In a case where a woman sought maintenance under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code from a man she claimed is her husband, when the couple had spouses from their first marriage, Justice Subramonium Prasad of the Delhi High Court has held that the woman is not entitled to maintenance.

The Court held that the term "wife" under Section 125 Cr.P.C. does not envisage a situation where both the parties in the alleged marriage have living spouses.

"This Court finds it unfortunate that many women, specially those belonging to the poorer strata of society, are routinely exploited in this manner, and that legal loopholes allow the offending parties to slip away unscathed. In spite of the social justice factor embedded in Section 125 Cr.P.C., the objective of the provision is defeated as it fails to arrest the exploitation which it seeks to curb.", the Court held.

While ruling in favor of the Revision Petitioner (husband), the Court stated that it has sympathy with the position of the wife but is constrained to deny the maintenance as per the law of the land as of today. The Court gave her liberty to adopt other remedies such as seeking compensation under Section 22 of the DV Act.

In this case, the Revision Petitioner-husband and the Respondent-wife were already married to other individuals when their alleged marriage took place. The husband contested the petition of the wife under Section 125 CrPC on the ground that she was not entitled to any maintenance as the alleged marriage was null and void as they both were already married to their respective spouses at the time of the alleged marriage between the two parties. The husband conceded that he was already married while entering into the second marriage. This was supported by his first wife in evidence.

Trial Court's Order

The Trial Court held that there was a clear indication that the parties had been living together as husband and wife, and had conveyed the same to the society at large. While placing reliance on the Judgment of the Supreme Court in the matter of Chanmuniya v. Virender Kumar Singh Kushwaha, the Trial Court held that a presumption of a matrimonial relationship arose and that a poor woman could not be left to vagrancy and destitution on the basis of mere technicalities. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, also stipulated that a woman in a live-in relationship would be entitled to maintenance. The Petitioner was directed to pay Rs.4200/- per month to the Respondent as maintenance.

Case before High Court

The order has challenged by the petitioner before the High Court. The Counsel for the husband submitted before the Court that as his earlier marriage was subsisting, the Respondent can't seek maintenance. The Respondent had already been married earlier and that the divorce petition filed by her had been dismissed. Furthermore, the wife had claimed that she had divorced her first husband by panchayat, however, she could not substantiate the same or provide any corroborative evidence.

As against this, the Counsel for the Respondent wife submitted that Petitioner had concealed the fact that his first marriage was subsisting. He was also aware that the first husband of the wife had deserted her and got the customary divorce. She was treated as a legally wedded wife for a span of ten years.

After hearing the parties, the Court clarified that the Respondent cannot rely upon the Chanmuniya's case in order to bring herself within the definition of the term "wife" as per the Explanation (b) in Section 125 Cr.P.C. so as to avail an order for maintenance, despite the social object of this statutory provision.

The Bench distinguished the judgment thus:-

"The Chanmuniya case (supra) also envisioned a factual matrix wherein both the parties were unmarried and their cohabitation as husband and wife led to the presumption of them being legally married. However, in the instant case, despite cohabitation as husband and wife, it is not legally tenable to raise a presumption of a valid marriage because both the Petitioner as well as the Respondent are already married to their respective spouses and their marriages are subsisting."

As per the High Court, a "wife" under Section 125 Cr.P.C. would include a woman who has been divorced by a husband or who has obtained a divorce from her husband and has not remarried. Even if a woman does not have the legal status of a wife, she is brought within the inclusive definition of "wife" in order to maintain consistency with the object of the statutory provision.

"However, a second wife whose marriage is void on account of survival of the first marriage would not be a legally wedded wife, and therefore would not be entitled to maintenance under this provision.", the Court held.

Case Title: Sunder Lal Saini Versus Meena Saini

Click Here to Read/Download Judgment