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Case Analysis: Sarla Mudgal v/s Union Of India

There are several instances where people convert their religion to take advantage of one religion over the other. This article is concerned with those cases where people renounced their religion to take the benefits from the personal laws of other religions. Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India is one of those cases where one of the spouses converted to the Muslim religion to tie the knot with another woman without dissolving their first marriage which was solemnized under Hindu marriage laws.

Sarla Mudgal v/s Union Of India[1]:

On one hand, Hindu marriages are governed by the Hindu Personal law which applies to Hindus, Jain, Sikhs, and Buddhists. Hindu Personal laws are secularized and modernized by the statutory enactment. On the other hand, Muslim marriages are governed under the archaic provisions of Shariat law, 1937. Hindu marriage laws allow monogamy whereas Muslim individuals are allowed to marry as many as four women at a time.
  1. The fact of the case:
    Petitions were filed in the Supreme Court of India under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. Sarla Mudgal is the president of an NGO named Kalyani which aims to help women in distress. Meena Mathur, who was married to Jitender Mathur in 1978 found that her husband Jitender Mathur married another woman named Sunita Narula alias Fathima. Petitioner also learned that both Jitender Mathur and Fathima were converted to Islam before solemnizing their marriage. Fathima contended that the purpose of converting themselves to Islam and adopting the Muslim religion is to marry each other and circumvent the provision of section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

    In another petition, Sunita Narula accused Jitender Mathur, who was influenced by his Hindu wife Meena Mathur and her children. After marrying Sunita Narula, Jitender Mathur converted back to Hinduism. Jitender Mathur agreed to maintain his first Hindu wife and children born out of his first marriage. As a result, Jitender Mathur refuses to maintain his second wife who continues to be Muslim and has no protection under either of the personal law.

    In another petition, petitioner Geeta Rani married respondent Pradeep Kumar according to Hindu rites in 1988. The petitioner alleged that her husband assaulted her and in one of the assaults her husband broke her jawbone. Petitioner's Husband elopes with another woman named Deepa and married her after adopting Islam. The Petitioner also stated that the objective of conversion to Islam is to bypass the provision of section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
     
  2. Arguments of the parties:
    1. Petitioners:
      Marriage between petitioner and respondent solemnized according to the particular personal law. Petitioners have contended that the second marriage of their spouses is a violation of rights guaranteed under personal laws. Respondents are solemnizing their marriages without dissolving their first marriage. It would be tantamount to the violation of the rights of one of the spouses who are reluctant to adopt another religion.

      There are some cases where spouses are coerced to convert their religion. Such actions violate the fundamental right to freedom of religion guaranteed under article 25 of the Indian Constitution. The aggrieved parties knock on the door of the guardian of the constitution and ask to deliver justice to secure the rights of the aggrieved.
       
    2. Respondents:
      Respondents believe the provision of one particular personal law shall apply to all personal laws. In other words, the provisions of Muslim personal law must apply to Hindu personal law and other religious personal laws. Respondent contended that according to Muslim personal law if either of the spouses does not embrace the same religion that is Islam, a consequence has resulted in the dissolution of the marriage.

      The respondent argues that if one of the spouses converts oneself from the Hindu religion to the Muslim faith, the other spouse is duty-bound to convert to Islam to sustain their marriage. If the spouse failed to convert her religious faith the apostate husband is eligible to marry another woman without dissolving his first marriage and shall not be liable under section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 for bigamy.
       
  3. The issue before the Supreme Court:
    Religious conversion is the way out for people to tie the knot with another woman without dissolving their prior marriage according to the procedure established by law. Several issues were raised in the court regarding the immoral act of deserting one's partner and taking undue advantage of the freedom of religion in a secular state.

    There are primarily three issues that need to be addressed in the first place.

    Can a Hindu man solemnize his second marriage by converting himself to Islam without dissolving his first marriage?

    Is such a marriage a valid marriage without dissolving the first marriage under the law?
    Whether the apostate husband would be liable under section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860?
     
  4. Case laws:
    There are case laws related to the offense of bigamy under section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. In these cases, individuals by religious conversion solemnize their second marriage without dissolving their first marriage.

    In Budansa V. Fathima, 1914 IC 692, a Hindu Woman fraudulently married a Muslim man after converting her faith to Islam. Madras High Court held that the conversion of a Hindu woman to the Muslim faith did not ispo facto dissolve the marriage. Madras High Court convicted the accused for the offense of adultery under section 497 of the Indian Penal Code.

