Man's all women entitled to relief, Supreme Court rules

Woman living with man can claim maintenance though he is married

In an important ruling, the Supreme Court on Friday held that a woman living with a man as his wife would be entitled to maintenance even though the man was already married and his previous wife was also around.

A bench of Justices Ranjana Prakash Desai and A K Sikri said that the man could not be allowed to claim, in such a circumstance, that the second woman could not be called his legally-wedded wife as per the provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act in view of his subsisting marriage.

In a verdict aimed at achieving gender justice, the apex court gave a fresh interpretation of the Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The court said it has to explain the legislation in a manner that ensures the larger social good.

“We should avoid a construction which would reduce the legislation to futility and should accept the bolder construction based on the view that Parliament would legislate only for the purpose of bringing about an effective result. If this interpretation is not accepted, it would amount to giving a premium to the husband for defrauding the wife,” the bench said. 

“Therefore, at least for the purpose of claiming maintenance under Section 125, CrPC, such a woman is to be treated as the legally wedded wife,” the bench added.
It noted that the principles of Hindu Personal Law have developed in an “evolutionary way” out of concern to make fair provision against destitution. 

“The manifest purpose (of the law) is to achieve the social objectives for making bare minimum provision to sustain the members of relatively smaller social groups. Its foundation spring is humanistic,” the court said. 

Referring to the Constitution’s preamble, the bench said, “We are of the opinion that  there  is  a non-rebuttable  presumption that the Legislature, while making  a provision like Section 125 CrPC (maintenance), fulfil  its Constitutional duty in good faith, had always intended to give relief to  the woman becoming “wife” under such circumstances.”

The bench also pointed out “exemplary efforts” made by the court in ensuring gender justice through its verdicts in Shah Bano to Shabana Bano, guaranteeing maintenance rights to Muslim women as well.

The court passed the significant verdict while dismissing a petition filed by a man from Maharashtra, who challenged an order passed by the Bombay High Court on February 28, 2013.

The high court had upheld an order for the monthly award of Rs 1,000 for the woman and Rs 500 to her child born out of her relationship with the man.

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