The Supreme Court has held that a husband could be punished for demanding dowry during a second marriage even if he proves that he has not divorced his first wife.
The following are the types of marriages which can be treated as invalid:
- Marriage between minors is valid and it can be annulled only on the plea by one of the partners, the Delhi High Court ruled on Wednesday.
- A marriage when any one or both the parties are already married to another man or woman and have not yet been divorced from the first husband or wife comprise the category of invalid marriage.
- Marriage between a Hindu and a Christian is invalid under the Hindu Marriage Act, as the Act provides for only Hindu couples to enter into wedlock, the Supreme Court has ruled.
A bench, comprising Justice Doraiswamy Raju and Justice Arijit Pasayat noted that the evil of dowry ought to be curbed and the law should be liberally construed so as to rope in not only those validly married but also anyone who had undergone some or other form of marriage and thereby assumed for himself the position of husband to live, cohabitate and exercise authority over another woman.
Writing the judgment, Mr. Justice Pasayat said the object of the Dowry Prohibition Act was “to prevent harassment to a woman who enters into a marital relationship with a person and later on, becomes a victim of the greed for money.”
“Can a person who enters into a marital arrangement be allowed to take shelter behind a smokescreen to contend that since there was no valid marriage, the question of dowry does not arise? Such legalistic niceties would destroy the purpose of the provisions of the Act.”
Further, the Act was introduced to combat the ever-increasing menace of dowry. Any money, property or valuable security given as a consideration for marriage would be covered by the expression `dowry’, the Bench said.
It is not only the husband but also his relations who are covered by Section 498 A IPC (relating to dowry offence).
Section 498 A IPC states:
Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty.
Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.
Explanation-For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means-
(a) Any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health whether mental or physical) of the woman; or
(b) Harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her meet such demand.]
The provisions of this section are very much applicable in case of invalid marriage.
The legislature had taken care of children born out of invalid marriage, the Bench said. “Could it be conceived that they closed their eyes to the plight of a woman, who unknowingly or unconscious of the legal consequences, entered into the marital relations?”
University School of Law and Legal Studies
Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University
[Submitted as an entry for the MightyLaws.in Blog Post Writing Competition, 2011]