    In the case of Nandi alias Zainab v. Crown, ILR 1920, the wife of the complainant named Nandi changed her religion and converted to Mussalman. The conversion was intended to circumvent the provision of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and solemnize her second marriage. The court held that conversion from one religion to another does not amount to the sipo facto dissolution of marriage. A marriage can only cease to exist by the decree of the court. The convict was penalized under section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

    In Andal Vaidyanathan V. Abdul Allam Vaida, 1946 Madras, the High Court observed that the Special Marriage Act only contemplates monogamy. Whoever tied the knot under the act cannot escape from the provision of the act by converting their religion. When two individuals married under the act subsequently converted to Muslim. The marriage can only be dissolved under the provisions of the Divorce Act. The provisions of the Divorce Act also dissolve the marriage if one of the spouses converted to Islam.

    Hon'ble Justice M.C. Chagla elaborated on the legal position of the consequence of converting one's religion. According to Muslim personal law, the conversion of one of the spouses' religions resulted in the dissolution of the marriage because the other spouse does not embrace the same religion. On the contrary, the provisions of personal laws of other faiths, and conversions do not bring the same results.
     
  5. Therefore, the cases should be judged according to justice and rights and good conscience independently of any provision of law. The parties are entitled to subsequent justice and judgment should be based on principles of justice, equity, and good conscience. Hence, the provision of Muslim personal law shall not apply to parties belonging to other religions or faith.

Judgment:
The Supreme Court of India is also known as the guardian of the Indian Constitution. Since India's Independence, the Supreme Court of India has never failed to protect the integrity and sovereignty of the constitution. The doctrine of dissolubility of marriage under traditional Hindu marriage law does not give any effect on the conversion of religion. The conversion of religion and marrying another woman will not result in the dissolution of the previous marriage solemnized under Hindu marriage law.

Marriage is the foundation of civilized society. Once the relationship of marriage is formed, it binds the parties to various obligations and liabilities. On one hand, monogamy is the law for Hindus. On the other hand, Muslim law permits four wives for a Muslim male in India according to the Shariat law of 1937. Hindu man embraces Islam to solemnize his second marriage without dissolving his first marriage and escape from the liabilities which were imposed upon him under section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

A marriage can be dissolved under the provision of the Divorce act. A marriage can also be dissolved on the death of either of the spouses. According to Hindu Marriage Act, a marriage cannot be dissolved except on the grounds of section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1954. The second marriage of an apostate husband under Muslim law would be a marriage in violation of the provision of the act by which he would be continuing his first marriage.

As a result, a second marriage is illegal in the eyes of law. The second marriage of an apostate husband is against natural justice. It is arbitrary to allow individuals to solemnize their marriage without dissolving their prior marriage after conversion to Islam. It is a clear way out to circumvent the provision of section 494 of the Indian Penal Code.

The Supreme Court of India emphasizes the enforcement and implementation of the Uniform Civil Code in India to regulate matters related to marriage, divorce, adoption, inheritance, custody of the child, and other matters related to matrimonial disputes under a uniform law applicable to all religious communities uniformly. The objective of the Uniform Civil Code is to govern all the religious communities in India uniformly.

Offenses Relating To Marriage [2]:

Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860[3] deals with offenses against valid marriages in India. According to section 494 of the India Penal Code, 1860 whoever, once already married under a valid marriage contract with a living person, shall not be eligible to solemnize another marriage with another person.

The essential ingredients for committing the offense relating to marriages under section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 are as follows:
  • The first marriage must be legal.
  • The second marriage must be solemnized.
  • The first marriage should not be dissolved as per the provision of law and still exist in nature.
  • The spouse from the first marriage must be alive.
  • Both marriages must be valid.

Section 494 of the India Penal Code, 1860[4] does not extend to any person whose marriage has been declared void by the court of competent jurisdiction. It is not extended to the person who is contracted marriage with a man or a woman who has been continuously absent from such person for more than seven years and shall not be heard of such person being alive within that time.

It is a non-cognizable and bailable offense tried by the magistrate of the first class. A person who is liable under section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 shall be punishable with imprisonment up to seven years or fine, or both.

