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Section 12 in The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
Section 125 in The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973
Section 11 in The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973
The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
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Supreme Court of India
Smt. Yamunabai Anantrao Adhav A vs Ranantrao Shivram Adhav And ... on 27 January, 1988
Equivalent citations: 1988 AIR 644, 1988 SCR (2) 809
Author: L Sharma
Bench: Sharma, L.M. (J)
           PETITIONER:
SMT. YAMUNABAI ANANTRAo ADHAV A

	Vs.

RESPONDENT:
RANANTRAo SHIVRAM ADHAV AND ANOTHER

DATE OF JUDGMENT27/01/1988

BENCH:
SHARMA, L.M. (J)
BENCH:
SHARMA, L.M. (J)
MISRA RANGNATH

CITATION:
 1988 AIR  644		  1988 SCR  (2) 809
 1988 SCC  (1) 530	  JT 1988 (1)	193
 1988 SCALE  (1)184


ACT:
     Criminal Procedure	 Code, 1973: Section 125-Hindu woman
marrying a  Hindu man having a lawfully wedded wife -Whether
entitled to  maintenance-Personal law  of the  party-Whether
can be excluded-Expression 'wife'-Meaning of.
     Hindu Marriage Act, 1955: Sections 4, 5(i), 11, 12, 14,
1 Hindu	 woman marrying a Hindu man having a lawfully wedded
wife Whether  such marriage  valid-Effect of  such marriage-
Whether such  woman entitled to maintenance under s. 125 Cr.
P. C. . 1973.
     Words and Phrases: Expression 'wife'-Meaning of.



