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Rathnamma vs Sujathamma on 15 November, 2019

REPORTABLE

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

CIVIL APPEAL NO. 3050 OF 2010

RATHNAMMA ORS. …..APPELLANT(S)

VERSUS

SUJATHAMMA ORS. …..RESPONDENT(S)

JUDGMENT

HEMANT GUPTA, J.

1. Defendant No.2, defendant No.5 and legal heirs of defendant No.4

are in appeal aggrieved against the judgment passed by High

Court of Karnataka on 3rd April, 2008 dismissing their second

appeal maintaining the judgment and decree passed by the First

Appellate Court on 2nd July, 2005 whereby the suit for partition filed

by plaintiff Sujathamma was decreed.

2. The following Genealogical Tree would be necessary to appreciate

the dispute between the parties:-

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“GENEALOGICAL TREE

Sonnappa
(Defendant No. 1)

Son Daughter Daughter Daughter
Hanumanthappa Sonnamma Kenchamma Lakshmamma
(dead) (Def No. 1(a)) (Def No.1(b)) (Def No.1(c))
(*Sujathamma is the daughter
of Muniyappa and Sonnamma)

Son
Venkatarayappa Rathnamma
(dead) (Def No. 2)

Gowramma Rajappa Naryanaswamy
(Def No. 3) (Def No. 4) (Def No. 5)

Note :

*Sujathamma claims to be married to Hanumanthappa.”

3. Defendant No. 1 Sonnappa died during the pendency of the suit

leaving behind two sons – Venkatarayappa and predeceased son –

Hanumanthappa and three daughters – Sonnamma, Kenchamma

and Lakshmamma. Sonnamma, Kenchamma and Lakshmamma

have been brought on record as legal heirs of defendant No. 1. The

plaintiff – Sujathamma, maternal grand-daughter of Sonnappa,

claims to have married Hanumanthappa on 7th March, 1986.

Hanumanthappa died on 15th October, 1986. The claim of the

plaintiff is that she is entitled to the share of the estate of

Sonnappa, as wife of deceased Hanumanthappa. It is the said

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assertion which was accepted by the First Appellate Court and

maintained by the High Court.

4. The plaintiff filed the civil suit with the assertion that the parties

are related to each other as members of joint Hindu Undivided

Family. The plaintiff asserted that the first defendant i.e. Sonnappa

is her fathter-in-law. Since the property is said to be ancestral

property and that property stands in the name of the first

defendant Sonnappa, therefore, plaintiff claims that she is entitled

to the share of Hanumanthappa as his wife.

5. The daughter of the first defendant was married to the father of the

plaintiff. The stand of the defendants is that the father of the

plaintiff managed to obtain signatures of the first defendant by way

of malafide practices and that the first defendant never consented

for the marriage of his second son Hanumanthappa as he was

suffering from juvenile diabetes mellitus coma, cardio respiratory

arrest and such other symptoms. The plaintiff was about 14 years

of age at the time of death of Hanumanthappa and that she was

not fit for marriage. It was asserted that if any document is

produced by the plaintiff to show that she was married, it is a

concocted one. By way of a separate written statement, defendant

Nos. 2 to 5 denied the allegations of the plaintiff. It was pleaded as

under:

“12. The plaintiff is not entitled to any reliefs. The
true facts of the case are that the plaintiff is grand
daughter of first defendant and the plaintiff’s mother,

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first defendant and plaintiff colluded with each other
and they have filed this suit in order to grab the
properties, the plaintiff is not at all wife of the said late
Hanumanthappa. Even as on the date of the death of
said Hanumanthappa, the said plaintiff was aged
about 14 years. Even the said Hanumanthappa was
also suffering from Juvenile Diabetes Mellitus coma,
Cardio respiratory arrest and such other symptoms.
Even he was not in position to marry or to give
consent for marriage since 6 years and never marriage
of the plaintiff with late Hanumanthappa had been
taken place.”

