Chanmuniya v. Virendra Kumar Singh Kushwaha, (2011) 1 SCC 14
Right To Maintenance Under Section 125 Of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973
“Where partners lived together for a long spell as husband and wife, a presumption would arise in favour of valid wedlock”
Facts of the case :
- The Sarju Singh Kushwaha had two sons, Ram Saran (elder son) and Virendra Kumar Singh Kushwaha (younger son and the first respondent). The appellant, Chanmuniya, was married to Ram Saran and had 2 daughters-Asha, the first one, was born in 1988, and Usha, the second daughter, was born in 1990. Ram Saran died on 7.03.1992.
- Thereafter, the appellant contended that she was married off to the first respondent as per the customs and usages prevalent in the Kushwaha community in 1996. The custom allegedly was that after the death of the husband, the widow was married off to the younger brother of the husband. The appellant was married off in accordance with the local custom of Katha and Sindur. The appellant contended that she and the first respondent were living together as husband and wife and had discharged all marital obligations towards each other. The appellant further contended that after some time the first respondent started harassing and torturing the appellant, stopped her maintenance, and also refused to discharge his marital obligations towards her.
Issues of the case:
- Whether the living together of a man and woman as husband and wife for a considerable period of time would raise the presumption of a valid marriage between them and whether such a presumption would entitle the woman to maintenance under Section 125 Cr.P.C?
- Whether strict proof of marriage is essential for a claim of maintenance under Section 125 Cr.P.C. having regard to the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005?
- Whether a marriage performed according to customary rites and ceremonies, without strictly fulfilling the requisites of Section 7(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, or any other personal law would entitle the woman to maintenance under Section 125 Cr.P.C.?
Provision/ Acts in the case:
Criminal Procedure Code, 1973
- 125 – Maintenance in case of live-in relationship/Presumed marriage/De facto marriage/Cohabitation – Wife” – Interpretation – Long cohabitation without valid marriage – Entitlement of such woman to maintenance – Considering that there was divergence of judicial opinion on interpretation of word wife” in S. 125, matter referred to larger Bench in light of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, which gave wide interpretation to terms like domestic abuse” and domestic relationship” which included live-in relationship and entitles such women to reliefs under 2005 Act – Opinion expressed that a broad and expansive interpretation should be given to term wife” to include even those cases where a man and woman have been living together as husband and wife for a reasonably long period of time, and strict proof of marriage should not be a precondition for maintenance under S. 125 CrPC, so as to fulfil true spirit and essence of the beneficial provision of maintenance under S. 125, (2011) 1 SCC 141-A
Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
- 7 – Long cohabitation – Presumption – Marital status – Respondent 1 brother of appellant’s husband, living in the same house and by social custom they were treated as husband and wife after the death of the appellant’s husband – Their marriage solemnized with Katha and sindur – Hence held, there is a strong presumption in favour of marriage, (2011) 1 SCC 141-B
Criminal Procedure Code, 1973
- 125 – Maintenance of wives, children, and parents – Purpose – Measure of social justice to prevent vagrancy and destitution, (2011) 1 SCC 141-C
The Apex court held:
The object is to prevent vagrancy and destitution. It provides a speedy remedy for the supply of food, clothing, and shelter to the deserted wife. When an attempt is made by the husband to negative the claim of the neglected wife depicting her as a kept-mistress on the specious plea that he was already married, the court would insist on strict proof of the earlier marriage.
- Considering Sec 7 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 the marriage performed in absence of customary rites and ceremonies of either party to the marriage is not valid.
- Mere intention of the parties to live together as husband and wife are not enough. It is submitted that intention alone can neither alone can confer nor take away the status of marriage.
- There is no scope to include a woman not lawfully marriage within the expression of ‘wife’ in Section 125 of the code should be interpreted to mean only a legally wedded wife.
- In those cases where a man, who lived with a woman for a long time and even though they may not have undergone legal necessities of a valid marriage, should be made liable to pay the woman maintenance if he deserts her.
- Further, requested to Hon’ble Chief Justice to refer the following amongst other question to be decided by a larger bench.
The term ‘wife’ in Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure includes a woman who has been divorced by a husband or who has obtained a divorce from her husband and has not remarried. The woman not having the legal status of a wife is thus brought within the inclusive definition of the term ‘wife’ consistent with the objective. Thus, in those cases where a man, who lived with a woman for a long time and even though they may not have undergone legal necessities of a valid marriage, should be made liable to pay the woman maintenance if he deserts her. The man should not be allowed to benefit from the legal loopholes by enjoying the advantages of a de facto marriage without undertaking the duties and obligations. Any other interpretation would lead the woman to vagrancy and destitution, in which the provision of maintenance in Section 125 is meant to prevent. The Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System, headed by Dr. Justice V.S. Malimath, in its report of 2003 opined that evidence regarding a man and woman living together for a reasonably long period should be sufficient to draw the presumption that the marriage was performed according to the customary rites of the parties. Thus, it recommended that the word ‘wife’ in Section 125 Cr.P.C. should be amended to include a woman who was living with the man like his wife for a reasonably long period. The Constitution Bench of this Court in Mohammad Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum and Ors, considering the provision of Section 125 of the 1973 Code, opined that the said provision is truly secular in character and is different from the personal law of the parties. The Court further held that such provisions are essential of a prophylactic character and cut across the barriers of religion. The Court further held that the liability imposed by Section 125 to maintain close relatives, who are indigent, is founded upon the individual’s obligation to the society to prevent vagrancy and destitution.