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AGREEMENT IN RESTRAINT OF MARRIAGE–CASE ANALYSIS: RAO RANI v GULAB RANI, 1942

INTRODUCTION

The extent of the right to life and personal liberty is widely and constantly growing. A developing understanding of the various aspects of a person's life that are under their control and, as a result, can assist to enhance their quality of life. This right, which satisfies the most fundamental requirements of human life, has been dubbed the "heart and soul" of the Indian Constitution by the Supreme Court, and it most certainly is. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees everyone the right to life and personal liberty. A person who has reached the age of majority also has the option to select a life partner under this clause. The same hang in consonance with section 26 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872.


POSITION IN INDIAN LAW

“A contract is defined as an arrangement that is enforceable by law.” “An invalid agreement is one that is not enforceable by law”, whereas a valid agreement is one that complies with the requirements outlined in section 10 of the aforementioned act. A Void agreement is Void-ab-initio from the beginning. 

A contract is deemed voidable or unenforceable if it does not satisfy all of the requirements in section 10. For instance, trading illegal narcotics is regarded as invalid. Some agreements are plain bad for society. The law has been broken by them. Such agreements include, for instance, contracts that restrict trade, marriage, or legal processes. In accordance with Sections 26, 27, and 28 of the Indian Contract Act, these contracts are expressly void.


POSITION IN ENGLISH LAW

Under English law, marriage restrictions are discouraged because they are bad for population growth and citizens' moral health. In Lowe v. Peers, the Court of King's Bench established a precedent when the defendant entered a sealed promise to marry only the promisee or pay her 1000 pounds if she married anyone else within three months. She was under no obligation to marry him, the Court declared, adding that "it wasn't a commitment to marry her, but it was a pledge not to marry anybody else." The court ruled that the contract was invalid since it was only restrictive and did not contain any promises of performance from either party.

In Hartley v. Rice, the court ruled that a wager between two men that one would remain single for a predetermined period of time was invalid since it gave one of the parties a financial stake in the other's continence.

According to Chitty, it is against public policy to enter into a contract that has the intention of forbidding or preventing a party from being married, or that serves as a deterrent to marriage by casting doubt on the legality of marriage for anyone. 

However, as mentioned in the Indian Contracts Act of 1872, English law varies from Indian law in that it does not deem agreements that partially prohibit marriage to be unlawful.


SECTION 26 OF THE INDIAN CONTRACT ACT

“Any agreement that prevents a person other than a minor from getting married is invalid, and any agreement that interferes with a person's marital life is also invalid.” This means that anyone who has reached the legal majority age has the freedom to select their life partner. 

It is legal practise to enshrine any agreements that limit a person's ability to select their life partner. The word "restraint" does not necessarily imply total restraint; rather, it can also refer to a partial restriction. All such agreements are void.

The party may be prohibited from getting married at all, from getting married to a certain person, from getting married to members of a particular group or class, or from getting married for a certain amount of time. A marriage-restraining agreement is invalid because it violates public policy.

For instance, suppose X and Y sign a contract stating that X will only wed someone whose name begins with S, and that X will pay Y Rs. 1,000,000 if he (X) violates this arrangement. A contract between X and Y exists, but it cannot be upheld in court.


EXCEPTION 

Only those who have not reached the age of majority are exempt from this law. A contract that forbids a minor from getting married might be elevated to the status of being legally binding. It does not render void any agreements that are formed to prevent the marriage of a minor, whether those restrictions are total or partial. Given that it is against public policy to marry a minor, this exception can be argued to be lawful. The agreements preventing such weddings can be justified as being in the best interests of the minor and consistent with public policy.


13TH LAW COMMISSION REPORT ON SECTION 26

Even if customary norms somewhat restrict marriage, the Allahabad High Court ruled in Abbas Khan v. Nur Khan that this restriction is invalid since it conflicts with the intent of Section 26 of the Indian Contract Act. The Indian judiciary has now upheld this decision's logic by declaring that any arrangement that places an entire or partial restriction on marriage is illegal in India.

