another lady to the house erupting the relationship between the plaintiff and her husband.

The evidence of P.W. 5- Gundappa, narrated the preparation of the marriage and wrote  ‘yadhi' between the husband and the plaintiff, he also stated that the couple lived in the village itself for two years after the marriage. In the case of Smt. Parameshwari Bai V. Muthojirao Scindia[2] When a couple lives as husband and wife for a fairly long time and were so reputed, the law presumes that they were living as husband and wife and not in a state of concubinage”.

In the light of the above case, it has been proved by the plaintiff that she and her deceased husband were legally married to each other by the reason of their long cohabitation and the fact that they had begotten children out of the cohabitation. Therefore, it was declared that the Trial Court failed in appreciating the evidence on record and the entire approach of the Trial Court must be termed as wrong, if the judge would have been vigilant then the suit should not have been dismissed and would be in the favour of the plaintiff. The appeal, in this case, ought to succeed and the suit decreed, with cost throughout

Law Point: Before And After The Case

The law point: before and after in the case is the same. This case mainly focuses on Section 7(1) and Section 7(2) of The Hindu Marriage act, 1955, it was further added that Section 7(1) does not mean that the Hindu customary rites and ceremonies necessarily includes the taking of seven steps before the sacred fire. The customary marriage or ceremony of ‘yadhi' was followed by the plaintiff and her husband is sufficient to prove that they both were legally married to each other. 

Comment
In my opinion, the judgment of the appellant court was justifiable. I also think the same that the marriage between a husband and a wife under Section 7 does not necessarily include the taking of seven steps before the sacred fire.

This section defines the Hindu marriage to be solemnized in any customary rites and ceremonies of either of the party. Even in the Sikh religion, the Hindu marriage solemnizes when the husband and wife take 4 steps before the sacred fire.

Hence, it depends on the customary ceremonies which a particular religion follows and it may differ from each other. It does not necessarily mean the marriage will only be solemnized by talking seven steps before the sacred fire. The customs and ceremonies of all marriages are different from each other. In the above, the marriage of husband and wife was legal as it was as per S. 7(!) of The Hindu Marriage Act.

End-Notes:
  1. Section 7 of The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
  2. Parameshwari Bai vs Muthojirao Scindia 29 July 1980, AIR 1981 Kant 40, ILR 1981 KAR 78

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