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The Concept Of Nullity And It's Application Under The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 In Accordance With Legal Precedent

Marriage, a cornerstone of Indian society rich in cultural and religious significance, sometimes encounters instances where unions are deemed null and void from their initiation. Understanding the legal dimensions of such scenarios is pivotal, and this project seeks to explore the concept of "nullity of marriage under the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955.

The Act, applicable to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs", regulates the initiation and dissolution of marriages within these communities. While marriages are generally revered, situations may arise where a marriage is declared null and void, completely erasing its legal existence. The legal concept of nullity provides a structured approach to address such circumstances.

The primary aim of this article is to comprehensively investigate the provisions and ramifications of "nullity of marriage under the Hindu Marriage Act". It endeavors to illuminate the grounds, legal procedures, and the broader socio-cultural context surrounding the nullity of marriages within the specified religious communities.

What is Marriage under Hindu Law:

In Hindu law, marriage is considered a sacred and socially recognized union between a man and a woman. It is one of the important sacraments in Hinduism and is governed by various laws and customs. It is the union of two souls for 7 lives. Marriage holds a paramount role in human society, representing a widespread and fundamental occurrence. It serves as a cornerstone for the development of human civilization, fostering the creation of new social bonds and reciprocal rights between partners. The institution of marriage plays a pivotal role in defining the rights and positions of children born within it. Across various communities, specific rituals and protocols are observed to formalize these relationships and establish the associated rights.

True marriage entails embracing a new status accompanied by fresh responsibilities, which are not only self-acknowledged but also recognized by the larger community. Universally, all societies recognize marriage as a socially accepted institution with far-reaching implications.

This union stands out as:
One of the most profound and intricate partnerships among human beings. The Hindu Marriage Act encompasses diverse facets of matrimony, encompassing eligibility criteria, conditions, ceremonial proceedings, and rituals. Its primary objective is to confer legal recognition upon marriages and facilitate their official registration.

Central to Hindu marriages is the ritual of 'saptapadi' or the seven vows, where the couple takes seven steps around a sacred fire during the wedding ceremony. Each step symbolizes a solemn vow, signifying their commitment to a harmonious and fulfilling marital life and the responsibilities they pledge to uphold.

In addition, Hindu law places significance on the 'kanyadaan' ceremony, wherein the bride's father formally presents her to the groom. The legislation also acknowledges various other customs integral to Hindu marriages, such as the 'mangalsutra' (a necklace symbolizing marital status worn by the bride) and the application of 'sindoor' (vermilion on the wife's forehead by the husband).

Structure of Hindu Marriage Act:

The Hindu Marriage Act, sanctioned by the Indian Parliament on May 18, 1955, is a significant legislative measure. Part of the Hindu Code Bills, it was enacted "alongside the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956, and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956". This comprehensive legislative effort aimed to regulate various aspects of Hindu personal laws.

The primary objective of the Act is to safeguard "the legal rights of Hindu brides and grooms" united in the sacred institution of marriage. Notably, the legislation does not prescribe a specific marriage ceremony, recognizing the diverse methods through which a man and woman can be wed in accordance with Hindu traditions. The Act serves as a protective legal framework for individuals entering into Hindu marriages, ensuring the acknowledgment and protection of their rights.

Essential features of Marriage under "Hindu Law":

"Section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955[1]", outlines the prerequisites for a Hindu marriage to attain legal validity, delineating the essential components that must be satisfied for a marriage to be recognized under Hindu law.

