Impact of “conversion on marriage” in personal laws in India

Religion is a very sensitive and personal aspect of individual’s life and the Constitution of India guarantees the freedom of conscience and religion to people of all denominations. Thus, a person is free to profess any faith or relinquish his faith of birth and convert to another religion. However, in view of the diversity personal laws in our country, upon apostasy the personal law of the convert words. conversion of a spouse gives to the non-convert spouse, a ground for matrimonial relief. The logic underlying the grant of relief in case of conversion is. however, not merely a legal one, viz., that after conversion, the convert will be governed by different personal law, but also because conversion could mean a radical change in the personality of the convert. The event is often very much akin to a breakdown of the marriage and goes to the root of conjugal life of the spouses.

Legal Effects on Marriage conversion could have the following legal effects on the marriage:

(i) An automatic dissolution of the marriage.

(ii) A ground for divorce at the instance of the non-convert.

(iii) A ground for divorce at the instance of the convert.

As to, (i), though there is no statutory provision to that effect in any of the personal laws, under the Islamic law, a husband who renounces Islam is an apostate, and as such,, his marriage with his Muslim wife is dissolved ipso facto According to Mulla, apostasy of the husband from Islam operates as a complete and immediate dissolution of the marriage.

As to (ii), conversion is a ground available for divorce and judicial separation at the instance of the non-convert under all the personal law statutes.

As to (iii), the converts Marriage Dissolution Act, 1866, which seeks to legalise, under certain circumstances, the dissolution of marriage of converts to Christianity, is the only relevant statute.

Under s. 13(1)(ii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955: Any marriage solemnized, whether before or after the commencement of this Act, may on a petition presented by either the husband or the wife, be dissolved by a decree of divorce on the ground that the other party has ceased to be a Hindu by conversion to another religion. This is available as a ground for judicial separation also. prior to 1976 the grounds for divorce and judicial separation were different and change of religion was not a ground for judicial separation.

After the 1976 Amendment. the grounds available for for divorce and judicial separation are the same and hence conversion is now a ground for judicial separation as well. In Madanan seetha Ramalu v. Madanan vimla, a husband was granted divorce on his wife converting to Christianity after marriage. Hindu law: It is important to note that conversion does not automatically affect a marriage tie, and secondly, it is the non-convert spouse only who can seek matrimonial relief on this ground. A spouse who gives up Hinduism and adopts another faith cannot go to the court and seek any relief on this ground.

This is banned even under the provisions of s. 23(1)(a), viz., that the petitioner cannot be allowed to take advantage of his or her own wrong or disability. The issue whether a marriage performed under the Hindu Law can be dissolved under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 by a spouse who ceases to be a Hindu by conversion to another religion, was considered by the Delhi High Court in Vilayat Raj v. Sunita. The parties were Hindu at the time of marriage in 1978. They separated in 1980 and in 1981 the husband filed a petition for divorce under s. 13(1)(ia) on the ground of cruelty. In the petition he set his religion as Mohammedan at the time of filing the same. The wife challenged his right to file a petition under the Hindu Marriage Act. 1955. on the ground that he was no longer a Hindu. while the lower court accepted the wife’s plea, the High court reversed the order. It held that the relevant date on which both parties are required to be Hindus in order to file petition under the Hindu marriage Act, 1955, is the date of marriage and not the date of filing the petition.

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