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Indian Case Summary

Smt. Sarla Mudgal, President, … vs Union Of India & Ors on 10 May, 1995 – Case Summary

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In the case of Smt. Sarla Mudgal, President, Kalyani & Ors. vs Union Of India & Ors., the Supreme Court of India delivered a landmark judgment on 10th May 1995, which had significant implications for the interpretation of personal laws in India. The case was presided over by Justice Kuldip Singh and Justice R.M. Sahai.

Facts of the Case

The case involved four petitions filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. The petitioners included Smt. Sarla Mudgal, the President of Kalyani, a registered society working for the welfare of needy families and women in distress, and three other women – Meena Mathur, Geeta Rani, and Sushmita Ghosh. Each of these women had been married to Hindu men who had converted to Islam and subsequently entered into second marriages without dissolving their first marriages.

The central question for consideration was whether a Hindu husband, married under Hindu law, could solemnise a second marriage by embracing Islam, without having the first marriage dissolved under law. The court was also asked to consider whether such a marriage would be valid in relation to the first wife who continued to be a Hindu, and whether the apostate husband would be guilty of the offence under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Issues Raised

The case raised several critical issues. Firstly, it questioned the validity of a second marriage by a Hindu husband after converting to Islam, without dissolving the first marriage. Secondly, it examined the legal status of the first wife who remained a Hindu. Thirdly, it considered whether the husband, by converting to Islam and entering into a second marriage, was guilty of bigamy under Section 494 of the IPC.

Court’s Observations and Judgment

The court observed that a marriage solemnised under a particular personal law cannot be dissolved by the application of another personal law to which one of the spouses converts and the other refuses to do so. It held that a Hindu marriage continues to subsist even after one of the spouses converts to Islam. There was no automatic dissolution of the marriage.

The court further noted that the position had not changed after the coming into force of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. The Act strictly enforces monogamy. A marriage performed under the Act cannot be dissolved except on the grounds available under section 13 of the Act. One of the grounds under Section 13 (i) (ii) is that “the other party has ceased to be a Hindu by conversion to another religion”.

The court concluded that a second marriage by a convert would be in violation of the Act and as such would be nonest. The second marriage of an apostate would, therefore, be an illegal marriage qua his wife who married him under the Act and continues to be Hindu. Between the apostate and his Hindu wife, the second marriage is in violation of the provisions of the Act.

The court also held that the second marriage by a convert, without having the first marriage dissolved under law, would be a valid marriage qua the first wife who continues to be Hindu. The apostate husband would be guilty of the offence under Section 494 of the IPC.

The judgment in the Sarla Mudgal case is significant as it highlighted the need for a uniform civil code in India and underscored the challenges posed by personal laws to the principles of equality and justice. The court’s interpretation of the law in this case has had a profound impact on the discourse around personal laws and the need for legal reform in India.