According to Section 5, the legal validity of a marriage between two Hindus hinges on the fulfillment of the following conditions:
  • Monogamy: Hindu marriages are inherently monogamous, meaning that a lawful union is only possible between one man and one woman. The section explicitly states that "a marriage can only be solemnized if" none of the "party has a living spouse at the time of" the marriage. Should either party have "a living spouse, the marriage is" deemed void.
  • Age of the Parties: The Act mandates that the bridegroom must have attained 21 years of age, while the bride must have reached 18 years. Exceptions are provided under the Act, permitting underage marriage in situations where the bride is over 16 years old, and both parties have secured the consent of their respective guardians.
  • Consent: Section 5 underscores the necessity of voluntary consent from both parties involved in the marriage. It specifies that a marriage must be undertaken with the freely given and full consent of both the bride and groom. Lack of free consent renders a marriage null and void. Moreover, if either of the parties are incapable of providing valid consent due to unsoundness of mind or mental incapacity, the marriage is considered void.
  • Prohibited Degrees of Relationship: The section prohibits marriage between individuals closely related to each other. "Parties to a marriage must not be within the degrees of prohibited relationship, unless the custom or usage governing them permits" such a marriage. The Act enumerates a list of prohibited degrees of relationship within which marriage is forbidden.
  • Unsoundness of mind: Another crucial condition for the validation of a marriage is the mental soundness of both parties at the time of the union. If either party is found to be of unsound mind or mentally unstable during the marriage ceremony, the marriage becomes voidable, and the affected party has the right to seek annulment.

Nullity of Marriage:

While marriage is traditionally considered a sacred and lifelong union, contemporary societal complexities have led to the recognition of legal grounds for the termination or annulment of marriage. Nullifying a marriage involves a "declaration by the court, asserting that there was no valid marriage between the individuals in question". This declaration essentially signifies that the marriage never took place or was not legally valid."

The nullity of marriage and it's essential conditions have been defined under Chapter-4 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955[2], that we shall briefly discuss further.

Void Marriages:
A void marriage" refers to a marriage that is considered invalid and has no legal effect from the beginning. There are certain circumstances under which a marriage can be declared void under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955[3].

A marriage can be said to be void when "it violates the provisions of Section-5 (i), (iv) and (v)" of The Act.

Section-5(i):- The basis of Section 5(i) lies in the concept of monogamy, signifying that an individual can only be married to one spouse at any given time. This provision is designed to uphold the sanctity of marriage and prevent individuals from engaging in multiple simultaneous marriages. Section 5(i) mirrors societal norms and values by endorsing monogamy as the preferred and ideal form of marriage.

In assessing compliance with the condition outlined in Section 5(i), it becomes imperative to ascertain whether either party possesses a "living spouse "at the time of the marriage"". If it is proven that one of the parties is already married and has not legally terminated their prior marriage, the marriage can be deemed void.

Smt. Yamunabai v. Anant Rao[4] here, the Apex Court noted that the status of a second wife is not recognized as legitimate since a second marriage is considered void from the beginning. In the case of a void marriage, the wife is not entitled to claim maintenance as stipulated under "Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC).

Section-5(iv):- Section 5(iv) of the Hindu Marriage Act states that parties to a marriage should not be within the degrees of prohibited relationships. In Hindu marriage, certain relationships exist where the solemnization of marriage is prohibited, termed as "degrees of prohibited relationship.This rule aims primarily to prevent incestuous marriages, specifically those between individuals with prohibited relationships such as siblings, parents and children, grandchildren, and so forth.

Section 3(g) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955

Delineates individuals within prohibited relationships as follows:
  • Those with a direct lineal relationship, such as a parent or grandparent to a child.
  • Those who were the spouse "of a lineal ascendant or descendant of the other" person.
  • Those who were the spouse of a brother, "father's or mother's brother, or grandfather's or grandmother's brother".
  • "Siblings, "uncle and niece, aunt and nephew, or children of" siblings; including relationships by half or uterine blood, both legitimate and illegitimate, and relationships through adoption or blood."
Specifically, individuals falling under the Degrees of Prohibited Relationships include:
  • Female ascendants in the line.
  • Wives of ascendants in the line.
  • Wives of brothers.
  • Wives of the father's brothers.
  • Sisters.
  • Brothers.

Thus, a marriage that falls within the meaning of prohibited relationship could be declared as void.

Smt. Sakuntala Devi v. Amar Nath[6] here the Court remarked that if a custom permits marriages between individuals within the prohibited degree of relationship, the said custom must meet the criteria of a valid custom. Additionally, "the existing custom must be reasonable" and not run contrary to public policy.

Section-5(v): The term "Sapinda" originates from "Pinda", referring to a rice ball offered in a sraddha ceremony for departed ancestors. In Hindu law, when two individuals present Pinda offerings to the same ancestor, it establishes a Sapinda relationship. Sapinda relations denote connections arising from shared blood ties.

