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Understanding Section 494 - Bigamy in Indian Law

Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) deals with the offence of bigamy. Bigamy, in simple terms, is the act of marrying a person while one is already lawfully married to another. As per Indian law, bigamy is treated as a punishable offence with specific exceptions for certain communities.

Bigamy as Defined in Section 494 IPC

Section 494 IPC states, "Whoever, having a husband or wife living, marries in any case in which such marriage is void by reason of its taking place during the life of such husband or wife, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine."

The principal components of this section are:

  • The individual must have a living spouse at the time of the second marriage.

  • The second marriage must be void due to its occurrence during the life of the first spouse.

  • The person guilty of bigamy may be penalized with imprisonment which may extend to seven years and is also liable for a fine.

Exceptions to Section 494

It's important to note that there are exceptions to this rule. Section 494 IPC does not apply to individuals who fall under the purview of Muslim Personal Law, as this law allows Muslim men to have up to four wives.

Additionally, the second marriage must have been performed with all customary rites and ceremonies, including the Saptapadi (taking seven steps by the bridegroom and the bride jointly before the sacred fire), which are integral to a Hindu marriage.

Relevant Case Laws for Section 494 IPC

  1. Bhaurao Shankar Lokhande & Anr vs State Of Maharashtra & Anr: This case established that all conditions for a lawful marriage need to be fulfilled for a second marriage to be considered under Section 494. A marriage that does not meet the criteria for a valid marriage under the respective personal law wouldn't be considered for prosecution under bigamy.

  2. Pyla Mutyalamma @ Satyavathi vs Pyla Suri Demudu & Anr: In this case, the Supreme Court of India held that the second wife may file a complaint under Section 494 against her husband if she was unaware of his first existing marriage at the time of their marriage.

  3. Priya Bala Ghosh vs Suresh Chandra Ghosh: This case clarified that if the second marriage is not proven, the offence under Section 494 cannot be established.

Conclusion: Legal Stand on Bigamy under Section 494 IPC

In India, bigamy is prohibited and penalized under Section 494 IPC, except for those under the purview of Muslim Personal Law. A violation of this law attracts punishment of up to seven years imprisonment and a fine. The law has been established to protect the sanctity of marriage and the rights of spouses, particularly women who may not be aware of their husband's existing marriage.

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