An analysis of offences relating to marriage in India

Marriage is considered as a sacramental relationship between the husband and wife. This union is socially and culturally respected union in the society establishing certain rights and obligations between the two persons along with their relatives and children.

However, this sacrosanct institution is existing since generations and has been distorted versions of itself. In order to correct this situations and to protect the victim many laws and precedents have been laid down by various courts.

Instances of matrimonial offences have been increasing since last many years and with each passing day, several women are added in the list of the victims facing harsh treatments at the hands of the husband. What is more worse is it many such cases go unreported particularly in rural locations due to society’s ignorance. This creates a fear of insecurity and uncertain fear for women in the society. The remedies of matrimonial offences is mostly divorce along with financial relief after divorce.

Offences relating to marriage are covered under chapter XX of Indian Penal Code and are covered under six sections from 493 to 498A. The offences are as follows.


Offences relating to marriage 1) Mock Marriage (section 493 and 496)

The following two points are related to mock or invalid marriage

a) Cohabitation or sexual intercourse caused by a man deceitfully inducing a belief of lawful marriage (section 493). Every man who by deceitful means causes any women who is not lawfully married to him to believe that she is lawfully married and have sexual intercourse with her is liable to be punished with imprisonment up to ten years and fine.

b) Dishonestly or fraudulently going through a marriage ceremony knowing that no lawful marriage is thereby created (section 496). Whoever by dishonest or fraudulent intention undergoes the ceremony of being married knowing that he is not thereby lawfully married is punishable with imprisonment upto seven years and fine.


2) Bigamy (section 494 and 495)

Whoever, who has 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 is guilty of bigamy.

The two exceptions in which second marriage is not an offence are

a) When the first marriage is stated as void marriage by a Court of competent jurisdiction.

b) When the husband or wife has been continually absent and not heard of for seven years, provided that the facts are disclosed to the person with whom the second marriage is contracted (section 494)

Thus the prosecution must prove the following things to hold the accuse guilty of bigamy 1) The existence of first wife or husband at the time of second marriage.

2) The second marriage is void.

3) The absence of either of the exceptions mentioned above.

In Kanwal Ram ( AIR 1966 S.C. 614), It was observed that is prosecution for bigamy the second marriage must be proved. A marriage is not proved unless the essentials ceremonies required for solemnization are performed.

Punishment – If first marriage is concealed from the person with whom the marriage is contracted imprisonment upto ten years and fine. In other cases imprisonment upto seven years and fine.


3) Adultery (section 497)

The person is guilty of adultery is he

a) has sexual intercourse with a person

b) who is and who he knows or has reasons to believe to be the wife of another man

c) without the consent or connivance of that man

d) and that the sexual intercourse is not amounting to rape.


Constitutional validity of the definition of ‘adultery’

In the case of Sowmithri Vishnu v/s Union of India, the Supreme Court has observed that the definition of ‘adultery’ cannot be said to be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution, on the ground that it results in some irrational classification between men and women.

However, in Joseph Shine v/s Union of India, Joseph Shine, a hotelier challenged the constitutional validity of section 497 on the ground that it violates Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Punishment – Imprisonment for five years or fine or both.


4) Criminal Elopement (section 498)

Taking or enticing away any women who is and is known or reasonably believed to be married from her husband or from any person having the care of her on behalf of her husband, with intent that she may have illicit intercourse with any person or concealing or detaining with that intent, any such woman, is made punishable by section 498.

Punishment – Imprisonment for two years or fine or both.


5) Husband subjecting wife to cruelty (section 498A)

Under this section, the word ‘cruelty’ refers to

a) any wilful conduct that is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health of the woman

b) harassment of the woman, whether such harassment is with a view to coercing her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of her failure to meet such demand.

Section 498A was introduced by 1983 Amendment to combat the ever – increasing cases of dowry deaths. As observed by Supreme Court, this section has given a new dimension to concept of cruelty for the purpose of matrimonial remedies. (Shobha Rani v/s A.I.R)

In P.B. Biksdhapathi v/s State of A.P. , it was held that coming home late every night and excessive drinking combined with beating of the wife and constantly demanding dowry amounts to cruelty.


Constitutional Validity of Section 494A

In Inder Raj v/s Sunita, the Supreme Court also held that section 494A is not ultra vires Art. 14 or Art. 20(2) of the Constitution. The Supreme Court held that mere possibility of misuse or abuse of provisions of this section does not per se invalidate Section 498A( Sushil Kuman v/s Union of India)

Punishment – If a husband or relative of a husband of a woman subjects woman to cruelty, is punishable with imprisonment for three years or fine or both.

Thus, among different kinds of offences against women, the most prevalent are matrimonial offences. Thus it is the time for the women to raise their voice against such injustices. There is also a need for general reform to protect women’s physical and personal dignity against violence by the husband.



This article is written by Neha Bodas of ADV.BALASAHEB APTE COLLEGE OF LAW.

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