The term "relation" in this context pertains to individuals who offer Pinda to each other, encompassing five generations on the father's side and three generations on the mother's side.This lineage recognizes the upward generation as the ascent. The relationship includes considerations of full blood, half-blood, uterine blood, legitimacy, illegitimacy, and relationships formed through adoption.

As per Section 3(g) of the Act, Sapinda relation signifies that if any person marries someone within this specific relationship, the marriage is deemed void. Sapinda relations involve lineal ascendants and descendants, where lineal ascendants encompass children, fathers, and the like.

Essentials for Section-11:

  • "Applicable to marriages that" have been solemnized after the "commencement of this Act."
  • There's no fixed time-passage of time can't make marriage null and void.
  • Death of spouse can't be declared nullity.
  • For bigamous marriage, 1st and 2nd marriage has to be solemnized.

Legitimacy of Children:

  • Initially, children born out of a void marriage before 1976 were considered to be illegitimate but after 1976 the scenario changed.
  • Section-16 of the Act specifically mentions that any child born out of a void marriage, who would have been considered legitimate if the marriage had been valid, is deemed legitimate. This applies regardless of whether the child is born before or after the commencement of the act.
  • The custody and maintenance of children will be dealt with under the relevant laws relating to guardianship and maintenance of children. The court will consider the best interests of the child while determining custody and maintenance.
"Thus, a marriage deemed void is considered null and void from its very commencement. "When a marriage is declared void, it is as if it never" occurred. If the conditions outlined "in clauses (i), (iv), and (v) of Section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 are violated", it invokes Section 11 of the same Act, rendering the marriage void from its initiation. In such cases, no legal rights or obligations that typically arise from a valid marriage are established, as void marriages are recognized as having no legal standing."

Voidable Marriages:

"A voidable marriage is one that is "initially considered valid but can be annulled or declared""" null and void by one of the parties under specific circumstances stipulated in the law. Unlike a void marriage, which is deemed invalid from its inception, a voidable marriage is regarded as valid until a court formally declares it void based on the grounds specified in the legal provisions.


  1. Impotency:
  2. Impotency is defined as the incapacity to engage in sexual intercourse, thus hindering the consummation of a marriage. This inability can stem from either physical or mental factors. In such cases, the responsibility of providing evidence falls upon the petitioner, who must demonstrate that the failure to consummate the marriage is due to the respondent's impotence. It basically can be of two types that is, i. Physical Impotency (physical defect) and ii. Psychological Defect that is emotional aversion. The essential requirements are:
    1. Marriage must not have been consummated due to impotency.
    2. Spouse should have been impotent at the time of marriage itself, not later than that.
    "Sherwanti v. Bhaura[7]" in this case, the wife presented medical evidence confirming her condition of sterility, specifically the absence of menstruation. It was further demonstrated that surgical interventions were unsuccessful in addressing these effects. However, it was clearly established that she was physically capable of engaging in sexual intercourse despite being unable to conceive. The court concluded that when the legislature used the term "impotent," it did not intend to encompass the concept of sterility or the inability to conceive. In this context, impotence refers to the incapacity to consummate the marriage, and the inability to bear children is not considered impotence.
  3. Marriage in contravention to Section 5(ii):
  4. Section-5(ii) basically provides that if an individual was mentally incapacitated during the time of marriage, their marital union is considered null and void. Additionally, legal consent is a mandatory requirement for a valid marriage. The conditions pertaining "to mental health and capacity" in Hindu marriages are outlined in Section 5(ii)(a), (b), and (c). Thus, any marriage done in contravention to that can be declared as void.
  5. Consent obtained by force or fraud:
  6. In legal terms, "if consent for marriage is obtained through force, it is considered vitiated and, consequently, invalid. While Hindu law does not necessarily require explicit consent for a valid marriage, a marriage with vitiated consent can be rendered voidable." "The conditions for this are as follows: firstly, the petitioner's consent must have been obtained through force or fraud. Secondly, the petitioner must file the petition within one year of discovering the fraud or the cessation of force. Lastly, the petitioner should not have lived willingly with the respondent as a spouse after discovering the fraud or the cessation of force." "The term "force" encompasses coercion and undue influence, extending beyond physical coercion to include the threat of violence. Fraud, as defined in marital law, carries the same meaning as outlined in Section 17 of the Indian Contract Act. Essential Facts:
    1. Petition should be presented within 1 year of fraud or cessation of force
    2. Petitioner must not have with his/her consent continue to live with his wife after such discovery.
    "Ananth v. Lajjabati[8]" The court ruled that concealing the fact that the bride was afflicted with consumption (tuberculosis) did not constitute sufficient grounds for invalidating a marriage. However, the hiding or misrepresentation of a serious illness can be considered adequate grounds for annulling a marriage.
  7. Pregnancy at the time of marriage:
  8. Another condition to declare a marriage void is that if at the time of marriage the wife is pregnant., specific conditions must be met in order to seek relief from the court. These includes
    1. The respondent was pregnant at the time of marriage,
    2. The pregnancy resulted from a person other than the petitioner,
    3. The petitioner had no knowledge of the respondent's pregnancy during the marriage,
    4. The petition was submitted within one year of the Act's commencement for pre-marriages or "within one year of the marriage" for post-Act marriages.
    5. Finally, "marital intercourse not occurring with the petitioner's consent after the petitioner discovers the respondent's pregnancy."
    It is essential to fulfill these conditions to obtain relief from the court. According to dharmashastra, if a man knowingly marries a pregnant woman, and the child born during her marriage pregnancy is considered legitimate. The petitioner bears the burden of proving a pre-marriage pregnancy.

