The act of bigamy is marrying someone else while already being married to another spouse. This act is considered illegal in India hence a person cannot legally marry another spouse when they are already in a legal marriage with a spouse who is alive. Such a second marriage will be declared null and void. It is a known fact that the Hindu Marriage Act prohibits bigamy and anyone who conducts such an act is punishable under the Indian penal code upon a complaint by the aggrieved spouse.
Is Bigamy Legal in India?
The act of marrying another person while being legally married to someone else is considered illegal under Indian Laws. It is considered a ground for divorce under the Hindu Marriage Act. Below are a few elements for considering a marriage as bigamy:
- The person conducting such an act is already in a valid and legal marriage.
- Marrying again while a prevailing legal marriage.
- The spouse in the first marriage is living at the time of the second marriage.
However, bigamy laws are different under different religions. The Hindu Marriage Act strictly prohibits bigamy and is a criminal offense under Indian penal provision. Under the Parsi marriage and divorce have declared bigamy null and void. However, under the Christian marriage law, it is not specifically provided whether the act of bigamy is legal or not. It is merely stated in this marriage certificate that neither of the parties to a marriage shall have a wife or husband still alive and hence, it can be considered an oath or declaration. Muslim marriage acts allow Muslim men to marry two, three, or even four times provided he treats all wives equally.
Punishment for Bigamy
In India, where bigamy has been made illegal, one can see how detrimental this act truly is. Under Section 494 of the IPC, a person convicted of bigamy may face up to seven years behind bars. Attempting to break marriage's hallowed status, this term of confinement acts as a deterrent. Paying a fine is an added consequence for the offender, along with possible imprisonment. Not only does this financial penalty serve as a punishment, but also as a way to give back to those who were emotionally and psychologically hurt by the offense.
Not just the legal implications but also social and emotional effects are significant when dealing with bigamy. A product of bigamy, the legal spouse and any dependents face immense emotional suffering, mental distress, and social rejection.
Laws governing bigamy in India
- Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 - According to the Hindu Marriage Act, a lawful marriage is where neither party had a spouse alive at the time of the marriage. If such a requirement is breached by either party the marriage will be considered invalid and is subject to a decree of nullity. If a person of the Hindu religion marries another person while already being in a marriage with another spouse shall be punishable under the IPC.
- Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 - Under the Muslim Women Act 1986 there is no specific provision for dressing by bigamy, however, a Muslim man retains the right to marry multiple women provided he upholds equal treatment.
- Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936 - The Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act of 1936 consists of bigamy null and void as outlined in the Indian penal code.
- Christian Divorce Act, 1896 - The Christian divorce does not address bigamy, however, the Indian penal code establishes that a second marriage is prohibited and punishable if there is an existing valid and legal marriage.
- Special Marriage Act, 1954 - Section 44 of the Special Marriage Act designates bigamy under the ambit of sections 494 and 495 of the IPC.
- Bigamy under Indian Criminal Law - Apart from the IPC, the Indian Evidence Act allows the courts to presume the act of bigamy based the specific facts based on human conduct and normal patterns. The judgment by the court is guided by rational judgment and common sense.
How people escape from Bigamy
Annulment based on Lack of Consent:
In certain instances, a person may assert that their consent to the first marriage was not given voluntarily or was obtained under duress or fraud. If proven, this lack of genuine consent could potentially render the first marriage void or voidable. This strategy aims to dismantle the foundation of the bigamy charge by questioning the validity of the initial marriage.
Proof of Non-Existence of First Marriage:
An individual might argue that the first marriage, which forms the basis of the bigamy charge, never actually took place. This strategy often necessitates the presentation of evidence, such as discrepancies in records, witness testimony, or documentation of the alleged first marriage's non-existence.
Religious or Cultural Defenses:
Some individuals might attempt to justify their actions by citing religious or cultural practices that they believe allow for multiple marriages. While religious freedom is an important legal consideration, courts typically weigh this defense against the established laws and principles of the jurisdiction.