The Law Commission's 13th report, on the other hand, noted that partial restraint in marriage may be declared legal, but only at the court's discretion if the court finds it reasonable after taking the case's factual matrix into account. The law commission examined the Indian Contract Act of 1872 and proposed a number of revisions. In the draught law that was included as an appendix with the commission report, it was suggested that certain portions be replaced, with section 26 of the Act being one of such provisions.


RAO RANI v GULAB RANI, 1942

Case Name: Mst. Rao Rani Vs Mst. Gulab Rani

Court: Allahabad High Court 

Bench: Iqbal Ahmad, C.J and Dar, J. 

Decided on: Apr, 15 1942.


FACTS

The plaintiffs in this case, Ms. Rao Rani and Ms. Gulab Rani, are the widows of Ram Adhar, a lodh. Ram Adhar left behind zamindari property when he passed away in or around 1926.

Rao Rani demanded that her name be changed alone in place of Ramadhar after disputes between Gulab Rani and Rao Rani arose at the mutation Court. Rao Rani claimed that Gulab Rani was not Ram Adhar's wife.

The parties came to an amiable agreement, and the specifics were recorded in a deed that was submitted to the Revenue Court on August 21, 1926.

The two widows' names would be registered against Ram Adhar's property in equal shares, and if either remarried, she would relinquish her claim in Ram Adhar's assets, leaving the other widow to inherit the entire fortune. The remaining terms of the agreement are irrelevant to how this appeal will turn out.

Ms. Gulab Ran remarried following the compromise, left Ram Adhar's home, and has been at her new husband's home in a different hamlet ever since. The rule governing the caste (lodh) to which the individuals belong permits widows to remarry, and a widow is not deprived of her husband's belongings upon remarriage.


ANALYSIS

Rao Rani was appointed Lambardar or Nambardar (a title used in the Indian subcontinent for influential families of zamindars of the rural revenue estate) following the mutation case. Gulab Rani seeks her share of the properties of Ram Adhar from the other wife, Rao Rani.

The dispute centered on two fundamental arguments: 

  1. She disputed that the settlement in the mutation case had determined that Gulab Rani was not eligible to seek Ram Adhar's property after her second marriage.


  1. Gulab Rani lost her claim to Ram Adhar's property the moment she remarried.

Rao Rani's second argument was rejected.

The Assistant Collector sent the disputes to the civil court for determination. The disputes were:

• Did Rao Rani and Gulab Rani come to an agreement that anyone who marries again will lose her right to inherit her late husband's property?

• If a widow gets remarried, does she lose her rights to the deceased husband's assets?

The civil court's determination was that the parties' compromise amounted to a family agreement, Gulab Rani has no further claims to her late husband's assets.

Gulab Rani later appealed this ruling to the District Judge, who determined that the parties' agreement was unlawful since it violated section 26 of the Indian Contract Act because it prevented the marriage.

The learned judge overturned the civil court's decision and remanded the case with instructions to award Gulab Rani the properties to which she was legally entitled as well as to grant her a favorable judgement.

Once more, Rao Rani filed the appeal, and the case was assigned to a two-judge bench. 

The bench determined that none of the two widows was prohibited from remarriage by the provisions of the contract. All that was required was that a widow would forfeit the rights that the compromise had given her if she decided to remarry. In order to safeguard the family's assets and ensure their efficient management, the compromise was made even though it did not directly forbid remarriage.


CONCLUSION

The Indian Contract Act's section 26 was found to be general in words, although it must be noted that by the agreement, neither of the parties was prohibited from remarriage. There was simply the connected condition that if either party remarried, she would lose her claim to the late husband's property. There was no outright ban on remarriage.


1] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 2(h)

2] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 2(g)

3] Lowe v Peers [1768], 4 Burr. 2225

4] Roy Hartley V. James E. Rice ET UX [1927] 261 P. 689 (Or. 1927) 261 P. 689

5] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 26

6] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 26

7]  Law Commission of India, 13th Report on Contract Act 1872, (1958) 26 < https://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/1-50/Report13.pdf >

8] Rao Rani v. Gulab Rani, AIR 1942 SC 351


This article is written by Madhur Anand of National Law Institute University, Bhopal.

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