    In the case of Pawan Kumar v. Mahesh Kumar[9], where the wife was pregnant from another person, and the marriage quickly deteriorated, despite the delayed filing of the petition, the court converted the application into a decree of divorce. The revelation of pre-marriage pregnancy by another person itself is deemed a cause of mental cruelty.
  9. Legitimacy of children born out of voidable marriages:
    Section 16 of the Act specifically mentions that, if a decree of nullity is passed then any child conceived before the passing the decree shall be considered to be legitimate.

Decree of Nullity:
A decree of nullity, also referred to as a decree of nullity of marriage or a declaration of nullity, is a legal order issued by a court that declares a marriage null and void. This judicial declaration signifies that, according to the law, the marriage is treated as if it never existed due to specific defects or grounds. The decree of nullity legally terminates the marriage, affirming its invalidity from the outset.

This legal remedy can be pursued when a marriage is either void or voidable according to the relevant marriage laws. A void marriage is inherently illegal and invalid from its inception, while a voidable marriage, though initially considered valid, can be declared null and void based on certain specified grounds.

To secure a decree of nullity, an individual must submit an application or petition to the relevant court. The applicant must present evidence and arguments supporting the grounds for nullity. The court will scrutinize the provided evidence to determine the validity of the marriage. Also, the petitioner shall pertain to the limitations thus mentioned in Section 11 and 12.

Upon the issuance of a decree of nullity, several legal consequences that follow are:
  1. The parties are no longer recognized as legally married, and their marital status reverts to unmarried or single.
  2. Rights and obligations arising from a valid marriage, such as property division, spousal support, and inheritance rights, may either not apply or require different considerations.
  3. Any children born within the marriage retain their legitimate status and associated legal rights.
  4. The parties are free to remarry or enter into another valid marriage with a different person.

Difference between Void and Voidable Marriages:
Void marriages are marriages that are considered to be completely null and void from the beginning, as if they never took place. These marriages are considered to be invalid for various reasons and do not have any legal recognition. Section 11 of the Act, 1955 provides a list of conditions under which a marriage is considered void. Some of the grounds for a void marriage include:
  • Bigamy: If either party to the marriage has a living spouse at the time of the marriage, the marriage is considered void.
  • Prohibited degree of relationship: If the parties are within the prohibited degree of relationship as per the Hindu law, the marriage is void.
  • Impotency: If either party is incapable of consummating the marriage due to impotency, the marriage is void.

