Offences relating to Marriage


A generally accepted definition of marriage is that of matrimony or wedlock, which is a culturally recognised social sanction of union between two people. This union helps in establishing rights and obligations between two people coming together in this union, along with their children, and the in-laws. This sacrosanct institution of marriage has been existing through generations and has consumed in itself various distorted versions of the same.

To correct them, different laws and precedents have been brought in by various courts, with the most illuminating ones being from the Hon’ble Apex Court. Such misbehaviours, namely: adultery, desertion, or cruelty, amongst others, are known to be offences against marriage or matrimonial offences. Instances of matrimonial offences continue to rise incrementally,

What is worse is that most of these cases go unreported, due to the society’s reluctance to acknowledge its morbid parts and victim-shaming. The situation goes further south when that is clubbed with insecurity and an -uncertain future. 


Offences related to marriage are dealt with in Chapter XX, IPC from sections 493 to 498. These laws deal with the various aspects of a marriage, and their subsequent felonies. The offences enumerated in this chapter are in one way or the other related to infidelity in the institution of marriage.

The Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act, 1983 inserted Chapter XX-A which contained Section 498A that dealt with cruelty meted out to wife, also known as The Cruelty Law. This law, along with The Domestic Violence Act (Passed in 2005), aims to provide substantial protection to female victims of cruelty and domestic violence. With the incrementally increasing cases of such nature, it was observed that such legislation was necessary to ensure that the Fundamental Right to Life and Dignity, entrusted upon each citizen by the Constitution of India, is complied with.

  1. Mock Marriage – Section 493
  2. Bigamy – Section 494
  3. Fraud Marriage – Section 496
  4. Adultery (now repealed) – Section 497
  5. Criminal Elopement – Section 498

Mock or Invalid Marriage u/s 493 & 496


Ingredients of section-493

a man should deceitfully induce a woman to have sexual intercourse with him i.e. causing of false belief

he causes her to believe that she is his lawful wife

Ingredients of section-496

·         a man should dishonestly and with fraudulent intention induce a woman to have sexual intercourse with him i.e. causing of false belief

·         he causes her to believe that she is his lawful wife

To establish the conviction of a man charged under Section 493, it must be proved that he deceived the woman that they are a lawfully wedded couple when he is completely aware that they are not and thereafter induce her to have sexual intercourse with him, However, when a woman allows a man to have sexual intercourse with her being aware of the fact that their marriage, in reality, was invalid, then the accused cannot be convicted under Section 493.

Important thing here to note is that a woman cannot file a complaint under Section 493 if she wilfully leaves her husband to undergo a marriage ceremony with another man without him persuading her for it. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 mandates that in the period of pendency of an appeal against the decree of divorce, a man should not marry.


Bigamy u/s 494 & 495

Ingredients of section-494 &495

  • ·         accused should have a living spouse already
  • ·         while the first marriage is going on, the spouse has contracted into another marriage
  • ·         both the marriages should be valid at the same time

There are two exceptions attached to the provision of Section 494 where second marriage won’t amount to the offence of Bigamy:

  1. When a competent court declares the first marriage void.
  2. Continual absence of the former wife or husband for a period of 7 years and further no information of them being alive, provided that the spouse in the second marriage is informed about all the facts regarding this.

In a landmark case of Sarla Mudgal, President, Kalyani v. Union of India, 1995 the Apex Court held that the second marriage of a Hindu- husband after conversion to Islam, without having his first marriage dissolved under law, would be invalid. The second marriage would be void in terms of the provisions of Section 494 of IPC and the apostate-husband would be guilty of the offence under this section.

Section 495, IPC is an aggravated form of the offence of bigamy. This section comes alive when all the requirements mentioned in bigamy are present but in addition, one of the spouses has concealed from the person whom the accused is married regarding the facts of his or her first marriage. This offence is punishable with imprisonment up to 10 years and fine.

Section 497 used to deal with Adultery and had been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Criminal Elopement u/s 498

The essential ingredients are:

  • takes or entices away
  • woman to be a married woman
  • knowledge
  • taken from control of husband or person having care of her on behalf of her husband
  • intention to have illicit intercourse
  • conceals or detains such women

Cruelty u/s 498A

The object with which section 498A IPC was introduced is amply reflected in the Statement of Objects and Reasons while enacting Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act No. 46 of 1983. As clearly stated therein, the increase in number of dowry deaths was a matter of serious concern. The avowed object was to combat the menace of dowry death and cruelty

 Meaning of Cruelty

Cruelty includes both physical and mental torture. Wilful conduct in Explanation (a) to section 498A, I.P.C. can be inferred from direct and indirect evidence. The word cruelty in the Explanation clause attached to the section has been given a wider meaning.

The court further elaborated that mental cruelty varies from person to person- depending on:

  • the intensity of the sensitivity,
  • degree of courage, and,
  • endurance to withstand such cruelty, and that each case has to be dealt with on an instant case basis

Section 304B-Dowry Death

Section 304B lays down the provision for ‘dowry deaths’ due to any burn or bodily injury within 7 years of the marriage because of the cruelty meted out on her by the husband and his relatives. The explanation about the term ‘cruelty’ as mentioned in Section 498A can be used for the purposes of Section 304B, IPC.

Essential ingredients

  1. Death of a woman should be caused by burns or bodily injury or otherwise than under normal circumstances.
  2. Death should have occurred within seven years of her marriage
  3. The woman must have been subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband.
  4. Cruelty or harassment should be for or in connection with the demand for dowry.
  5. Cruelty or harassment should have been meted out to the woman before her death.


Matrimonial offences are multi-causal and multi-dimensional in nature. It is impossible to justly address them with a straitjacket method. The rising cases of matrimonial offences against women have their roots deeply ingrained in indifference, and negligence that is primarily the result of general acceptance of men’s superiority over women, which is evident from the gender specificity of the nature of these offences.

Over time, courts have broadened the ambit of the definition to include within its different instances. The provisions dealing with matrimonial felonies have been framed in a way that raises a presumption against the accused if certain minimum requirements are met. Yet, there is still a long way to go for such laws to have optimal usage. There is still room for clarity in these laws, for clashing precedents to be done away with. There is also a need for general reform in the law to protect a woman’s physical and personal dignity in the role of a wife, against violence by the husband.

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