Divorced from Reality

A case in the Madhya Pradesh High Court has again posed uncomfortable questions about loveless marriages and dowry demands. The case was filed under the Dowry Protection Act and is a reminder of what such marriages are doing to social norms and the sanctity of marriage

The story is now a familiar one in many Indian cities and households. The wife lodged an FIR on the basis that she got married on April 21, 2022, in Vadodara, Gujarat. Her parents had given sufficient dowry according to their financial capacity and given a cash amount of Rs 8 lakh, apart from household articles. In all, Rs 20 lakh were spent by her parents. 

The woman was kept properly by the husband’s family for five days, but thereafter they started passing taunts that she had brought less dowry. She was also not having any physical relationship with her husband and whenever she enquired about his conduct, he always replied that he married her and that was more than sufficient. 

She tolerated the situation for a while, but then decided to return to her family in Bhopal. On May 26, 2022, her husband came to Bhopal and allegedly assaulted her and demanded a car as well as an amount of Rs 10 lakh from his wife and her parents. After this, the wife again went back to her husband’s house.

In her matrimonial house, the husband’s family started harassing her by using abusive language and assaulted her on the pretext that her parents had given very less dowry and her husband would have got more dowry if he had married somewhere else. They were insisting that she should bring an amount of Rs 10 lakh and a car from her parents, and only then they would keep her properly. When she was informed that her parents have no financial capacity to fulfil their demand, her husband started quarrelling with her on trivial issues. She was assaulted by her husband, and as a result, she sustained injury on her right hand and right leg.

She then told her parents about what she was going through. Her parents tried to convince the applicants on phone, and thereafter, they came to her matrimonial house and tried to convince the applicants, but they did not agree. Thereafter she came back to Bhopal.

In the month of May-June, 2023, her husband and father-in-law came to Bhopal. When she requested her husband and father-in-law to take her back to her matrimonial house, then she was beaten by her husband and father-in-law and they repeated their demand for money and a car. Following this, she filed a case in a police station in Bhopal.

When the case came up, the husband’s family challenged the FIR and submitted that divorce had taken place between the husband and wife by executing an agreement at Vadodara on June 22, 2022, whereas the FIR had been lodged on December 20, 2023, and since the relationship of the husband and wife had already come to an end, there was no offence under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). It was further submitted that the wife had given an undertaking that she will not take any legal recourse against the applicants, but in spite of that an FIR had been lodged.

The Madhya Pradesh High Court said that the parties are not Muslims by religion, and therefore, there cannot be any divorce by mutual consent without approaching the Court. Even if any divorce had taken place, an FIR under Section 498A of IPC can be lodged in respect of cruelty meted out to the complainant prior to the divorce. The Court further noted that if the FIR is read along with statements of the witnesses, then it is clear that there are specific allegations against the applicants of committing cruelty on account of non-fulfilment of demand of dowry. There are specific allegations that her husband and father-in-law had beaten her on the day when the case was fixed for reconciliation in the Bhopal court. It is also clear that the mother-in-law and father-in-law were also continuously passing taunts for bringing less dowry and were misbehaving with her by using filthy language and assaulting her, the Court noted.

Under the Indian Law, separation agreements do not hold a good ground with respect to their validity and legality. Indian courts have time and again rejected the concept of the separation agreement between husband and wife. The Hindu Marriage Act has no mention of any separation agreement. There is no provision which allows or prohibits their usage. Courts have in many cases rejected the validity of the separation agreement.

In 2013, the Bombay High Court while observing that divorce cannot be sought by spouses through a deed, had set aside a family court order which rejected a petition filed by a couple seeking divorce by mutual consent by waiving the six-month mandatory waiting period for granting such relief. In this case, the couple got married in April 2007 in Mumbai as per the Hindu rites, but within a year, disputes arose between them due to incompatibility, inequality and differences in their thoughts. They decided to get separated and mutually decided to execute a “deed of divorce” in June 2011. At that time, they were not aware that such a divorce was not recognised in law. Both got remarried and the wife applied for a USA visa as her second husband was settled there. However, she could not get a visa as the US Embassy demanded a divorce decree from the court. She then sought help from her first husband who cooperated and both applied to the family court under Section 13-B of the Hindu Marriage Act to get a divorce by mutual consent by waiving off the mandatory six-month waiting period.

The family court rejected their petition following which she approached the Bombay High Court. The family court primarily rejected the petition on the premises that the marriage between the appellants was already dissolved by the Deed of Divorce dated June 13, 2011, as per the custom and usage prevailing in the caste and community and, therefore, the petition filed under Section 13-B of the Hindu Marriage Act was not maintainable. The family court also held that the deed of divorce, being an agreement between the appellants, cannot be set aside except on the ground that it was executed under force or pressure or by fraud by the parties to the agreement. The division bench of Justice VK Tahilramani and VL Achliya held that the reasons given by the family court in rejecting the petition were not legally sustainable. Clearly, there is a divorce between reality and its legal interpretation. 

—By Adarsh Kumar and India Legal Bureau