Voidable marriages, on the other hand, are marriages that are considered to be valid until a court declares them to be void. These marriages are considered to be legally effective unless challenged and annulled by one of the parties involved. "Section 12 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955" provides grounds for voidable marriages. Some of the grounds for a voidable marriage include:
  1. "Consent obtained by force or fraud": If "the consent of either party" to the marriage was obtained by force or fraud, the marriage can be declared voidable.
  2. Mental disorder: If either party "has been suffering from a mental disorder that" makes them unfit for marriage or incapable of giving valid consent, the marriage can be annulled.
  3. Non-consummation: "If the marriage has not been consummated due to the" impotence of either party or the willful refusal of either party to consummate the marriage, it can be declared voidable.

The jurisdiction of the court concerning void and voidable marriages under Hindu law is the Family Court or the District Court. These courts have the authority to hear and decide cases related to the dissolution of marriage, including applications for annulment of void or voidable marriages.

It is important to note that while void marriages have no legal validity, "voidable marriages are" considered "valid until they are annulled by" a court. In case of a void marriage, the parties are not required to obtain a divorce as the marriage is considered null and void ab initio. However, in case of a voidable marriage, either party may approach the court for the annulment of the marriage.

There is a pressing need for more stringent regulations and comprehensive guidelines to deter individuals from entering into marriages under duress or coercion. The protection of vulnerable individuals, especially women, from involuntary marriages is paramount. Enforcing stricter laws against forced marriages and establishing support services for victims are essential measures to prevent such occurrences and safeguard the rights and dignity of individuals.

Additionally, it is recommended to amend the "Hindu Marriage Act" to offer more explicit provisions regarding the nullity of marriages in relation to mental health issues. A thorough comprehension of mental health disorders and their potential impact on an individual's capacity to provide valid consent for marriage is crucial. The incorporation of specific provisions addressing mental incapacity and unsoundness of mind within the Act can guarantee the protection of individuals with mental health concerns, upholding their rights.

Furthermore, it is advisable to include provisions for pre-marital counseling to underscore the significance of well-informed decision-making and consent in the context of marriage. Embedding counseling initiatives into the marriage registration procedure can aid in identifying and resolving any potential issues or concerns prior to the marriage ceremony. This approach would encourage the development of robust relationships and diminish the likelihood of marriages being invalidated due to deception or absence of consent.

Thus, by emphasizing education, prevention, explicit legal provisions, counseling, specialized courts, and enhanced accessibility to legal aid, it is possible to effectively tackle the challenges associated with the nullity of marriage under the Hindu Marriage Act. These proposed measures strive to establish a more resilient legal framework that protects the rights and welfare of individuals, especially those involved in marriages that are considered null and void. The implementation of these suggestions could contribute to fostering increased fairness, protection, and justice for individuals seeking nullity of marriage under the Hindu Marriage Act.

In conclusion, the concept of nullity within the Hindu Marriage Act establishes a legal structure for addressing marriages categorized as void or voidable. Void marriages are inherently invalid, treated as if they never happened. Conversely, voidable marriages are initially regarded as valid but can be annulled based on the grounds outlined in the Act.

It's crucial to highlight that the notion of nullity within the Hindu Marriage Act serves as a legal avenue for individuals whose marriages fall into the categories of being either void or voidable. This framework guarantees that individuals are not legally obligated in marriages that are either invalid from the outset or can be annulled based on specific grounds. Such a legal structure enables individuals to pursue legal remedies and safeguards their rights in cases of marriages that are deemed invalid or encounter issues.

The concept and application of nullity within the Hindu Marriage Act offer essential legal provisions for handling marriages categorized as either void or voidable. It delineates the criteria for declaring a marriage null and void, permitting parties to pursue annulment in instances of voidable marriages. The jurisdiction of the Family Court or District Court ensures the appropriate resolution of these cases, safeguarding the rights and interests of individuals involved in marriage-related issues.

  1. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, No. 25, Acts of Parliament, 1955
  2. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, No. 25, Acts of Parliament, 1955
  3. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, No.25, Acts of Parliament, 1955
  4. Smt. Yamunabai v. Anant Rao, AIR 1998 SC 644
  5. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, No. 25, Acts of Parliament, 1955
  6. Smt. Sakuntala Devi v. Amar Nath, AIR 1982 P & H 22
  7. Sherwanti v. Bhaura, AIR 1971 MP 168
  8. Ananth v. Lajjabati, AIR 1959 Cal 778
  9. Pawan Kumar v. Mahesh Kumar, AIR 2001 Raj 1

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