Author: Kunwar Bir Singh, UILS, Panjab University, Chandigarh
Chanmuniya v. Virendra Kumar Singh Khushwaha & AnotherSLP (Civil) No.15071 of 2009)
BENCH: G.S. Singhvi, Asok Kumar Ganguly
Virendra Kumar Singh Khushwaha and Another
Date of Judgment: 7th October 2010
Facts: One Sarju Singh had two sons, Ram Saran and Virendra Kumar Singh Kushwaha (younger son & the first respondent). The appellant, Chanmuniya, was married to Ram Saran and had 2 daughters-Asha, and Usha. Ram Saran died on 7.03.1992. Thereafter, the appellant contended that she was married to the first respondent as per the customs and usages prevalent in the Kushwaha community in 1996. The custom allegedly was that after the death of the husband, the widow was married to the younger brother of the Ram Saran. The appellant was married off in accordance with the local rites and customs of Katha and Sindur. The appellant contended that she and the first respondent were living together as husband and wife and had performed all marital obligations towards each other. The appellant further contended that after some time the first respondent started pestering and torturing the appellant, stopped her maintenance and also refused to discharge his nuptial obligations towards her. So she initiated proceedings under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 for maintenance and also a suit of restitution of conjugal rights under Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. The appellant was decreed with the suit in her favor by the Trial court but the findings of the trial court were reversed by the High Court. Hence, the appellant reached the apex court by way of a special leave petition against the impugned orders of the High Court.
1. Whether the cohabitation of a man and woman as husband and wife for an appreciable period of time would raise the conjecture of a valid marriage between them and whether such a conjecture would designate the woman to maintenance under Section 125 Cr.P.C?
2. Whether rigid proof of marriage is imperative for a claim of maintenance under Section 125 Cr.P.Ctaking into consideration the provisions of Domestic Violence Act, 2005?
3. Whether a marriage performed according to traditional customs and ceremonies, without strictly fulfilling the prerequisites of Section 7(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, or any other personal law would designate the woman to maintenance under Section 125 Cr.P.C.?
The object of section 125 of CrPC, 1973 is to avoid itinerancy and indigence. It provides an expeditious remedy for the supply of food, clothing, and shelter to the desolated wife. When an attempt is made by the husband to contradict the claim of the desolated wife depicting her as a kept-mistress on the erroneous plea that he was already married, the court would press on rigid proof of the earlier marriage. The word ‘wife’ in Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure includes a woman who has been divorced by a husband or who has obtained a divorce from her husband and has not remarried. The woman not having the legal status of a wife is thus brought within the blanket definition of the term ‘wife’ homogenous with the objective. Thus, in those cases where a man, who lived with a woman for a long time and even though they may not have withstood legal preconditions of a valid marriage, should be made liable to pay the woman maintenance if he desolates her. The man should not be allowed to gain from the legal escape clauses by enjoying the advantages of a de facto marriage without undertaking the duties and constraints. Any other clarification would lead the woman to desolation, in which the provision of maintenance in Section 125 is meant to prevent. The Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System, spearheaded by Dr. Justice V.S. Malimath, in its report of 2003 surmised that evidence regarding a man and woman living together for a sufficiently long period should be enough to draw the presumption that the marriage was performed according to the customary rites and ceremonies of the parties. Thus, it is proposed that the word ‘wife’ in Section 125 Cr.P.C. should be altered to include a woman who was living with the man like his wife for a reasonably protracted period. The Constitution Bench of this prestigious Court in Mohammad Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum and Ors,, considering the provision of Section 125 of the 1973 Code, opined that the said provision is truly nonreligious in character and is different from the personal law of the parties. The Court further held that such provisions are basically of a preventive character and cut across the impediments of religion. The Court further held that the duty cast upon by Section 125 to manage close relatives, who are indigent, is founded upon the individual’s obligation to the society to prevent indigency.
In the present eon, a movement has evolved among unmarried couples to live together as husband and wife as long as they have attained the age of majority. Some of these couples never obligate a legally binding marriage. Difficult ramifications flow from such relationships where due to one reason or another, the relationship may come to an end. In such cases, we find that couples had devoted heavily to the relationship both financially and emotionally. The disappointed persons in the relationship think that since there was no legally recognized marriage, they cannot make a reference to the law in acquiring their property back or in some instances getting compensation. In the case of Chanmuniya Vs. Chanmuniya Virendra Kumar Singh Kushwaha and Anr, the appellant have been married to one Virendra Kumar Singh in accordance with the local traditions of Katha and Sindur. The High Court in its findings has surmised that the preconditions of a valid Hindu marriage, as required under Section 7 of the Hindu Marriage Act, had not been performed, thus the respondent was not the husband of the appellant. But the SC said that even if the parties may not have performed the sanctioned essentials of a valid marriage, but they had entered into this relationship with the animus to marry and to be called as husband and wife before the eyes of the society. It was lucidly stated down in the facts of the case that the appellant and respondent had been living together as husband and wife and had been performing all marital obligations towards each other for some time.
The law provides for the hypothesis of marriage. In the instant case, the appellant and the respondent have been living together as man and wife for a sufficient period of time. The people around them must have supposed, from their manner that the parties are husband and wife. The parties must be living or should have lived in one household and behaved in a way that led others to believe that they were husband and wife. The objectives of Section-125 of Cr.P.C are to achieve a social purpose and to avoid vagrancy and destitution. So in light of this, the court held that the questions raised by the petitioner should be referred to a larger bench of the SC and in their view, the interpretation they have given would be a just application of the principles enshrined in the preamble of the constitution.