In India, separate personal laws govern marriages for various communities. These private laws cover a range of family characteristics. Marriage has been described as a pure sacrament, especially in our Indian culture, a connection that unites two lives until the end of their lives, in contrast to other nations where getting married is a legal transaction. However, there are also situations in which one partner in a marriage cheats on the other and forms a new marriage bond while the other partner is still alive.
Bigamy is a situation in which a person who is already lawfully wed goes into a second marriage without ending the prior one. Before getting married again, the first marriage must end, either through death, a divorce, or an annulment. The state may prosecute a person for bigamy if a second marriage occurs before the first one dissolves.
Bigamy occurs in many societies, including those where it is prohibited by law and those where it is not. Bigamy is mostly a problem of a male-dominant culture rather than of religion. A second marriage during the spouse’s lifetime is forbidden in India, as per the Hindu, Parsi, and Christian Marriage Act. Different societies have their own personal rules that govern bigamy.
ELEMENTS OF BIGAMY
“The following factors are essential to prove bigamy:
The Accused must be married
He must have contracted Second Marriage
The first marriage should exist
The first husband/wife must be alive
Both marriages must have accomplished necessary ceremonies and must be valid.”
- The first husband or wife is dead, or
- Has marriage has been declared void by a Court of competent jurisdiction,
- Any person who contracts a marriage during the life of a former husband or wife, if such husband or wife, at the time of the subsequent marriage, shall have been continually absent from any communication, for the period of seven years, & shall not have been heard of by such person as being alive within that time provided the person contracting such subsequent marriage shall,
- Subject to the condition that before such marriage takes place, he/she informs the person with whom such marriage is contracted about the real state of facts so far as the same are within his or her knowledge.
BIGAMY IN INDIA
Bigamy is illegal in India and is treated as such by the country’s penal code. Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, Parsis, and Christians are all affected by the bigamy laws. Under the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, bigamy is one of the grounds for divorce. The second wife is eligible for maintenance but not for property rights. The Law Commission of India declared that bigamy should be considered a punishable offence in August 2009. According to Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, bigamy is forbidden. According to the law, if a person marries someone else while their current husband or wife is still alive, their marriage should be considered illegal and they should be punished. Any person who marries more than once while their first spouse is still alive should be punished with a fine and up to seven years in prison.
The personal laws in India provide for the following legislation for the prohibition of “Bigamy”-
- Hindu Marriage Act 1955 – Section 1 of Subsection (a), (b) and (c) states which specific religion and persons come under this Act. Thus, under Section 17 of the Hindu Marriage Act, any person considered Hindu according to Section 1 marries again during the life of first husband/wife, shall be punished under Indian Penal Code provision.
- Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act– Section 5 of this act declare Bigamy null and void or dissolved and impose a penalty under Section 494 and 495 of Indian Penal Code.
- Christian Marriage Act– Even though the Christian Marriage Act doesn’t have specific provisions for Bigamy, Form of Register Marriage is only for Bachelor/Spinster and Widow/Widower. For Marriage Certificate Section 60 Sub Section (2) states that “neither of the persons intending to be married shall have a wife or husband still living”, and making false oath or declaration is punishable under Section 193 of IPC, this clarifies that more than one marriage will be considered illegal under this act.
- Special Marriage Act 1954– Section 44 of this act states the punishment for Bigamy and imposes a penalty under Section 494 and 495 of the Indian Penal Code.
- Foreign Marriage Act 1969- Section 19 of this act states the punishment for Bigamy and imposes a penalty under Section 494 and 495 of the Indian Penal Code.
- Muslim Marriage Law– There is no codification or specific provisions for this law. It is written in Quran that a Muslim male can marry two, three or four times, if they are capable to treat and respect each wife equally after marriage, if not then only one. Muslims in the rest of the country is subject to the terms of The Muslim Personal Law (Sharia) Application Act of 1937, interpreted by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.
It is generally acknowledged that people tend to take advantage of the legal gaps that exist in a country with diverse customs, languages, and faiths. Every religion stresses the importance of loving, respecting, and supporting women and not using them as “an instrument of manipulation and exploitation,” and in recent years, the practice of “Bigamy” has slowed down significantly. Decreases in such offences against women can only result in the creation of an ideal society in which to live.
- Mahmood, T. (2019). Role of legislations in offence relating to Bigamy-A study based on laws in India. ZENITH International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research, 9(6), 296-304.
- Tyagi, N. (2020). Gender violence, gender justice and gender-based laws: An analysis of pattern and policies in India and Indonesia. Brawijaya Law Journal, 7(2), 141-162.
- Bharadwaj, P. K., & Rao, C. L. (2021). Rights of Women in Live-in Relationship in India. Solid State Technology, 64(2), 6636-6642.
- Rao, J. (2021). Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India (AIR 1995 SS 1531): Bigamy and Conversion under Islam in India. Issue 6 Int’l JL Mgmt. & Human., 4, 756.
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