HEADNOTE:
%
     The appellant  was married	 to the	 first respondent by
observance of rites under Hindu Law in June, 1974, while the
first respondent's  earlier marriage  was subsisting and the
wife was alive. After living with the first respondent for a
week, she  left the  house alleging ill-treatment. She filed
an application	for maintenance in 1976, which was dismissed
by the	trial Court.  Her  appeal  to  the  High  Court	 was
dismissed by a Full Bench.
     In the  appeal to	this Court it was urged on behalf of
the appellant  that a marriage should not be treated as void
because such  a marriage  was earlier  recognised in law and
custom and  in any  event, the	marriage would	be  voidable
under s.  12 of	 the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, that the term
"wife" in  s. 125  of the  Cr. P.C.,  1973 should be given a
wider and extended meaning so as to include therein not only
a lawfully wedded wife but also a woman married, in fact, by
performance of	necessary rites	 or following  the procedure
laid down  under the  law, that	 the  personal	law  of	 the
parties to  a proceeding under s. 125 of the Cr. P.C. should
be excluded  from consideration,  and since  a divorcee	 has
been held  to be  entitled to the benefits of the section, a
woman in  the same  position as the appellant should also be
brought within	the sweep  of the  section,  and  since	 the
appellant was  not informed  about the	respondent's earlier
marriage, when she married him, who treated her as his wife,
her prayer for maintenance should be allowed.
810
     It was  contended on  behalf of the respondent that the
term "wife" used in Section 125 of the Cr. P.C. meant only a
legally wedded	wife, and  as the  marriage of the appellant
must be held to be null and void by reason of the provisions
of the	Hindu Marriage,	 Act, 1955  the	 appellant  was	 not
entitled to any relief under the section.
     Dismissing the appeal,
^
     HELD: l. The marriage of a woman in accordance with the
Hindu rites  with a  man having	 legal spouse,	after coming
into force  of the  Hindu Marriage  Act, 1955  is a complete
nullity in  the eye  of law  and she  is not entitled to the
benefit of  Sec. 125  of the  Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.
[813D]
     2.1 Clause	 (1)(i) of  s. 5  of the Hindu Marriage Act,
lays down,  for a  lawful marriage,  the necessary condition
that neither  party should  have a spouse living at the time
of the	marriage, and  therefore a marriage in contravention
of this	 condition is null and void, under section 11 of the
Act. [813G]
     2.2 By  reason of	the overriding effect of the Act, as
mentioned in  s. 4, no aid can be taken of the earlier Hindu
law  or	 any  custom  or  usage	 as  a	part  of  that	law,
inconsistent with  any provisions  of the Act. Section 12 is
confined to  other  categories	of  marriages,	and  is	 not
applicable to  one solemnized  in violation of s. 5(1)(i) of
the Act.  Cases covered	 under section	12 are	not void  ab
initio. [813H; 814A-B]
     2.3 The  marriage covered	by s. 11 are void-ipso-jure,
that is,  void from  the very  inception,  and	have  to  be
ignored as  not existing  in law  at all  if and when such a
question arises.  Although  the	 section  permits  a  formal
declaration to be made on the presentation of a petition, it
is  not	 essential  to	obtain	in  advance  such  a  formal
declaration  from  a  court  in	 a  proceeding	specifically
commenced for the purpose. [814B-C]
     The marriage  of  the  appellant  must,  therefore,  be
treated as null and void from its verv inception. [815C]
     3.1 Section  125 has  been enacted in the interest of a
wife, and  one who intends to take benefit under sub-section
(l)(a) has  to establish  the necessary	 condition,  namely,
that she is the wife of the person concerned. This issue can
be decided  only by a reference to the law applicable to the
parties. [815E]
811
     3.2 It  is only  where  an	 applicant  establishes	 her
status or  relationship with  reference to  the Personal Law
that an	 application for maintenance can be maintained. Once
the right  under the  section is  established  by  proof  of
necessary  conditions	mentioned  therein,   it  cannot  be
defeated by further reference to the Personal Law. [816D-E]
     3.3 For  the purpose  of extending	 the benefit  of the
section to  a divorced woman, and an illegitimate child, the
Parliament considered it necessary to include in the section
specific provisions  to that effect but has not done so with
respect to women not lawfully married. [816F]
     3.4 The  word "wife"  is not  defined in  the Cr.	P.C.
except indicating in the Explanation to s. 125 its inclusive
character so  as to  cover a  divorcee. A  woman cannot be a
divorcee, unless  there was  a marriage	 in the	 eye of	 law
preceding that	status. The  expression must,  therefore, be
given  the   meaning  in  which	 it  is	 understood  in	 law
applicable to the parties, subject to the Explanation (b). A
divorcee is included in the section on account of cl. (b) of
the Explanation. [815D-E]
     3.5 Principle  of estoppel	 cannot be  relied  upon  to
defeat the  provisions of  the Act.  So	 far  as  the  first
respondent treating  her as  wife is  concerned, it is of no
avail, as  the issue  has to be settled under the law. It is
the intention of the legislature, which is relevant, and not
the attitude of the parties. The prayer of the appellant for
maintenance  cannot,  therefore,  be  allowed  even  if	 the
appellant was  not informed,  at the time of her marriage to
the respondent, about his earlier marriage. [816G-H]
     Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Skah Bano Beghum, [1985] 3 SCR 844,
distinguished.



JUDGMENT:

CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Criminal Appeal No. 475 of 1983.

From the Judgment and order dated 21/22-4-1982 of the Bombay High Court in Crl. Appln. No. 478 of 1980.

A.K. Sanghi for the Appellant.

A.M. Khanwilkar for the Respondents.

The Judgment of the Court was delivered by 812 SHARMA, J. The point involved in this appeal is whether a Hindu woman who is married after coming into force of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 to a Hindu male having a living lawfully wedded wife can maintain an application for maintenance under section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (hereinafter referred to as the Code). The appellant Smt. Yamunabai was factually married to respondent no. 1 Anantrao Shivram Adhav by observance of rites under Hindu Law in June, 1974. Anantrao had earlier married one Smt. Lilabai who was alive and the marriage was subsisting in 1974. The appellant lived with the respondent no. 1 for a week and there after left the house alleging ill-treatment. She made an application for maintenance in 1976 which was dismissed. The matter was taken to the Bombay High Court, where the case was heard by a Full Bench, and was decided against the appellant by the impugned judgment.

