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A Legal Analysis of Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India: A Landmark Case in Indian Family Law

Sarla Mudgal v/s Union Of India

Our Constitution[1] guarantees the freedom to practice and profess any faith, including the freedom to change one's religion to one that was not bestowed upon them at birth. With different religions and personal laws, this clause is occasionally abused. IPC penalizes bigamy regardless of religion, with the exception of tribes or communities whose particular laws, like Muslim law, allow polygamy.

All one needs to do to engage in bigamy is to convert to Islam from his previous faith. Men have been known to act in this way on occasion. The second marriage of either party is void under the Parsi Marriage and Divorce statute and Special Marriage Act if the first marriage already exists by this statute. In other words, the second marriage that occurs after a person converts to a religion that accepts bigamy is invalid.

The status of a person who marries after conversion is not, however, addressed by the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. It states that a later marriage between two Hindus is null if one of them is still alive and the other has not yet filed for divorce.

In the historic case of Sarla Mudgal & Ors. v. Union of India[2], the Supreme Court carefully considered this question and resolved the uncertainty around the rights, obligations, and responsibilities of those who alter their faith in order to circumvent the law. The court ruled that a person cannot break the law and commit bigamy by switching their religion. The case's in-depth examination is provided below.

Fact Of The Case

  • This landmark case does not deal with a single petition but with four petitions filed in the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution of India.
    • First, there were two petitioners in Writ Petition 1079/89. The first petitioner, Sarla Mudgal, was the leader of the registered society Kalyani, a not-for-profit organization that promoted the welfare of struggling women and destitute families. The Second petitioner, Meena Mathur, married Jitendra Mathur in 1978 and had three children. Meena Mathur found that her husband Jitendra Mathur and Sunita Narula Urf Fathima both converted their religion to Islam and got married. According to Petitioner no. 2, Meena Mathur, the intention of her husband's conversion to Islam was only to marry Sunita and to avoid section 494 IPC. The respondent claims that even if his first wife is still Hindu, he can have four spouses after converting to Islam.
    • The another petition was filed by Sunita Alias Fathima, Writ Petition 347/1990, where she claimed that the respondent and she converted to Islam in order to get married, and a kid was born out of wedlock. But as a result of Meena Mathur's influence, the respondent promised in 1988 to maintain his first wife and their three children while reconverting to Hinduism. Fathima continued to be Muslim, thus neither of the personal laws nor her husband's maintenance obligations applied to her.
    • Third Petition registered as Writ Petition 494/1992 was filed in Supreme Court. The Petitioner, Geeta Rani and Pradeep Kumar, were married in 1988 by Hindu rituals. Geeta Rani knew that her husband converted to Islam and married Deepa. The Petitioner also said that the main intention of conversion is to complete the second marriage.
    • Fourth Petition by Sushmita Ghosh in the Civil Writ Petition 509/1992, Sushmita Ghosh and G.C. Ghosh married in 1984. In 1992, her Husband forced her to agree to give Divorce on mutual consent as he did not want to live with her, after some questions he confessed that he had converted to Islam and married to Vinita Gupta. She prayed to the court that her husband must be restrained from entering into a second marriage.

Issued Raised
  • Can a Hindu husband who was wed according to Hindu law and converted to Islam marry someone else?
  • Whether such a marriage without having the first marriage dissolved under law, would be a valid marriage qua the first wife who continues to be Hindu?
  • The apostate spouse would have committed the crime listed in Section 494 of the IPC?

Statutes And Provisions Discussed:

  1. Section 494 of Indian Penal Code - According to section 494 of Indian penal code, Whoever, having a husband or wife living, marries in any case in which such marriage is void by reason of its taking place during the life of such husband or wife, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine. It's a non-cognizable bailable offence.[3]
  2. Article 44 of Constitution of India - Uniform civil code for the citizens The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.[4]

Argument Advanced From The Side Of Petitioner

  • Meena Mathur argued that the marriage was solemnized after they were Muslims and converted to Islam. The petitioner claims that her husband's conversion to Islam was solely done so that he might wed Sunita and get over the restrictions of Section 494 of the IPC.
  • In her Writ Petition 424 of 1992, Geeta Rani claimed that Pradeep Kumar only converted to Islam in order to marry Deepa again.
  • The petitioner in Civil Writ Petition 509 of 1992, Sushmita Ghosh, claimed that because she was the lawfully wedded woman and desired to coexist with her husband, the issue of divorce did not come up. Additionally, her spouse should be forbidden from wed Vinita Gupta a second time.
  • Petitioner and Respondent's marriage was solemnized in accordance with the relevant personal legislation. Petitioners claim that their husbands' second marriages violate the rights that are protected by personal laws. Without ending their first marriage, the respondents are solemnizing their second unions. It would be equivalent to violating the legal rights of one of the spouses who is hesitant to convert to a different religion.
  • Spouses have occasionally been forced to change their religion. Such actions are against the Indian Constitution's article 25's provision of the basic right to freedom of religion. The parties who have been wronged knock on the door of the guardian of the constitution and request that justice be served in order to protect their rights.

