The recent judgement of the Bombay High Court awarding maintenance to petitioner, Suman, is of great importance.

Suman had married Nivrutti Satav in 1981. Suman alleged that Nivrutti ill-treated her, married another woman the next year, and ultimately threw her out of the house in 1991.

A Magistrate’s court denied her application for maintenance because she could not prove her marriage to Nivrutti. She then went to the High Court.

Pronouncing the verdict, Justice Abhay Oka awarded a maintenance of Rs 500 per month, with arrears since 1991, to petitioner Suman.

The Court held that For the purpose of granting maintenance to a neglected wife under section 125 of criminal procedure code (CrPC), no strict proof of marriage is required.

In Suman’s case the local Sarpanch and Police Patil testified that Nivrutti and Suman had been living together as husband and wife for seven to eight years.

This verdict by Justice Oka might bolster the case of the Maharashtra government, which has proposed to make an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code to extend the right to maintenance to women who could not prove the legality of their marriage.

This amendment was proposed in October last year. The State Government has said that

‘the definition of the word ‘wife’ under Section 125 needs to be changed to include a woman who was living with a man like his wife for a reasonably long period.’

The amendment proposed by the Maharashtra Government is the same as what has been proposed by the Justice Mallimath committee formed by the Central Government.

In July, this year, the Maharashtra government sent a formal proposal to the Centre

 to amend a section of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and expand the definition of the word ‘wife’ to include a woman living with a man like his wife for a‘reasonably long’ period.

However, the Maharashtra state government has not specified the exact duration of a ‘reasonably long’ period. The interpretation of this has been left up to the courts.

Some legal experts have opposed this proposal.

They say that the proposed amendment may legalise or justify bigamy which is against the law as per the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.This amendment, if passed, would legalise a live-in relationship, and would entitle the woman in such a relationship to be entitled to alimony in the event of the relationship breaking down.

Activists like Flavia Agnes cite examples where the rights of women to maintenance have been upheld despite the concerned marriage being bigamous. Their contention is that this is a common ploy used by men- who try to avoid paying maintenance to women with whom they have cohabited for a prolonged period of time on the grounds of bigamy.

If this proposal is accepted, it would give relief to women who have been tricked into bigamous marriages and then denied maintenance after the break-up of the marriage.

My own view is that if this proposal is limited to procuring maintenance for a woman who has been left destitute after the break-up of a marriage, even a bigamous one, it should be welcomed.

What do you think?