The Supreme Court has asked the union government whether bigamy must be declared an offence across communities. The apex court, which was reacting to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), also agreed to take petitions challenging polygamy and nikah halala.
Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) states that whoever with a living husband or wife marries again without divorcing the spouse will be punished with a jail term of up to seven years, and liable to a fine. This law applies to all Indians except Muslims.
On 31 August, after five years, the five-judge bench comprising Justices Indira Banerjee, Hemant Gupta, Surya Kant, MM Sundresh and Sudhanshu Dhulia had agreed to take up the adjudication of other alleged discriminatory practices against Muslim women mentioned in a PIL filed by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay with six other petitions filed by Muslim women and a Muslim organisation. The bench sent a notice to the union government, asking it to file a reply via affidavit. If the court allows the relief mentioned in the PIL against bigamy, then it would ban polygamy under the Shari’ah.
In 2017, the Supreme Court declared triple talaq unconstitutional while considering the petition of a Sayara Bano from Uttarakhand.
Advocate Vishnu Jain drew the attention of the court while it was finalising the next schedule of hearing. Jain said the Supreme Court had not sought the union government’s response on the PIL filed by Kiran Singh who had sought a direction from the court to enforce Section 494 of IPC that punishes bigamy.
The six Muslim women and the PIL by Upadhyay challenged the practice of nikah halala where a divorced woman has to marry someone else and get a divorce from the second husband to remarry her previous husband. Petitioners have alleged that such a practice was misused by men to torture women physically and mentally.
Representing the union government, Additional Solicitor-General Madhavi Divan said there were several practices under challenge, which were not dealt with in the talaq-e-biddat (triple talaq) case of Sayara Bano.
The Supreme Court has to decide on issues including Nikah Halala, polygamy and other kinds of talaq.