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Introduction: The Madhya Pradesh High Court, in a significant ruling in the case of Durga Bai vs Keval Singh, has clarified the legal position regarding a woman’s entitlement to maintenance from her second husband under Section 125 of the CrPC when her first marriage subsists. This article delves into the details of the case, the court’s analysis, and the implications of the judgment.

It is really most heartening to note that the Madhya Pradesh High Court while fully, firmly and finally acknowledging the time tested maxim that, “Those who come to court must come with clean hands” minced just no words absolutely to hold unequivocally in a learned, laudable, landmark, logical and latest judgment titled Durga Bai vs Keval Singh in Case No. 230/2015 that was reserved on February 26, 2024 and then finally pronounced on March 11, 2024 that a woman cannot request maintenance from her second husband under Section 125 of CrPC if her first marriage survives. This definitely is worth emulating by all the courts in similar such cases. No denying it.

At the very outset, this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment authored by the Single Judge Bench comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice Prem Narayan Singh sets the ball in motion by first and foremost putting forth in para 1 that, “This order shall govern the disposal of these criminal revisions as they are arisen out of same order dated 13.05.2017 passed in Miscellaneous Judicial Case (Criminal) No. 230/2015 by the learned Principal Judge, Family Court, District-Rajgarh. Hence they are heard analogously and are being decided by this common order.”

As we see, the Bench then unfolds in para 2 stating that, “These criminal revisions have been filed by the petitioners under Section 19(4) of Family Court Act, 1984 read with Section 397/401 of Cr.P.C. being aggrieved by the judgment dated 13.05.2017, passed in MJC(Cri) No.230/2015, by learned Principal Judge, Family Court, District-Rajgarh (Biaora) whereby the learned Family Court has rejected the application filed under Section 125 of Cr.P.C on the ground that applicant/wife has failed to prove that she being the legal wife of the respondent/husband, is liable to receive the maintenance. Whereas the maintenance of Rs.4,000/- was awarded to petitioner No. 2/Chanchal per month from the date of filing of application. Further, the wife-Durga Bai and daughter-Chanchal will be addressed as petitioner Nos. 1 and 2 while husband-Keval Singh will be addressed as respondent.”

Simply put, the Bench specifies in para 3 that, “The Criminal Revision No. 754/2017 has been filed by Durga Bai/petitioner No.1 for awarding the maintenance amount of Rs.10,000/- for her and enhancing the maintenance of Rs.5,000/- from Rs.4,000/- to petitioner No.2 while the Criminal Revision No. 726/2017 has been filed by respondent/Keval Singh to set aside the order of maintenance in favour of his daughter/petitioner No.2. It is also worth mentioning that in Criminal Revision No. 754/2017, no one appeared on behalf of respondent/Keval Singh today, hence, revision petition No.754/2017 is decided in non-appearance of respondent/Keval Singh.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench envisages in para 4 while elaborating on the facts of the case that, “The facts in brief are that, the marriage between petitioner No.1 and respondent was solemnized as per Hindu rituals in the year 2009. After conjugal relation between both, baby Chanchal was born from their wedlock. This marriage was second marriage for both petitioner No.1 /Durga Bai and respondent/Keval Singh. Previously, marriage was solemnized between Durga Bai and Bhagwan Singh resident of Village Lalpuria, but Bhagwan Singh consummated second marriage and abandoned Durgabai. As per custom and rituals of society, Bhagwan Singh gave divorce. After getting divorce from Bhagwan Singh, the petitioner No.1/Durgabai did second marriage with Keval Singh/respondent. Thereafter, the parents of respondent/Keval Singh taunted Durgabai with regard to demand of dowry and Kewal Singh himself used to beat her after getting liquor. Owing to cruel treatment by respondent, petitioner was compelled to leave the house and from April 2015, she was residing in her brother’s house in Rajgarh. The petitioner No. 1 is only a homemaker and is an unemployed lady, therefore, she has filed application under Section 125 of CrPC for maintenance which has been dismissed by the Family Court, therefore, this revision has been filed.”

Needless to say, the Bench then states in para 7 that, “In view of the rival submissions, I have gone through the record. Now, the crux of the case is as to whether petitioner No. 1 is entitled to get maintenance from her second husband/respondent.”

It is worth noting that the Bench notes in para 9 that, “It is unfolded from the aforesaid provision that an illegitimate child is entitled to get maintenance but an illegitimate wife is not entitled to get maintenance. The intention of legislature is obvious that maintenance can only be granted in favour of legally wedded wife. Now the question is required to be answered as to whether petitioner No.1/Durgabai is legitimate wife of respondent/Keval Singh.”

Quite significantly, the Bench then hastens to add in para 13 holding that, “Considering such evidence of petitioner No.1/Durgabai, the learned Family Court Judge has passed this order on the ground that since the petitioner is not a legally wedded wife of the respondent, therefore, she is not entitled for the claim of maintenance. Now, coming to the verdicts filed by petitioners, the law laid down in Harinarayan Khati (supra) is well considered by the learned trial Court in para 13 of the impugned judgment. The learned Judge considering the law laid down by Hon’ble Apex Court in Savitaben (supra) rightly distinguished the law laid down in Harinarayan Khati. Likewise, the law laid down in Smt. Sukhraji (supra) is also distinguishable in view of the law laid down in Savitaben (supra).”

Most significantly, the Bench then postulates in para 19 of this notable judgment that, “In view of aforesaid settled propositions and provisions of law it is crystal clear that the wife should be a “legally wedded wife” for claiming maintenance from her husband. A woman, having solemnized second marriage to another person, is only entitled to get maintenance from that person, when the first marriage has been declared either null and void or she has obtained a divorce decree from her first husband. The aforesaid view has recently been endorsed by this Court in the case of Sangeeta (supra) and Rajkumar Agrawal Vs. Sarika, 2023 Lawsuit MP 533. Since, in the case at hand, as the petitioner No.1 could not get divorce from her earlier husband/Bhagwan Singh and could not file any proof of getting divorce, she would not be entitled to get maintenance from her second husband/respondent. Nevertheless, the petitioner No. 1 of this case has the liberty to avail other remedies that may be better suited to the factual matrix of this case, as such seeking of compensation order enshrined under Section 22 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.”

As a corollary, the Bench then directs in para 21 holding that, “In result thereof, the impugned order of learned Family Court dismissing the maintenance of petitioner No. 1 and allowing the maintenance of petitioner No. 2 is not suffering from any infirmity and illegality. Accordingly, the Criminal Revision Nos. 726/2017 & 754/2017 being devoid of merit are dismissed and the impugned order is hereby affirmed.”

Finally, the Bench then concludes by holding in para 22 that, “Accordingly, these criminal revisions are hereby disposed of.”

In a nutshell, we thus see that the Madhya Pradesh High Court has made it indubitably clear that a woman cannot request maintenance from her second husband under Section 125 of the CrPC if her first marriage survives. There can be thus no gainsaying that in similar such cases all the courts must pay heed to what the Madhya Pradesh High Court has held in this leading case so clearly, cogently, courageously and convincingly.

Conclusion: The Madhya Pradesh High Court’s ruling in the case of Durga Bai vs Keval Singh clarifies the legal position regarding a woman’s entitlement to maintenance from her second husband when her first marriage remains valid. The judgment underscores the importance of adherence to legal principles and precedent in matters of maintenance under Section 125 of the CrPC.

Courts across the jurisdiction are urged to heed this precedent-setting decision, ensuring consistency and fairness in adjudicating similar cases. It serves as a guiding beacon for the interpretation and application of the law concerning maintenance rights of women in subsequent marriages where the first marriage endures.

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April 2024