Recently, Himanta Biswa Sarma, Chief Minister of Assam, announced that the Assam government will ban the practice of polygamy by “legislative action”. He also said that an “expert committee” would be formed to look into the entire matter.
Polygamy as a practice
The practice of having not just one, but actually more than one married partner (husband or wife) is called polygamy. The issue of polygamy is raised within the framework of both personal law and the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Current historical and legal context
In India, polygamy is traditionally accepted, mainly in cases where a man has more than one wife. However, this practice was outlawed by the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955.
The Indian Penal Code also criminalizes this act. Polygamy (having two living spouses) and Polygamy (having more than one married spouse) were penalized by Section 494 of the IPC. The statements of this Section are:
Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code-
“Marriage again during the lifetime of the spouse.- Any person who has a spouse living together and marries in a case where that marriage is invalid because it took place during the spouse’s lifetime. alive, shall be punished with imprisonment in one of two forms for a term which may extend to seven years and may also be fined.”
However, it is important to note that this provision does not apply where one spouse has been “continuously absent” for a “seven year period.” This implies that in the case of marital separation, the law does not bind the abandoned person not to remarry, in addition, this provision also does not apply to marriages declared invalid by the court. .
How do courts define second marriage?
Let’s understand this with the help of a hypothetical situation. Suppose a man remarries even though his wife is already married. Now, the first wife will file a complaint against her husband that he has remarried. The court will now consider whether the husband’s second marriage is legally valid or not. To put it more simply, to be called a “marriage”, the second marriage must be performed according to prescribed customs. In case the second marriage is not legal but is only an adulterous relationship, it does not qualify as a legal marriage to proceed with further legal proceedings.
What happens in case the second spouse does not know about the first marriage?
In such a situation too, the law tries to shield the innocent. Section 495 of the Indian Penal Code protects the rights of the second spouse in situations of marital fidelity. This section punishes a person with imprisonment and fine if he engages in bigamy and conceals the truth about his first marriage from his second spouse.
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