2. Section 125 of the Code by sub-section (1) which reads as follows clothes the "wife" with the right to receive maintenance is a n summary proceeding under the Code:

125(1). If any person having sufficient means neglects or refuses to maintain-
(a) his wife, unable to maintain herself, or
(b) his legitimate or illegitimate minor child, whether married or not, unable to maintain itself, or
(c) his legitimate or illegitimate child (not being a married daughter) who has attained majority, where such child is, by reason of any physical or mental abnormality or injury unable to maintain itself, or
(d) his father or mother, unable to maintain himself or herself, a Magistrate of the first class may, upon proof of such neglect or refusal, order such person to make a monthly allowance for the maintenance of his wife or such child, father or mother, at such monthly rate not exceeding five hundred rupees in the whole, as such Magistrate thinks fit, and to pay the same to such person as the Magistrate may from time to time direct:
813
Provided that the Magistrate may order the father of a minor female child referred to in clause (b) to make such allowance, until she attains her majority, if the Magistrate is satisfied that the husband of such minor female child if married is not possessed of sufficient means.
Explanation. For the purposes of this chapter:
(a) "minor" means a person who, under the provisions of the Indian Majority Act, 1875 (9 of 1875), is deemed not to have attained his majority;
(b) "wife" includes a woman who has been divorced by, or has obtained a divorce from, her husband and has not remarried. "

According to the respondent the term 'wife' used in the section means only a legally wedded wife, and as the marriage of the appellant must be held to be null and void by reason of the provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, she is not entitled to any relief under the section.

3. For appreciating the status of a Hindu woman marrying a Hindu male with a living spouse some of the provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (hereinafter referred to as the Act) have to be examined. Section 11 of the Act declares such a marriage as null and void in the following terms:

" 11. Void marriages-Any marriage solemnized after the commencement of this Act shall be null and void and may, on a petition presented by either party thereto against the other party, be so declared by a decree of nullity if it contravenes any one of the conditions specified in clauses (i), (iv) and (v) of Section 5. "

Clause (1)(i) of s. 5 lays down, for a lawful marriage, the necessary condition that neither party should have a spouse living at the time of the marriage. A marriage in contravention of this condition, therefore, is null and void. It was urged on behalf of the appellant that a marriage should not be treated as void because such a marriage was earlier recognised in law and custom. A reference was made to s. 12 of the Act and it was said that in any event the marriage would be voidable. There is no merit in this contention. By reason of the overriding effect of the Act as mentioned in s. 4, no aid can be taken of the earlier 814 Hindu Law or any custom or usage as a part of that Law inconsistent with any provision of the Act. So far as s. 12 is concerned, it is confined to other categories of marriage and is not applicable to one solemnised in violation of s. S(1)(i) of the Act. Sub-section (2) of s. 12 puts further restrictions on such a right. The cases covered by this section are not void ab initio, and unless all the conditions mentioned therein are fulfilled and the aggrieved party exercises the right to avoid it, the same continues to be effective. The marriages covered by s. 11 are void-ipso- jure, that is, void from the very inception, and have to be ignored as not existing in law at all if and when such a question arises. Although the section permits a formal declaration to be made on the presentation of a petition, it is not essential to obtain in advance such a formal declaration from a court in a proceeding specifically commenced for the purpose. The provisions of s. 16, which is quoted below, also throw light on this aspect:

" 16. Legitimacy of children of void and voidable marriages.-(1) Notwithstanding that a marriage is null and void under Section 11, any child of such marriage who would have been legitimate if the marriage had been valid, shall be legitimate, whether such child is born before or after the commencement of the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Act, 1976 (68 of 1976), and whether or not a decree of nullity is granted in respect of that marriage under this Act and whether or not the marriage is held to be void otherwise than on a petition under this Act.
(2) Where a decree of nullity is granted in respect of a voidable marriage under Section 12, any child begotten or conceived before the decree is made, who would have been the legitimate child of the parties of the marriage if at the date of the decree it had been dissolved instead of being annulled, shall be deemed to be their legitimate child not withstanding the decree of nullity.
(3) Nothing contained in sub-section (1) or sub section (2) shall be construed as conferring upon any child of a marriage which is null and void or which is annulled by a decree of nullity under Section 12, any rights in or to the property of any person, other than the parents, in any case where, but for the passing of this Act, such child would have been incapable of possessing or acquiring any such 815 rights by reason of his not being the legitimate child of his parents.

(Emphasis added).

