Sarla Mudgal and Ors. Vs. Union of India
Decided on: 10th May 1995
Citation: AIR 1995 SC 1531
Judge Involved: Justice Kuldip Singh, Justice R.M. Sahai
Kalyani is an NGO that works for distressed women, headed by Sarla Mudgal. There are four petitioners. Petitioner 1 is the president of the Kalyani NGO, Smt. Sarla Mudgal. Petitioner 2 is Meena Mathur was married to Jitender Mathur. He had converted to Islam and secretly married for a second time, to one Sunita Narula, alias Fathima. Meena believes that the conversion of her husband is merely for circumventing the provisions of Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code.
The same Fathima is also a petitioner, who contends that Jitender Prasad, under the influence of Hinduism, had begun to maintain his first wife and children. Her grievance is that she continues to be a Muslim, and has no protection under any personal laws. Geeta Rani, another petitioner, contends that she underwent physical violence, even resulting in grave injuries to her.
Further, her husband elopes to convert and marry another woman. She alleges that the conversion is only for the mere purpose of facilitation of second marriage. The final petitioner was Sushmita Ghosh, a lady who was married to her husband according to Hindu rites. After some years, her husband told her that he no longer wished to live with her, and henceforth, asked for a mutual divorce.
When she refused, her husband revealed that he had embraced Islam and he was soon going to marry another woman. The petitioner wishes to restrain her husband from this act of conversion not out of faith, but with the sole purpose of a second marriage and circumventing provisions of Section 494 under the Indian Penal Code.
Also Read: Lily Thomas vs. Union of India and Others
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Issues Raised in Sarla Mudgal case
Many issues were raised. This was a very broad petition which involved multiple articles of the constitution, personal laws, and a request by one of the judges for a uniform civil code. Further, these issues were:
- Whether a Hindu husband, married under Hindu law, by embracing Islam, can solemnize a second marriage?
- Whether such a marriage without having the first marriage dissolved under law, would be a valid marriage qua the first wife who continues to be Hindu?
- Whether the apostate husband would be guilty of the offense under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)?
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Statutes and Provisions in discussion
Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code: Marrying again during lifetime of husband or wife—Whoever, having a husband or wife living, marries in any case in which such marriage is void because of it taking place during the life of such husband or wife, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Article 25 of The Indian Constitution: Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.
Article 44 of the Indian Constitution: The State shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.
It was held that the first marriage would still be valid. The second marriage shall only be facilitated after the first marriage is dissolved. If the husband converts and marries again before the dissolution of the first marriage, it is the first marriage that will be held valid, and the second marriage will be held invalid.
Hence, the marriage would have to be dissolved under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. Justice Kuldip Singh expresses that the government must once look at Article 44 of the Indian Constitution, which implies that the state must provide for a uniform civil code. There has been no direction issued by the judge, but only a request.
It was also mentioned that when about 80% of a population are following one type of law- that is Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, and more. Henceforth, it is irrational to keep affray the remaining people separated from other different personal laws. The judgment also mentions the conflicts of different cases where there were special marriages and the conflicts that arose after conversion due to different personal laws for different religions and people.
The need and requirement of a uniform civil code seem highly evident in the points mentioned in the judgment by Justice Kuldip Singh.
Justice R.M. Sahai, however, gave a dissenting opinion in the context of the Uniform Civil Code. He believed that the implementation of a uniform code for all religions would lead to worse than good. Seeking the fact that India is a secular country, and a religiously diverse country, people are highly sensitive in regard to the religion they profess.
Hence, A uniform civil code can only be implemented when people feel that their religion stands to protect them, and their fundamental right of professing and propagating religion is not violated. Also, enforcing a uniform civil code may result in dissatisfaction among different religions, castes, and even the tribal population of India.
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Critical Analysis of Sarla Mudgal case
The Sarla Mudgal case highlights the importance of a Uniform Civil Code in our country. It also brings into question the disputes that are caused among several religious personal laws. This has often resulted in a violation of the fundamental rights that are laid down by the Indian Constitution.
It is to be kept in mind that Constitution is the law of the land, and no personal law shall ever stand in hindrance to the provisions laid down by the constitution. This highlights that there is a need for a uniform civil code in the country.
–Written by Moksh Bhatnagar
(Writer, The Legal State)
– Edited by Mahek Raval
(Editor, The Legal State)