6. The parties went to trial with one of the issues being whether the

plaintiff is wife of late Hanumanthappa. To prove the said issue,

the plaintiff examined herself as PW-1. PW-2 is the father of the

plaintiff whereas PW-3 to PW-5 are the witnesses of an agreement

to marriage dated 7th March, 1986, who were examined to prove

plaintiff’s marriage with Hanumanthappa. PW-6 was examined to

prove the age of the deceased Hanumanthappa. PW-7 to PW-9 are

the daughters of deceased defendant No. 1. As per the birth

certificate (Ex.P/30), the date of birth of Hanumanthappa is 20 th

June, 1966, that makes him 19 years 9 months at the time of his

marriage. On the other hand, the plaintiff in her statement stated

her age as 15 years at the time of marriage. However, the

defendants have produced Ex.D/3, Register of Admission of the

School, by confronting PW-6, Headmaster of the School. As per

Ex.D/3, the plaintiff was born on 5 th June, 1975. As per the plaintiff,

an agreement of marriage was registered on 7 th March, 1986. The

witnesses examined by the plaintiff have deposed that the

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marriage was registered on the said date.

7. Admittedly, Hanumanthappa died on 15 th October, 1986 i.e. within

eight months of the alleged marriage. The plaintiff, apart from the

oral evidence, relies upon a photograph (Ex.P/28) wherein the

plaintiff and Hanumanthappa are seen together. PW-2 to PW-5

have deposed that the photograph (Ex.P/28) was taken in Malur

after performing marriage in Sub-Registrar’s office. The learned

trial court found that Hanumanthappa was 19 years 9 months old

at the time of marriage and the plaintiff, as admitted by her in

cross-examination, was 15 years of age at the time of marriage. It

was, thus, held that the plaintiff and the deceased have not

attained the qualifying age at the time of registration in the office

of Sub-Registrar and, thus, marriage was void ab initio. It is also

held that there is no evidence of performance of necessary

marriage ceremonies in terms of Section 7 of the Hindu Marriage

Act, 19551, therefore, mere registration of an agreement of

marriage is not sufficient to prove marriage. The trial court also

took into consideration the statement of plaintiff admitting that the

deceased was suffering from some diseases earlier to the marriage

and her father performed marriage in a hurry with an intention to

get the property. Plaintiff deposed that she belongs to Vokkaliga

community and marriages were performed in the house and no

marriage in the family was performed in the Sub-Registrar’s office.

The learned trial court held that the marriage of the plaintiff with
1 for short, ‘Act’

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the deceased is said to be proved but marriage is void ab initio in

terms of Section 24 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 as both have

not attained the qualifying age for marriage. In the result, the trial

court dismissed the suit and held that defendant Nos. 2 to 5 are

entitled to 1/3rd share of the total scheduled property.

8. Both sets of parties went in appeal. The learned First Appellate

Court affirmed the findings of the trial court that marriage of the

plaintiff with deceased Hanumanthappa is established and that

Ex.D/3, the date of birth certificate of the plaintiff is not admissible

as it is not an authentic document. In the absence of proof of date

of birth, the First Appellate Court held that the trial court

committed an error in coming to the conclusion that the plaintiff

has not attained the age of marriage. The learned First Appellate

Court held that Ex.P/1 is not a proof of solemnization of marriage

under the provisions of the SectionSpecial Marriage Act, 1954 as it is only

a contract of marriage which was registered. No marriage

certificate has been issued by the competent authority, therefore,

the parties cannot be deemed to have married under the SectionSpecial

Marriage Act, 1954. However, the First Appellate Court held that

since the parties are Hindus and that if the marriage is neither void

or voidable under the Act, therefore, the provisions of age of

marriage are only directory in nature and not mandatory. The

marriage was held to be valid, consequently, the suit was decreed.

9. The High Court in second appeal held that there was a marriage

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between plaintiff and Hanumanthappa and that the certificate

(Ex. P/1) is neither marriage certificate nor issued to evidence the

marriage in terms of provisions of the SectionSpecial Marriage Act, 1954

but only a piece of evidence supporting the version of the plaintiff

that her marriage has taken place with Hanumanthappa. The High

Court said that in law, a customary Hindu marriage can be proved

only on establishing that the parties to the marriage had gone

through the necessary observances but since the defendants have

denied the marriage itself, they cannot be permitted to turn around

to contend that it was not a valid marriage.

10. Learned counsel for the defendants argued that the plaintiff never

asserted that she married Hanumanthappa either under the SectionSpecial

Marriage Act, 1954 or a marriage under custom. In fact, the

plaintiff has not pleaded that she married Hanumanthappa except

asserting that defendant No. 1 is her father-in-law. The defendant

No. 1 Sonnappa is maternal grand-father of the plaintiff, whereas

Hanumanthappa was son of defendant No. 1, meaning thereby, the

claim of the plaintiff is that she married her Uncle. It is not

disputed that Hanumanthappa was suffering from various diseases

and died within eight months of the alleged marriage. The stand of

the defendants is that there was no marriage and that the story of

marriage was created to take the share of the deceased

Hanumanthappa in the property.