Sub-section (1), by using the words underlined above clearly, implies that a void marriage can be held to be so without a prior formal declaration by a court in a proceeding. While dealing with cases covered by s. 12, sub- section (2) refers to a decree of nullity as an essential condition and sub-section (3) prominently brings out the basic difference in the character of void and voidable marriages as covered respectively by ss. 11 and 12. It is also to be seen that while the legislature has considered it advisable to uphold the legitimacy of the paternity of a child born out of a void marriage, it has not extended a similar protection in respect of the mother of the child. The marriage of the appellant must, therefore, be treated as null and void from its very inception.

4. The question, then arises as to whether the expression 'wife used in s. 125 of the Code should be interpreted to mean only a legally wedded wife not covered by s. 11 of the Act. The word is not defined in the Code except indicating in the Explanation its inclusive character so as to cover a divorcee. A woman cannot be a divorcee unless there was a marriage in the eye of law preceding that status. The expression must, therefore, be given the meaning in which it is understood in law applicable to the parties, subject to the Explanation (b), which is not relevant in the present context.

5. It has been contended on behalf of the appellant that the term 'wife' in s. 125 of the Code should be given a wider and extended meaning so as to include therein not only a lawfully wedded wife but also a woman married in fact by performance of necessary rites or following the procedure laid down under the law. Relying upon the decision of this Court in Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Beghum, [1985 ] 3 SCR 844, it was argued that the personal law of the parties to a proceeding under s. 125 of the Code should be completely excluded from consideration. The relationship of husband and wife comes to an end on divorce, but a divorcee has been held to be entitled to the benefits of the section, it was urged, and therefore applying this approach a woman in the same position as the present appellant should be brought within the sweep of the section. We are afraid, the argument is not well founded. A divorcee is included within the section on account of clause (b) of the Explanation. The position under the corresponding s. 488 of the Code of 1898 was different. A divorcee could 816 not avail of the summary remedy. The wife's right to maintenance depended upon the continuance of her married status. It was pointed out in Shah Bano's case that since that right could be defeated by the husband by divorcing her unilaterally under the Muslim Personal Law or by obtaining a decree of divorce under any other system of law, it was considered desirable to remove the hardship by extending the benefit of the provisions of the section to a divorced woman so long as she did not remarry, and that was achieved by including clause (b) of the Explanation. Unfortunately for the appellant no corresponding provision was brought in so as to apply to her. The legislature decided to bestow the benefit of the section even on an illegitimate child by express words but none are found to apply to a de facto wife where the marriage is void ab initio.

6. The attempt to exclude altogether the personal law applicable to the parties from consideration also has to be repelled. The section has been enacted in the interest of a wife, and one who intends to take benefit under sub-section (1)(a) has to establish the necessary condition, namely, that she is the wife of the person concerned. This issue can be decided only by a reference to the law applicable to the parties. It is only where an applicant establishes her status on relationship with reference to the personal law that an application for maintenance can be maintained. Once the right under the section is established by proof of necessary conditions mentioned therein, it cannot be defeated by further reference to the personal law. The issue whether the section is attracted or not cannot be answered except by the reference to the appropriate law governing the parties. In our view the judgment in Shah Bano's case does not help the appellant. It may be observed that for the purpose of extending the benefit of the section to a divorced woman and an illegitimate child the Parliament considered it necessary to include in the section specific provisions to that effect, but has not done so with respect to women not lawfully married.

7. Lastly it was urged that the appellant was not informed about the respondent's marriage with Lilabai when she married the respondent who treated her as his wife, and, therefore, her prayer for maintenance should be allowed. There is no merit in this point either. The appellant cannot rely on the principle of estoppel so as to defeat the provisions of the Act. So far as the respondent treating her as his wife is concerned, it is again of no avail as the issue has to be settled under the law. It is the intention of the legislature which is relevant and not the attitude of the party.

817

8. We therefore, hold that the marriage of a woman in accordance with the Hindu rites with a man having a living spouse is a complete nullity in the eye of law and she is not entitled to the benefit of s. 125 of the Code. The appeal is accordingly dismissed. There will be no order as to costs. During the pendency of the appeal in this Court some money was paid to the appellant in pursuance of an interim order. The respondent shall not be permitted to claim for its refund.

N.P.V.					   Appeal dismissed.
818