Analysis Of The Judgment:

The Supreme Court of India in Sarla Mudgal V. Union of India has rightly stated that the apostate husband is not allowed to marry another woman without dissolving his first marriage. The first marriage is solemnized under a particular personal law, and solemnizing the second marriage without dissolving the first marriage violates the rights of the partner who continues to believe in the same religion and is reluctant to change one's religious faith.

It is also against natural justice because it allows a married person who wants to desert his spouse to circumvent the provision of section 494 of the Indian Penal Code. If one of the spouses embraces Islam and wants to marry another person after converting their religious faith they need to dissolve their first marriage according to the procedure established by law.

The Supreme Court of India emphasizes the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code to deal with matrimonial issues such as divorce, child adoption, marriage, custody of children, and so on. Implementation of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) regulates all personal laws under the ambit of unified law. No one should be allowed to convert one's religion and solemnize second marriage during the lifetime of his or her first wife or husband.

Topics Related To Sarla Mudgal v/s Union Of India:

There are some topics related to Sarla Mudgal V. Union of India that should be discussed with the readers to have a better understanding of the case. The topics mentioned under the heading "Topic related to Sarla Mudgal V. Union of India" definition of marriage, acts passed by legislation regulating marriages, adoption, inheritance, and other related issues among different communities within the territory of India.

Marriage:
Marriage[5] is a social and religious ceremony that creates legal obligations between men and women. Marriage[6] is a legally recognized union of a man and woman as spouses in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law. It establishes rights and obligations between men and women who became partners for life under the institution which is recognized by law. A marriage is a legal procedure to recognize a man and a woman as a single identity in society. Marriage is a cultural phenomenon where two individuals solemnize a relationship of uniting two families.

In India, marriages between men and women regulate primarily under Hindu Marriage Act, Muslim Marriage Act, and Special Marriage Act. Hindu Marriages synchronize under Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. Muslim marriages manage under the Muslim Marriage Act, 1954 which deals with marriages, succession, inheritance, and charities among Muslims. The special Marriage Act, 1954 is central legislation to validate and register inter-religious and inter-caste marriages in India.

Hindu Marriage Act, 1955:
Hindu Marriage Act, 1955[7] applies to any person who is Hindu by religion. It also applies to any Buddhist, Jain, or Sikh person by religion. It solemnizes marriages of the individuals domiciled in the territories of the country, individuals who are not Muslim, Christian, Parsi, or Jews by religion. Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 deals with Hindu marriages, divorce, judicial separation, restitution of conjugal rights, void and voidable marriages, punishment for having more than one marriage, and other related provisions.

Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 allows monogamy between Hindus. A marriage may be solemnized between any two Hindus by satisfying a few conditions which were laid down in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

These conditions are as follows:
  • Neither of the party has a spouse living at the time of marriage
  • Both parties must be of sound mind and capable of giving valid consent to the marriage.
  • The female completed at the age of 21 and the male completed at the age of 18.
  • The parties are not engaged within the degrees of prohibited relationship.
  • The parties are not "Sapindus" of each other.

Muslim Marriage Act, 1955:
Muslim Marriage Act[8] was drafted and implemented into the Indian Legal System in the year 1955. It regulates Muslim marriages among the Muslim community in India. A formal binding contract is considered an integrated part of a religious valid Muslim marriage. The bidding contract determines the rights and responsibilities of the bride and groom.

Both bride and groom must give consent to the marriage of their free will without any undue influence or coercion or threat on either of the parties. Both parties must belong to and profess the Muslim faith or religion to solemnize a marriage under Muslim Marriage Act.

A person who belongs to the Muslim community is capable of contracting marriage at the minimum age of 16 years. A male who is less than twenty-one years of age and a female who is less than eighteen years of age are eligible to contract marriage under Muslim Marriage Act. Such marriages are registered in the presence of the father, mother, or guardian of the Individuals.

Special Marriage Act, 1954:
The Special Marriage Act of 1954 allows two individuals to solemnize their marriage through a civil contract without any religious formalities.

Section 5 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 instructs the parties willing to marry each other to give notice of their marriage to the marriage officer in an area where one of the spouses has to live for the last 30 days. Then the marriage officer is required to publish the notice of marriage to interrogate whether anyone has objections to the intended marriage.

Under section 6 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954, the marriage can be rejected if the objections against the marriage are filed within 30 days of publishing the marriage notice and objections against the marriage are sustained by the marriage officer.

