The practice of bigamy in India has been going on from time immemorial. It is imperative to make concrete laws so as to prevent the practice.
Second marriage while the first marriage is in subsistence is called Bigamy. Bigamy, in simple words, means a person marries for the second time while his first marriage is in subsistence. Under the marriage laws in India, Bigamy is said to be an offence if the first husband or wife is still alive. In a case, where the husband or the wife is alive then, the second marriage contracted by a person is not legal and does not hold any validity in the eyes of law, i.e, it is termed to be a void marriage. Even though Bigamy is an offence in India, it is still very much prevalent. The practice of Bigamy in India has been going on from time immemorial. Earlier, the kings used to marry more than one woman at the same time for their personal reasons. This practice was started by the kings and the rulers to expand their territories. The position of bigamy in India is certainly mentioned in the law but the practice is still very common and hence the contrast between the law and social practice results to the second wives not having enough protection. India is a vast country with a humongous cultural diversity . It comprises of various diverse religions, castes and beliefs of people. The Indian constitution tries to protect each and every citizen. Hence, there are several personal laws that governs people of different religions. The key law forestalling Bigamy in India is the Indian Penal Code yet in the event that personal laws does not explicitly specify Punishment for Bigamy or illegalize Bigamy, at that point any person can’t be indicted for the offense of bigamy.
Bigamy is prohibited in India under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code. The law expresses that, whoever marries another person in the lifetime of existing spouse, such marriage by reason of its occurring during the lifetime of such husband or wife, should be viewed as void and should be punished for such offense. If any person marries more than once during the life of his first spouse, he/she should be punished with imprisonment which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Understanding the position of Bigamy under personal laws
1. Hindu Marriage Act, 1955- As per the Section 17 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, if a person considered to be a Hindu under the Act, marries another person in the existence of his/her first marriage, i.e, while the first husband or wife is alive, then that person shall be punished under the Indian Penal Code.
2. Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986- Under this Act, unlike other religions, there is no particular or specific provisions for bigamy. A muslim man has a right to marry twice, thrice or four times if he is able to treat and respect all of his wives in the equal manner. In case he fails to do so, then he is liable.
3. Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936- Section 5 of this act affirmed Bigamy null and void or dissolved and imposes a penalty which has been laid down under Section 494 and 495 of Indian Penal Code, 1860.
4. Christian Divorce Act, 1896- This act does not provide a specific law for bigamy but at the time of registration of marriage, Section 60 lays down that none of the parties to the marriage should have been in an existing marriage and if a person gives a fall oath or declaration, then he/ she is punishable under Section 193 of the Indian Penal Code. This provision explains that under this Act, more than one marriage is considered to be illegal.
5. Special Marriage Act, 1954- Section 44 of this Act lays down that if any person commits bigamy then he/ she is liable under the Section 494 and 495 of the IPC, 1860.
Punishment for Bigamy in India
Bigamy in India is a non- cognizable offence. It is bailable and compoundable when the permission of Court is granted if the offence is committed under section 494 of the IPC. The punishment for bigamy is imprisonment, of maximum 7 years or fine or in some cases, both. In case the person charged of bigamy has performed the second marriage by concealing the fact of first marriage, then he shall be punished with imprisonment of up to 10 years or fine or both. Such offence under section 495 is not compoundable.
Status/ Position of Second wife in India-
It is a abundantly clear fact that the term “Second wife” brings a social stigma with it. In the eyes of the Indian society, the second wife is not treated in par with the respect given to the first wife. While it is not given any positive social importance, there is also an absence of any legal status to it. Women in the second marriage are cheated on and are not provided with much protection under the Indian laws. There is no legal recognition given to second wives. Nevertheless, the victims of bigamy can still approach the Courts for claiming maintenance.
Bigamy under the Criminal Laws in India
1. Indian Penal Code- Under the Indian Penal code, the first wife can file a complaint against her husband if he contracts a second marriage. Section 494 and 495 provides for the provisions related to bigamy in India.
2. Evidence Act- Under Section 114 of the Evidence Act, the Court shall presume the existence of probable facts, w.r.t to human conduct and the common course of the events and common sense being used as the judicial tool.
With the social stigma that is attached to the second wives and the loop holes present in the law for their protection, these women are not been taken proper care of. With the enormous pain of being cheated on in a marriage and having no legal rights that protect them, these women have suffered from time immemorial now. It is imperative for the law makers to have a look into their rights and make concrete laws for these women so as to prevent the practice bigamy in India.