Five Hindu women and a NGO have approached the Supreme Court challenging the practice of bigamy permitted under Muslim personal law.
The petition claimed that while there exists a clear bar under law on polygamous relationships under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which makes it punishable, such personal laws make its provision discriminatory as other religions are unable to enjoy this benefit.
The petition filed by advocate Vishnu Shanker Jain said, “In India, the irony is that bigamy has been made punishable under Section 494 of IPC, subject to applicability of personal law. The question is as to whether the State can make criminal law in such a manner which may create discrimination and same act may be punishable for someone but for others enjoyable.”
Two of the petitioners are married women while the NGO petitioner is Jan Udghosh Sansthan based in Uttar Pradesh. The petition has sought striking down Section 2 of Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937 which recognises the system of bigamy or polygamy prevalent in Muslim community.
It said, “The system of bigamy is the history of past and has no place in present day scenario at International level. There is unanimity between nations that such a practice is unscrupulous, discriminatory, exploitative and anti-women, and must come to an end.”
Section 494 of IPC provides that “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”.
The petition has said that there should be unanimity in the field of penal law relating to prohibition of bigamy. The petitioners have prayed that the words “in any case in which such marriage is void by reasons of its taking place” occurring in Section 494 of IPC be read down or struck down as the same is discriminatory and oppressive for women and will be hit by Article 14 (right to equality) and 15(1) (Right against discrimination) of the Constitution of India.
The petition has even assailed the bigamy law under Shariat to be against a recommendation by United Nations Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) of October 30,2013, where the global rights body said, “State parties should take all legislative and policy measures needed to abolish polygamous marriages.”