September 3, 2023
In a significant legal ruling, the Patna High Court has held that even if a wife grants consent to her husband’s second marriage, she can still file a complaint against him under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for cruelty. This landmark decision came in the case of *Arun Kumar Singh vs. Nirmala Devi* and is expected to have far-reaching implications for marital disputes in India.
A division bench of Justices Pavankumar Bajanthri and Jitendra Kumar refused to accept the argument of the appellant-husband, Arun Kumar Singh, who claimed to have entered into a second marriage in 2004 after obtaining prior consent from his first wife, whom he had married in May 1978.
The court’s ruling stemmed from a series of events that unfolded over the years. The second marriage, entered into with the consent of the first wife, ended in failure in 2005. Subsequently, in 2010, the first wife filed a case under Section 498A against her husband, alleging cruelty.
Ruling of The Bench
The bench, in its ruling, stated that “merely entering into such a second marriage itself would amount to cruelty to the first wife,” highlighting that the societal norm does not tolerate second marriages by husbands. This act alone, according to the court, provides grounds for the first wife to live separately and file complaints under Section 498A.
The court also emphasized that the act of a wife lodging criminal cases under Section 498A cannot be construed as cruelty to the husband. This decision clarifies the legal standpoint on the matter, ensuring that wives who experience cruelty can seek legal recourse without facing repercussions.
The case before the court was an appeal filed by Arun Kumar Singh, challenging a July 2017 order of a family court at Sheikhpura that had dismissed his plea for divorce. Singh argued that he had married his first wife in 1978, but their relationship deteriorated after the birth of their daughter, leading to their separation. In 2004, he married for the second time, asserting that he had obtained his first wife’s consent.
The case being discussed
Following the second marriage, his first wife initiated legal action, filing a complaint under Section 498A and Sections 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act. She also filed a second criminal case under Section 498A. Singh sought anticipatory bail in both cases, which was granted, but the High Court ordered him to pay maintenance of ₹5,000 per month to his first wife, along with an additional ₹5 lakh for their daughter’s marriage.
Despite these developments, Singh’s attempts to obtain a mutual divorce were unsuccessful, leading him to file for divorce on grounds of cruelty under Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. He argued that the cases filed by his wife were false and intended to harass him. However, the family court rejected his plea, prompting the appeal before the Patna High Court.
In its ruling, the Patna High Court concluded that Singh failed to prove that the cases filed by his first wife were false and fabricated, or that they were lodged with malicious intent to harass him. As a result, the court dismissed the appeal, affirming the family court’s decision.
This ruling marks a significant legal precedent in cases involving second marriages and cruelty complaints. It underscores the importance of considering the emotional well-being and rights of spouses, even when prior consent to a second marriage is obtained. The decision serves as a reminder that Indian courts are committed to upholding justice and ensuring the protection of individuals within marital relationships.