If a married person lies to a woman that he is single and marries her , she is entitled to maintenance from him under Section 125 Cr.P.C., the Supreme Court has held. The person cannot take advantage of his own wrong and deny maintenance to the second wife as she was not a legally wedded wife, it said.

If the person commits a fraud by making a false representation at least for the purpose of Section 125 Cr.P.C., the woman whom he cheated and married should be treated as his wife, a Bench of Justices Ranjana Desai and A.K. Sikri said.

Writing the judgment, Justice Sikri pointed out that Hindu marriages continued to be bigamous despite the enactment of the Hindu Marriage Act in 1955. “Though such marriages are illegal as per the provisions of the Act, they are not ‘immoral’ and hence a financially dependent woman cannot be denied maintenance on this ground. While interpreting a statute, the court may not only take into consideration the purpose for which the statute was enacted, but also the mischief it seeks to suppress. The court would also invoke the legal maxim ‘construction ut res magis valeat quam pereat ’ in such cases i.e. where alternative constructions are possible the Court must give effect to that which will be responsible for the smooth working of the system for which the statute has been enacted rather than one which will put a road block in its way,” the Bench said.

The principles of Hindu Personal Law had developed in an evolutionary way out of concern for all those subject to it so as to make fair provision against destitution. The manifest purpose was to achieve the social objectives to make bare minimum provision to sustain the members of relatively smaller social groups. Provision of maintenance would definitely fall in this category which aims at empowering the destitute and achieving social justice or equality and dignity of the individual. While dealing with cases under this provision, drift in the approach from “adversarial” litigation to social context adjudication was the need of the hour. Courts should adopt different approaches in “social justice adjudication,” which was also known as “social context adjudication” as mere “adversarial approach” might not be very appropriate, the Court said.

“The Court as the interpreter of law is supposed to supply omissions, correct uncertainties, and harmonise results with justice through a method of free decision—“ libre recherché sceintifique ” i.e. “free scientific research”. We are of the opinion that there is a non-rebuttable presumption that the legislature, while making a provision like Section 125 Cr.P.C., to fulfil its constitutional duty in good faith, had always intended to give relief to the woman becoming “wife” under such circumstances,” the Bench observed.

Appellant Badshah, after suppressing the fact of his marriage, married Sou Urmila Badshah Godse and deserted her. After a girl was born to them, she claimed maintenance from him. A trial court in Maharashtra awarded a monthly maintenance of Rs.1000 to her and Rs. 500 to the daughter. On an appeal, the Bombay High Court confirmed the order. The apex court upheld the judgment.

“Though bigamous marriages are illegal as per the Hindu Marriage Act , they are not immoral…”