The Law Commission has suggested “swift legislative action” against bigamous arrangements among Hindus and said historical data was indicative of the fact that many Hindus converted to Islam in order to practice bigamy, reported Times Of India.
Quoting from various reports and Supreme Court orders, the panel said such arrangements among Hindus continued to exist and had local recognition despite there being a law against it.
The bigamy law, Section 494 of Indian Penal Code, provides that a person shall be punished with imprisonment, which may extend to seven years, if he/she marries during the lifetime of their spouse. “Anthropological evidence has shown that bigamous arrangements among Hindus continue to exist. In fact, data suggests that many Hindus convert to Islam in order to practise bigamy as highlighted by the Sarla Mudgal vs Union of India case in 1994,” the panel said.
It added that such conversion took place despite the unambiguous position in law that conversion would not be considered valid if the previous partner continued to remain of the religion under which the marriage was solemnised.
Previous law commissions which examined the issue and discussed the rights of spouses in cases of conversion also took the view that conversion from a monogamous religion to a polygamous one did not by itself dissolve the marriage. “This, however, needs to be clarified by statute rather than on a case to case basis,” the law panel said in its latest report.
Section 495 of the IPC provides that if the offence of bigamy is committed by not disclosing the fact of former marriage to the person with whom the subsequent marriage is contracted, it shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to 10 years and fine.
The law panel quoted from a 2015 report of the ministry of women and child development on status of women where it had recommended making such marriages void. “Women tend to be on the receiving end of society’s disapproval of bigamy. Often, the second wife whose marriage is declared void suffers without maintenance and bears the burden of maintaining her children who are deemed illegitimate. Therefore, Section 16 should be amended to include all children born out of wedlock and not just those from void and voidable marriages,” it said, adding that the term “illegitimate” should not be used in any statute or document.