'Bigamy offence for all': Supreme Court seeks Centre's view

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Five years after striking down triple talaq, the Supreme Court on Tuesday sought the Union government's response to a PIL seeking to enforce bigamy as an offence on all citizens no matter their religion and agreed to require up a bunch of PILs challenging the validity of polygamy and nikah-halala.


The bench issued notice to the Centre and asked it to file a reply affidavit. If the relief sought in PIL against bigamy is allowed by the apex court, then it'd automatically ban polygamy permitted under jurisprudence. 

On August 22, 2017, a five-judge bench had declared triple talaq, or instant divorce among Muslims, unconstitutional while selecting a petition filed by Shayara Bano. Almost exactly five years later, another five-judge bench of Justices Indira Banerjee, Hemant Gupta, Surya Kant, MM Sundresh and Sudhanshu Dhulia agreed to require up adjudication of other alleged discriminatory practices against Muslim women on a PIL filed by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay together with six similar petitions filed by Muslim women and a Muslim organisation.

When the court was within the midst of finalising the schedule for hearing, advocate Vishnu Jain drew the bench's attention to a PIL filed by a girl petitioner, Kiran Singh, who has sought a direction from the court to enforce Section 494 of Indian legal code that punishes bigamy - a person marrying for a second time during the subsistence of his first marriage - against all citizens no matter their religion. Jain said the SC has not yet sought response from the Union government on this PIL. The bench has issued notice to the Centre on the matter.

The PIL by Upadhyay and 6 other Muslim women also challenged the practice of nikah-halala enforced against Muslim women. As per this practice, if a divorced woman wants to urge back to her legally separated Muslim husband, she has got to marry somebody else and acquire a divorce to remarry her previous husband. The petitioners alleged that this is often frequently misused by Muslim men to physically and mentally exploit women. 

While senior advocate Shyam Divan argued for Upadhyay, his wife and extra peace officer Madhavi Divan represented the Union government. "There are a number of practices under challenge - mainly those which weren't handled in Shayara Bano (triple talaq judgment). These left over issues include nikah-halala, polygamy and other kinds of talaqs. Those should be decided by the Supreme Court in these petitions," Madhavi said.

The Justice Kaul-led bench has also agreed to adjudicate what should be an adequate 'mehr' amount to be paid. Mehr is additionally considered as a part of maintenance under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code,1973. In absence of clarity about the mehr amount under Muslim personal law, different HC and therefore the Supreme Court in several cases rendered different conceptions associated with mehr. 

In case of Sarla Mudgal during the subsistence of his first marriage, then he would be susceptible to be prosecuted under Section 494 of the IPC.