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Validity of Hindu Marriage

Updated: May 5

Marriage holds a significant position in Hindu society, serving as a fundamental institution imbued with both legal and cultural importance. Rooted in intricate rituals and heartfelt commitments, Hindu marriages operate within a robust legal structure, notably governed by the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955.


This legislative framework not only sets forth the prerequisites and restrictions for a valid marriage but also tackles crucial issues such as monogamy and the prevention of child marriages. At its core, this legal framework aims to safeguard individual rights, promote societal well-being, and uphold the sanctity of marital unions.



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Conditions for a Valid Hindu Marriage (Section 5)


Eligibility Criteria

For a Hindu marriage to be legally valid, certain foundational criteria need to be satisfied. First and foremost, both the bride and the groom must have reached the minimum legal age for marriage, which is 21 years for men and 18 years for women.


Additionally, it is essential that neither party has a spouse living at the time of the marriage, thus ensuring adherence to monogamy.


Furthermore, both individuals must be capable of giving valid consent. This means that neither should be suffering from any mental disorder that impairs their ability to make such a significant decision.


This requirement not only protects the individuals involved but also ensures the potential for a stable and healthy marital relationship.


Prohibitions

The Hindu Marriage Act specifies several prohibitions to prevent legally invalid and socially discouraged marital unions.


One of the primary prohibitions is against bigamy. Any person who is already married cannot marry another individual unless the first marriage has been legally dissolved.


Violating this can lead to the marriage being void and the offending party being subject to legal penalties under the Indian Penal Code.


In addition to bigamy, marriages within prohibited degrees of relationship are not allowed unless there is a custom or usage governing the parties which permits such a marriage.


This includes marriages between direct blood relatives and certain relatives by marriage.


The Act provides specific guidelines on who cannot be married unless there is a prevailing custom that allows such relationships, emphasising the respect towards different cultural practices within Hindu society.

 
 

Bigamy

Section 5(ii) and its Legal Implications

Under Section 5(ii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, one of the conditions for a valid Hindu marriage is that neither party should have a spouse living at the time of their marriage.


This provision strictly enforces the rule of monogamy within Hindu law, reflecting the societal and ethical standards expected within the community.


Violation of this condition by marrying again while the first spouse is still alive, without the first marriage being legally dissolved, constitutes bigamy, which is prohibited and has serious legal consequences.


Sections 494 and 495 of the IPC

The enforcement of anti-bigamy laws under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) is stringent. Section 494 of the IPC makes it a criminal offence to marry again during the lifetime of a spouse.


The penalty for such an offence can be imprisonment for up to seven years and a fine. This section ensures that the sanctity and legal bond of marriage are protected by penalising those who undermine these principles through bigamy.


Section 495 of the IPC imposes even stricter penalties when the offence of bigamy is committed without disclosing the existing marriage to the person with whom the subsequent marriage is contracted.


This additional concealment qualifies the act as a more severe crime, reflecting the increased breach of trust and ethical misconduct involved.


Conditions Under Which a Bigamous Marriage Becomes Void

A bigamous marriage, as defined under Section 11 of the Hindu Marriage Act, is not just illegal but also void ab initio, meaning it is considered invalid from the outset.


This status applies regardless of whether the parties were aware of the bigamy. The law explicitly provides that such marriages have no legal validity, and the rights typically associated with marriage, such as spousal inheritance or maintenance, are not applicable.


Furthermore, under Section 17 of the Hindu Marriage Act, if a person who is already married under the Hindu law marries another person, such a marriage would be considered null and void.


This section also integrates the IPC provisions for bigamy, thereby not only making the marriage void but also subjecting the individual to criminal prosecution under Sections 494 and 495 of the IPC.

 
 

Leading Cases on Bigamy

BHAURAO SHANKAR LOKHANDE v STATE OF MAHARASHTRA

The case of Bhaurao Shankar Lokhande v. State of Maharashtra (AIR 1965 SC 1564) stands as a significant milestone in Indian law concerning bigamy.


  • The Supreme Court addressed the fundamental criteria for a lawful Hindu marriage and its implications for bigamy allegations.


The Court emphasised that a marriage must be solemnised with proper rituals and formalities to be recognized under the Hindu Marriage Act. Thus, any subsequent marriage can only be deemed bigamous if it satisfies all necessary ceremonial requirements.


In the Lokhande case, the Court ruled that the second marriage lacked the essential Hindu rites and ceremonies mandated by law, rendering it invalid for the purposes of prosecuting bigamy.


SARLA MUDGAL v UNION OF INDIA

In the landmark judgement of Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India (1995 AIR 1531 SC), the Supreme Court addressed the issue of religious conversion as a means to circumvent the provisions of monogamy under Hindu law.


In this case, Hindu husbands converted to Islam primarily to remarry without divorcing their first wives. The Court held that a Hindu marriage solemnised under the Hindu law can only be dissolved according to the provisions of the law.


Therefore, conversion to another religion by itself does not dissolve a Hindu marriage, and the subsequent marriage after conversion, if done without legally dissolving the first marriage, constitutes bigamy.


This ruling reinforced the principle that religious conversion should not be exploited as a pretext to justify or practice bigamy.


LILY THOMAS v UNION OF INDIA

The case of Lily Thomas v. Union of India (AIR 2000 SC 1650) further elaborated on the legal implications of converting to another religion with regards to marital laws.