Argument Advanced From The Side Of Respondent
  • Respondents hold that a provision of one personal law should be applied to all other personal laws. In other words, Hindu personal law and other faith personal laws must be consistent with Muslim personal law's requirements. Respondent argued that if either partner does not adhere to Islam as their primary religion, the marriage has been dissolved as a result, in accordance with Muslim personal law.
  • According to the respondent, if one of the spouses chooses to convert from Hinduism to Islam, the other spouse must follow suit in order to preserve their union. If the spouse refused to change her religion, the apostate husband is free to wed another lady without ending his original union and is not subject to punishment for bigamy under section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.


  1. In the case of Ram Kumari in Budansa v. Fatima 1914 IC 697[5], and in Nandi Zainab v. The crown (ILR 1920 Lahore 440 the court held that mere fact of conversion to Islam does not dissolve the marriage. A marriage could be dissolved only by the decree of court. The court observed that as per Hindu Law that existed before 1955, the marriage subsistseven if one of the spouse converts to Islam. There is no automatic dissolution of Marriage.[6]

    In Hindu weddings, the partners receive specific rights, and if one of the spouses converts to another religion and upholds it, it would violate the laws of justice, equity, and good conscience by destroying the rights of the other spouse. The court ruled that it is not the goal of the enlightened Muslim community to encourage Hindu husbands to convert to Islam solely for the purpose of establishing their second marriage, taking into account the diversity of laws and interests of both groups. They came to the conclusion that a Hindu husband who was married under Hindu Law could not legally consummate a second marriage by converting to Islam.
  2. In response to the question of whether a second marriage was valid, the court ruled that it could only be ended by a divorce decree obtained under one of the grounds listed in Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act and that any marriage that violates any of the conditions outlined in clauses (I), (iv), or (v) of Section 5 is invalid. In other words, a marriage that was consummated while the partner was still alive is null and void. When a marriage is dissolved by a divorce decree, a divorced individual may remarry. If the appeals period has expired, they are not entitled to challenge the divorce decree.
  3. The court came to the conclusion that the Hindu Marriage Act firmly enforces monogamy in light of the aforementioned legal arguments. Under Hindu Law, a marriage cannot be annulled other than on the grounds listed in section 13. As a result, the second marriage breaches the Act's restrictions because the husband and the first wife are still married. The second union of the apostate would be forbidden as a result.
  4. The Honorable Supreme Court noted that while the term "void" has a significantly broader meaning in Sec. 494 of the IPC than it does in Sec. 11 of the Act. The Hindu Marriage would not end if one person converted to another religion. No spouse may consummate a second marriage before the dissolution of the first. If the second marriage is determined to be valid, it would go against the letter of the Act. The second marriage of a Hindu husband would go against the laws of justice, equity, and morality, making Sec. 494 IPC applicable as well.
  5. In light of the aforementioned debate, the court determined that the Hindu husband's second marriage would be void absent the dissolution of the previous marriage. The second marriage would be illegal under S. 494, making the husband guilty of bigamy.

Interpretation Of Statute
In the above case which is Sarla Mudgal V. Union Of India, there is use of Golden rule and Harmonious Construction for interpretating the statute.

Golden Rule:
Whenever the literal rule would lead to an ambiguity. The courts may then apply a secondary meaning which is Golden Rule. It allows a judge to depart from a word's normal meaning in order to avoid an absurd result and true meaning of the word.

Harmonious Construction:
The courts should avoid a head on clash between the different parts if an enactment and conflict between the various provision should be sought to be harmonized. The normal presumption should be consistency and it should not be assumed that what is given with one hand by the legislation is sought to be taken away by the other. (CIT v. Hindustan Bulk Carriers).[7]

In this Case, there is confusion that the Sec. 494 of IPC will punish the person who converted in Islam with having a wife. The conduct will come under the preview of bigamy or not? The act dissolve the marriage under Hindu Law or not? By using the Golden Rule court gave the Judgement that, Conversion to Islam and marrying again would not, by itself, dissolve the previous Hindu marriage under the Act, but it will be a ground for divorce. However, it can be inferred from the ingredients of Section 494 explained in detail in the above section that the second marriage would be void and the apostate husband would be guilty under IPC.

There is big Clash between Indian Penal Code and Muslim Personal Laws, in Muslim Law because there no word like Bigamy. At a time four marriage is allowed in Muslim law then how the respondent was guilty under Sec. 494 of IPC. By using the Harmonious construction the judges interpreted that the person didn't converted himself with pure intention, he converted only for legalize his marriage an also it violating the rule of Justice, Equity and Good conscience of other spouse. Due to this act many people will convert themselves for only to do many marriages and will violate the others right so the Sec. 494 of IPC prevail the Muslim Law.

The case of Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India, Historic decision in India's history of family and matrimonial litigation. It provided a new dimension to the term "void" under Section 494 of the IPC and provided a constructive approach to the concepts of apostasy and bigamy. In an effort to further the interests of justice, Section 494 of the IPC was given this interpretation. Just as there must be peace between the two communities, there must also be harmony between the two legal systems. Because different faiths have distinct views and because different communities have diverse ideas and practices, there will inevitably be conflict until the country's residents are all subject to the same civil code.


  2. SARLA MUDGAL v. UNION OF INDIA 1995 AIR 1531, 1995 SCC (3) 635

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Shalini Singh
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