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Citation(1995) 3 SCC 635
Date of Judgment10TH May 1995
CourtSupreme Court of India
Case TypeWrit Petition
AppellantSmt. Sarla Mudgal & Ors.
RespondentUnion of India & Ors.
BenchKuldip Singh (J), R. M. Sahai (J)
ReferredArticle-25, 44, 32 of Constitution of IndiaSection-497 & 494 of Indian Penal Code4,5,11,13,15 of Hindu Marriage Act17 of Special Marriage Act


The petitions were filed in the Supreme Court of India under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. Initially, there were two petitioners in the Writ Petition 1079/89. Sarla Mudgal, the first petitioner, was the leader of the registered society Kalyani, a not-for-profit organization that promoted the welfare of struggling women and destitute families. Meena Mathur, the second petitioner, was married to Jitendra Mathur since 1978 and the mother of three children who were not her biological offspring. Once they both embraced Islam, petitioner 2 learned that her spouse had wed Sunita Narula, also known as Fathima. She claims that her husband merely converted to Islam in order to wed Sunita and evade Section 494 of the IPC. Sunita Narula alias Fathima filed a different case under the number Writ Petition 347/1990, in which she claimed that she and the respondent had converted to islam before being married and had given birth to a kid out of wedlock. But, under the influence of Meena Mathur, the respondent pledged in 1988 that he would preserve his first wife and their three children while reverting to Hinduism. She was not being supported by her husband and had no legal protection because she continued to practice Islam. Finally, the Supreme Court received a plea that was listed as Writ Petition 424/1992. According to Hindu customs, Geeta Rani, the petitioner, wed Pradeep Kumar in 1988. Last but not the least, Sushmita Ghosh, the petitioner in the civil Writ Petition 509/1992, wed G. C. Ghosh in 1984 using Hindu rituals. Her husband, the respondent, requested a divorce from her by mutual consent in 1992 because he no longer wanted to live with her. As the petitioner further questioned him after being surprised, he confessed that he had converted to islam and intended to wed Vinita Gupta. She sought in the writ suit that her husband be prevented from getting remarried.      


  1. Whether a Hindu husband married under the Hindu law, by embracing Islam can solemnize a second marriage?
  2. Whether such a marriage without having the first marriage dissolved under law, would be valid marriage qua the first wife who continues to be Hindu?
  3.  Whether the apostate husband would be guilty of the offence under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1960?


Meena Mathur contended that the marriage was solemnized after they converted themselves to Islam and adopted Muslim religion. According to the petitioner, conversion of her husband to Islam was only for the purpose of marrying and circumventing the provisions of S. 494, Indian Penal Code.

Petitioners have contended that the second marriage of their spouses is a violation of rights guaranteed under the personal laws. Respondents are solemnizing their marriages without dissolving their first marriage. It would be tantamount to the violation of the rights of one of the spouses who are reluctant to adopt another religion. 

The petitioners’ common contention was that the respondents converted themselves to Islam to evade the provisions of bigamy given under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code and facilitate their second marriage with other women.

There are cases where spouses are coerced to convert their religion. Such actions violate the fundamental rights to freedom of religion guaranteed under Article 25 of the Indian Constitution.  


The respondents to the case collectively asserted that once they converted to Islam, they can have four wives despite having a first wife who continues to be a Hindu. Therefore, they are not subject to the applicability of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code. The Section 11 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 which makes the bigamous marriage void is not applicable. 

Respondents believe the provision of one particular personal law shall apply to all personal laws. In other words, the provisions of Muslim personal law must apply to Hindu personal law and other religious personal laws. Respondent contended that according to Muslim personal law if either of the spouses does not embrace the same religion that is Islam, a consequence has resulted in the dissolution of marriage.

The respondent argues that if one of the spouses converts oneself from the Hindu religion to the Muslim faith, the other spouse is duty-bound to convert to Islam to sustain their marriage. If the spouse failed to convert her religious faith the apostate husband is eligible to marry another woman without dissolving his first marriage and shall not be liable under section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 for bigamy.


The doctrine of dissolubility of marriage under traditional Hindu marriage law does not give any effect on the conversion of religion. The conversion of religion and marrying another woman will not result in the dissolution of the previous marriage solemnized under Hindu marriage law.

Marriage is the foundation of civilized society. Once the relationship of marriage is formed, it binds the parties to various obligations and liabilities. On one hand, monogamy is the law for Hindus while on the other hand, Muslim law permits four wives for a Muslim male in India according to the Shariat law of 1937. Hindu man embraces Islam to solemnize his second marriage without dissolving his first marriage and escape from the liabilities which were imposed upon him under section 494 of the Indian Penal Code.

A marriage can be dissolved under the provision of the Divorce Act. A marriage can also be dissolved on the death of either of the spouses. According to Hindu Marriage Act, a marriage cannot be dissolved except on the grounds of section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1954. The second marriage of an apostate husband under Muslim law would be a marriage in violation of the provision of the Act by which he would be continuing his first marriage.

As a result, a second marriage is illegal in the eyes of law. The second marriage of an apostate husband is against natural justice. It is arbitrary to allow individuals to solemnize their marriage after conversion to Islam. It is a clear way out to circumvent the provision of section 494 of the Indian Penal Code.

The Supreme Court of India emphasizes the enforcement and implementation of Uniform Civil Code in India to regulate matters related to marriage, divorce, adoption, inheritance, custody of the child, and other matters related to matrimonial disputes under uniform law applicable to all religious communities uniformly. The objective of the Uniform Civil Code is to govern all the religious communities in India uniformly.        

Critical Analysis

The decision of Smt. Sarla Mudgal & Ors. v/s Union of India & Ors. popularly known as Sarla Mudgal case, is a landmark judgment in the history of family and matrimonial cases in India. It gave a constructive approach towards the concept of apostasy and bigamy, providing a new dimension to expression ‘void’ under section 494 of Indian Penal Code. The interpretation given to section 494 Indian Penal Code was an effort to advance the interest of justice. It is necessary that there should be harmony between the two systems of law just as there should be harmony between the two communities. Until the Uniform Civil Code is enacted for all the citizens of the country, there will always be a loophole in the system because different faiths have different beliefs and practices of communities, there will be a conflict.     




  • Constitution of India, 1950
  • Indian Penal Code, 1860
  • Hindu Marriage Act, 1955

This Article is written by Harshita Chauhan of Aligarh Muslim University, Intern at Legal Vidhiya.


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