In this case, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the position taken in Sarla Mudgal and held that under the Indian Penal Code, the act of bigamy does not get excused merely because a person adopts a different religion that permits polygamy.


The Court emphasised that the first marriage has to be dissolved according to the law under which it was solemnised before entering into a second marriage.


This case is significant because it clarified that legal protections against bigamy are not negated by religious conversion and that the sanctity and obligations of the first marriage continue to be legally binding.


Monogamy and Its Enforcement

It is clear form above discussion, Monogamy is a fundamental principle in Hindu marital law, upheld by the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. Section 5 prohibits marriage if either party has a living spouse.


Sections 494 and 495 of the Indian Penal Code penalise bigamy, with imprisonment up to seven years and harsher penalties for deceitful practices.


Section 11 of the Hindu Marriage Act declares any marriage violating monogamy void ab initio, safeguarding the rights of the first spouse and maintaining societal order.

 
 

Judicial Remedies Available for the Aggrieved Spouse

For spouses aggrieved by their partner's violation of the monogamy rule, several judicial remedies are available:


  1. Nullity of Marriage: Under Section 11 of the Hindu Marriage Act, the aggrieved spouse can seek a declaration that the second marriage is null and void due to its bigamous nature.

  2. Criminal Proceedings: As bigamy constitutes a criminal offence under Sections 494 and 495 of the IPC, the aggrieved spouse can file a criminal complaint against the bigamous spouse. This not only serves as a significant deterrent but also provides a measure of justice through criminal penalties.

  3. Compensation and Maintenance: Apart from criminal proceedings, the aggrieved spouse may seek compensation and maintenance through civil courts. The courts have the authority to award financial support to ensure that the aggrieved spouse is not left in a financially precarious position due to the actions of the bigamous spouse.

  4. Injunction: In some cases, where there is a clear indication that a spouse may be entering into a bigamous relationship, the aggrieved spouse can approach the court for an injunction to prevent the second marriage from taking place. This preemptive measure is crucial in stopping the violation before it occurs.



Child Marriage Under Hindu Marriage Act, 1955

The Hindu Marriage Act explicitly sets the minimum age for marriage to help combat child marriage, promoting social welfare and protecting the rights of children.


Section 5(iii) of the Act requires that the groom has completed the age of 21 years and the bride the age of 18 years at the time of marriage.


Marriages conducted below these age limits are subject to legal scrutiny and potential penalties, although they are not automatically void or voidable.


While the Act itself does not declare child marriages void, it imposes punitive measures for adults facilitating or conducting such marriages.


Section 18 of the Hindu Marriage Act specifies penalties for male adults marrying a minor, including possible imprisonment or a fine, emphasizing the Act’s role in deterring child marriages.


Judicial Remedies Available

For those involved in a child marriage, several judicial remedies are available once they reach the age of majority. These include:


  1. Annulment: Parties can file for annulment of a child marriage under Section 12 of the Hindu Marriage Act once they reach the age of majority but must do so within two years of attaining the age.


  1. Divorce: If the parties continue their marital relationship into adulthood but later seek separation, standard divorce proceedings available under the Act can be initiated.


  1. Maintenance and Custody: Courts often address maintenance and custody issues when dissolving child marriages, particularly if the union has resulted in children. The welfare of the children is paramount in such cases.


  1. Protection Orders: Victims of child marriages can also seek protection orders under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005, which provides further legal recourse for those suffering from abuse or coercion in the context of a child marriage.



The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006

The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, is a significant legal framework established to address and mitigate the practice of child marriages in India.


This Act was specifically designed to provide a stronger enforcement mechanism against child marriages, updating and replacing the earlier Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929.


It aims to eliminate the detrimental effects of child marriages on the health and rights of minors, especially girls.


The Act reiterates the legal minimum age for marriage, which remains 21 years for males and 18 years for females.


This aligns with the age requirements specified in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and reinforces the government's stance on preventing underage marriages.


One of the critical features of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act is that it makes child marriages voidable at the option of the contracting party who was a minor at the time of the marriage.


This means that the child involved in the marriage has the right to seek annulment up until two years after reaching the majority (i.e., 18 years for girls and 21 years for boys).


The Act imposes stringent penalties on anyone who performs, permits, promotes, or solemnizes a child marriage.


This includes a possible two-year imprisonment, a fine that may extend to one lakh rupees, or both.


These penalties apply to priests, family members, and any other individuals involved in arranging or conducting the marriage.


Role of Child Marriage Prohibition Officers

To enforce the provisions of the Act effectively, it establishes the role of Child Marriage Prohibition Officers.


These officers are tasked with preventing child marriages, gathering evidence for prosecution, and advising individuals and communities about the consequences of child marriages.


Protection and Welfare Measures

The Act also provides for protective measures to ensure the safety and best interests of the minors involved in such marriages.


This includes providing maintenance and safe accommodation, especially for female minors, and addressing the custody and maintenance of children born from child marriages.


Conclusion

The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 stands as a pillar of legal protection and societal advancement, safeguarding the rights and dignity of individuals embarking on matrimonial journeys.


Through its robust regulations against bigamy and underage marriage, the Act reinforces the principles of monogamy, consent, and the welfare of minors. Illustrated by landmark judicial rulings and legislative strides like the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006, India showcases its commitment to refining its legal framework, fostering equality, fairness, and social development in marriage-related matters.

 
 

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