Geographical Jurisdiction Dispute:
In cases involving marriages from different jurisdictions, an individual might contend that the first marriage was not legally recognized in the jurisdiction where the bigamy charge is being pursued. This strategy relies on potential conflicts of laws and requires legal expertise to navigate.
Void Marriage due to Legal Technicalities:
Certain legal technicalities, such as defects in the marriage license, improper solemnization, or lack of legal capacity, might be used to challenge the validity of the first marriage. Successfully demonstrating that the initial marriage is void could undermine the basis for the bigamy accusation.
Negotiated Settlements or Plea Bargains:
To avoid the potential consequences of a bigamy conviction, an accused person may explore the possibility of negotiating a plea bargain or a settlement with the prosecution. This could involve agreeing to plead guilty to a lesser charge or accepting certain penalties in exchange for avoiding a full trial.
Famous Bigamy Cases in India
The Sarla Mudgal case revolved around several petitions filed under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. Sarla Mudgal, the President of the NGO Kalyani, was involved in one of the petitions. Another petition was filed by Sunita Narula, who accused Jitender Mathur of marrying another woman and converting to Islam. A third petition came from Geeta Rani, who claimed her husband had converted to Islam to evade charges of bigamy. The case raised questions about the validity of marriages following religious conversions and the application of Section 494 of the IPC (Indian Penal Code), which pertains to bigamy.
Key Issues Addressed by the Court:
- Whether a Hindu husband converting to Islam to marry a second time is valid under the law.
- Whether a second marriage without dissolving the first marriage is valid if the first spouse remains Hindu.
- Whether a husband who converts to another religion can be charged under Section 494 of IPC.
The case analyzed Section 494 of IPC, which considers marrying during the lifetime of a spouse as void and punishable. Article 44 of the Indian Constitution was also considered, which calls for a uniform civil code for Indian citizens.
The court held that if one of the parties is permitted to dissolve the marriage by adopting & enforcing a new personal law, it would destroy the existing rights of the spouse who continues to be a Hindu. Thus, a marriage performed under the Hindu Marriage Act cannot be dissolved except on the grounds specified in Section 13 of the said act and any second marriage breaching this provision will be illegal & violative of justice, equity, and good conscience. The court emphasized the need for harmony between different legal systems and found that a husband converting to another religion could be charged under Section 494 of IPC. The court also stressed the necessity of a Uniform Civil Code to prevent such conflicts and secure justice.
In conclusion, the Sarla Mudgal case dealt with the use of religious conversion to evade bigamy charges and highlighted the need for a uniform civil code to ensure equitable treatment under the law. The judgment emphasized that changing personal laws to facilitate multiple marriages would undermine the rights of spouses and advocated for a balanced legal framework.
In conclusion, bigamy in India stands as a complex legal and societal issue with far-reaching implications. Through a historical and legal lens, we have observed how bigamy has been addressed and adjudicated, both through landmark court cases and legislative reforms. The delicate balance between religious freedom, individual autonomy, and the imperative to uphold the sanctity of marriage has driven legal deliberations and shaped public discourse. As India continues to modernize and diversify, it becomes increasingly important to strike a harmonious equilibrium between traditional values and evolving legal norms. Efforts to promote gender equality, protect the rights of women, and establish a uniform civil code remain integral to resolving the complexities surrounding bigamy.
When does bigamy not apply?
Bigamy does not apply when the previous marriage of the person said to be conducting bigamy is null, illegal, or void or the previous spouse is dead.
What proof is required for filing a complaint for bigamy?
Marriage certificate of the spouse filing the complaint, evidence of second marriage while subsistence of the first marriage, and communication records, if any.
Where to file a complaint under bigamy law?
A complaint for bigamy can be filed either in the police station or in the court. The jurisdiction of the complaint should be the place of second marriage.