Sections 5 and 6 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 criticized the grounds of the right to privacy integrated with the right to life under article 21 of the Indian Constitution. It violates the fundamental rights of liberty and privacy along with the right to freedom to choose their life partners by inviting objections to the intended marriage between two major individuals.

Matrimonial Relationships:

A matrimonial relationship establishes between a man and a woman after getting married under the legally recognized marriage procedure. A man or a woman having more than one spouse is a violation of the rights of another spouse who is deserted by his or her spouse by tying the knot with another person.

Monogamy:
The practice of marrying or the state of being married to a single person

Bigamy:
The criminal offense is prohibited under section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. It is the practice of marrying someone while already married to another person.

Polygamy:
When a man is married to more than one wife or a woman is married to more than one husband at a time.

Uniform Civil Code (UCC)[9]:

Article 44 of the Indian Constitution requires the State to strive Uniform Civil Code[10] to secure its citizen throughout the country. Uniform Civil Code aims to replace personal laws based on the customs and beliefs of major religious communities in India with common rules governing every citizen in the subject related to marriage, divorce, custody of a child, adoption, and inheritance.

Uniform Civil Code promotes the elimination of discrimination among people in terms of different religions and different sexes in Indian Society. Uniform Civil Code promotes women with equal rights and access to justice in the court of law.

It establishes a secular society integrated with the simplification of laws. It promotes national integrity, solidarity, and sovereignty. It ensures gender justice between men and women in patriarchal domination. It supports women to liberate them from a patriarchal society and ensures equality and liberty for women.

The implementation of the Uniform Civil Code is no piece of cake for the legislation. It is subjected to constitutional challenges such as conflicting with fundamental rights and maintaining public order, health, and morality. The Uniform Civil code is subjected to social-political challenges where cultural diversity and Patriarchal mindset are major setbacks in the enforcement of Uniform Civil laws.

Conclusion:
We are in the twenty-first century and 2023 is just around the corner but still, there is no clue about the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code in India. We keep emphasizing o the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code but failed to address practical complications arising from such enforcement. The situation demands cooperation among the executive, legislative, and judiciary to overcome the complication and implement uniform laws to regulate legal matters related to matrimonial, inheritance, and adoptions among different religious communities.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
  1. Is Uniform Civil Code a Fundamental Right?
    Answer: NO. Uniform Civil Code is described under article 44 of the Indian Constitution. It is a Directive Principle of State Policy (DPSP)
     
  2. Does a Muslim individual marry a Hindu individual?
    Answer: Yes, they can marry under the Special Marriage Act, 1954
     
  3. Polygamy allowed in Muslim Marriage Act, 1955. Comment on the statement.
    Answer: Polygamy is not allowed under Muslim Marriage Act. Muslim Marriages are regulated under Shariat law, 1937 permits Muslim individuals to marry as many as four women at a time.
     
  4. Is valid consent an essential ingredient in the Muslim Marriage Act, 1955, and Special Marriage Act, 1954?
    Answer:
    Yes, valid consent backed by an informed decision is one of the essential conditions for marriage under the Muslim Marriage Act, 1955, and the Special Marriage Act, 1954.
End-Notes:
  1. Sarla Mudgal v/s Union of India AIR 1995 SC 1531
  2. An offense relating to marriages, Indian Penal Code, 1860
  3. Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1960, Law Tendo, updated on 23 June 2022, Marrying Again During Lifetime of Husband or Wife - Section 494 | Indian Kanoon (lawtendo.com)
  4. Exception in Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Indian Kanoon, updated on 23 June 2022, Section 494 in The Indian Penal Code (indiankanoon.org)
  5. Definition of marriage, Oxford dictionary of law, 9th edition edited by Jonathan Law
  6. Definition of marriage, Britannica, updated on 23 June 2022, marriage | Definition, History, Types, Customs, Laws, & Facts | Britannica
  7. Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, A CT N O. 25 OF 1995 1[18th May 1995], 4.pdf (highcourtchd.gov.in)
  8. Muslim Marriage Act, 1954, India fillings, updated on 23 June 2022, Muslim Marriage Act - Applicability & Procedures - IndiaFilings
  9. Uniform Civil Code, Article 44 of the Indian Constitution, Constitution of India
  10. Uniform Civil Code, Drishti IAS, updated on 23 June 2022, Uniform Civil Code (drishtiias.com)
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