The Delhi High Court today sought the Centre's stand on a PIL to declare that bigamy or polygamy by a Muslim husband in the absence of prior written consent of the existing wife or wives and arrangements for her accommodation and maintenance is unconstitutional and illegal.

A Bench of Acting Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Navin Chawla directed the respondents to file their response and issued notice on the petition that sought a direction to the authorities to regulate bigamy and polygamy by Muslim husbands by providing for prior permission of existing wife, a certificate from a judicial officer to certify that he has the capacity to provide equal treatment to all wives, declaration of marital history before nikah, etc.

The petitioner also sought the framing of laws for compulsory registration of Muslim marriages.

The petitioner Reshma, whose husband is stated to be planning to divorce her and solemnise another marriage without her consent or making arrangements for her and their child's maintenance, claimed that bigamy or polygamy by a Muslim husband is permitted under Shariat laws only in exceptional circumstances and ought to be regulated to curb the plight of Muslim women.

She contended that bigamy or polygamy without the consent of the existing wife and securing her well-being is unconstitutional, anti-Shariat, illegal, arbitrary, harsh, inhuman, and barbaric and contrary to Articles 14, 15, 21, and 25 of the Constitution.

Even in countries governed by Shariah (Islamic) law, the second marriage is permitted under special circumstances, such as an illness of the first wife or her inability to bear children. In these cases, with the first wife's consent, a man may marry again and this is referred to as Polygamy, a subset of polygamous marriages, said the petition filed through lawyer Bajrang Vats.

The Holy Quran permits a Muslim man to marry more than one woman at a time (up to a maximum of four) but does not encourage such behaviour. Polygamy is only permitted in certain circumstances, such as when the death of another man has left his wife with no other means of support, it added.

The petitioner has further stated that polygamy is neither mandatory nor encouraged but is merely permitted as a part of social duty and for charitable motives and that the Holy Quran provides that those men who choose to take multiple wives are under an obligation to treat them equally.

It is unfortunate that regressive practices derogatory to women, who constitute one half of the Indian population, are being followed, propagated, and encouraged in the name of religion. Such practice, regressive to rights of women and which directly come into conflict with the Constitutional and Fundamental Rights of citizens cannot be encouraged, the petition has said.

The matter would be heard next on August 23.

With PTI inputs