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Bigamy Law in India

Bigamy comprises of two words ‘Bi’ and ‘gamy’ which means ‘two’ and ‘marriage’. Altogether it can be defined as entering into a marital relationship while the first marriage still exists. When past texts like writings of manu are referred, it brings out that second marriage was allowed, if the wife dies. But in the present time, according to bigamy law in India, it is a punishable offence under IPC and under Hindu Law.

Bigamy under Indian Penal Code

Under IPC, Section 494 deals with bigamy and is defined as whoever, having a husband or wife living, marries another person, where the later marriage is void and that marriage takes place during the lifetime of such husband or wife.

The main object of criminalizing Bigamy is in order to protect the conjugal relationship established through the sacred laws of monogamous communities. The other object is to punish the ones who are in the defiance of the law of marriage.

Ingredients of Section 494

  1. The accused must have been already married to some person
  2. The marriage with such a person was valid
  3. The husband or the wife of the accused must have been alive
  4. The accused must have concealed the fact of marriage to the other person from the first husband or the wife.

There are certain exceptions in regard with Bigamy, the section does not extend to any person

  1. Whose marriage was declared null or void; or
  2. When the other spouse has been absent for a period of seven years; or
  3. If he/she at the time of second marriage has informed about the fact of their first marriage to the party of second marriage.

Bigamy is made punishable with an imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine.

Bigamy under Hindu Law

Section 17 of the Hindu Marriage Act lays down that any marriage between two Hindus, if at the date of such marriage either party had a husband or wife living, then the provisions sections 494 and 495 of the Indian Penal Code shall apply.

In the case of Trailokya Mohan v State of Assam, the petitioner already having a wife married another woman and he confessed that he had married another person and he was booked under the offence of bigamy under Hindu Marriage Act.

Bigamy under Muslim Law

Bigamy under Muslim Law is not considered as an offence. The penal provisions of IPC are not applied to the men as under traditional Muslim marriage laws, men can enter into polygamous relationships. But the women are not allowed to enter into a bigamous marriage, they would be penalized with the IPC provisions if they enter into a marriage while having a husband.

Special Marriage Act

As per section 43 and 44, Bigamy is an offence under Special Marriage Act and whoever commits bigamy they are to be punished as per the provisions of section 494 of IPC.

Landmark cases

Sarla Mudgal v. UOI  (1995 AIR 1531 SC)

Under this landmark case, it was held that having solemnized a second marriage of a Hindu man after converting into Islam religion is void and the second marriage will be considered as illegal. The person committing bigamy is to be punished under the provisions of section 494 of IPC.

Priya Bala Ghosh V. Suresh Chandra Ghosh ([1965] 2 S.C.R. 837)

Under this case, the appellant had filed a complaint against her husband that he had solemnized another marriage during the subsistence of her own marriage. However in regard to the second marriage it was found out that there were no essentials rites performed to call it solemnization of marriage by law. It was therefore held that the appellant has to prove that the second marriage is a valid marriage, performed according to the rites and rituals of the personal law.

Naurang Singh v. Sapla Devi (AIR 1968 All. 1958)

The Petitioner had resisted the claims of maintenance on the basis that the respondent was not his wife. The petitioner had also married again and had a second wife. It was observed that the petitioner’s marriage to his first wife was subsisting during his second marriage and they had a child through that marriage. It was held that the maintenance was supposed to be provided to his first wife and his child.

Lingari Obulamna v. L. Venkata Reddy (AIR 1979 SC 848)

It was observed in this case that in order to prove that the charge of Bigamy, the complainant being the first wife has not only to prove tat she is lawfully married with the accused and that the accused has married for the second time. When the factum of second marriage is not proved, the charge of bigamy fails.

Also read- Desertion under Hindu law

This article is written by Shreyah Mahajan and edited by Rupreet Kaur Dhariwal.

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