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11. Before we proceed further, some relevant provisions of the SectionHindu

Marriage Act, 1955 need to be extracted hereunder:

“5. Conditions for a Hindu marriage. –

(i) xx xx xx

(ii) at the time of the marriage, neither party,-

(a) is incapable of giving a valid consent of it in
consequence of unsoundness of mind; or

(b) though capable of giving a valid consent has
been suffering from mental disorder of such a kind
or to such an extent as to be unfit for marriage and
the procreation of children; or

(c) has been subject to recurrent attacks of insanity
or epilepsy;

(iii) xx xx xx

(iv) the parties are not within the degrees of
prohibited relationship unless the custom or usage
governing each of them permits of a marriage
between the two;

(v) the parties are not sapindas of each other,
unless the custom or usage governing each of them
permits of a marriage between the two;

xx xx xx

7. Ceremonies for a Hindu marriage.- (1) A
Hindu marriage may be solemnized in accordance
with the customary rites and ceremonies of either
party thereto. (2) Where such rites and ceremonies
include the saptapadi (that is, the taking of seven
steps by the bridegroom and the bride jointly before
the sacred fire), the marriage becomes complete
and binding when the seventh step is taken.

xx xx xx

11. Void marriages.- Any marriage solemnized
after the commencement of this Act shall be null

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and void and may, on a petition presented by either
party thereto, against the other party be so
declared by a decree of nullity if it contravenes any
one of the conditions specified in clauses (i), (iv)
and (v), Section 5.”

12. One of the issues framed was whether the plaintiff is wife of

Hanumanthappa. Since the entire claim of the plaintiff is based

upon her marriage with Hanumanthappa, the burden of proof as to

any particular fact lies on the person who wishes the Court to

believe in its existence is the established principle of law. This

Court in SectionVarada Bhavanarayana Rao v. State of A.P.2, held that

in terms of Section 102 of the Evidence Act, 1872 3, the burden of

proof in a suit or proceeding lies on that person who would fail if no

evidence at all were given on either side. It was held as under:-

“15. That being the position, the question on which of the
contending parties the burden of proof would lie has to be
decided on the relevant provisions of the SectionEvidence Act.
Section 101 of the Evidence Act provides that whoever
desires any court to give judgment as to any legal right or
liability dependent on the existence of facts which he
asserts, must prove that those facts exist. Section 102
provides that the burden of proof in a suit or proceeding lies
on that person who would fail if no evidence at all were
given on either side. Section 103 provides that the burden
of proof as to any particular fact lies on that person who
wishes the Court to believe in its existence, unless it is
provided by any law that the burden of proof of that fact
shall lie on any particular person.”

13. We find that the High Court has committed illegality in holding that

since the defendants have denied marriage, it cannot be asserted

by the defendants that the marriage of the plaintiff with

2 AIR 1963 SC 1715
3 for short the “SectionEvidence Act”

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Hanumanthappa was not a valid marriage. The plaintiff has led

evidence to the effect that the marriage was solemnized in the

office of Sub-Registrar vide Ex.P/1. Ex.P/1 has been rightly found to

be not a certificate of registration of marriage under the SectionSpecial

Marriage Act, 1954 and that there is no evidence that any

ceremony has taken place. In the agreement of marriage (Ex.P/1),

it is only stated that both parties are of same caste and with the

permission and consent of both of their fathers, they have entered

into this agreement of marriage. This type of marriage is not

recognized in law as Section 7 of the Act contemplates that the

marriage can be solemnized in accordance with customary rites

and ceremonies of either party thereto and where such rites and

ceremonies include the Saptpadi, the marriage becomes complete

and binding when the seventh step is taken.

14. The plaintiff has not led any evidence of solemnization of marriage

as provided under sub-clause (2) of Section 7 of the Act or by

leading any evidence of customary rites and ceremonies. The

burden to prove marriage was on the Plaintiff alone. The

defendants have denied marriage of the Plaintiff, therefore, the

burden to prove marriage was on the plaintiff alone. Apart from

such fact, the marriage cannot be said to be taken place in terms of

Section 5(v) of the Act which is to the effect that the parties are not

sapindas to each other, unless the custom or usage governing each

of them permits of a marriage between the two. Such marriage is a

void marriage but, on a petition, preferred by either party thereto.

10

15. Hanumanthappa, a party to the marriage died soon after the so-

called marriage. Therefore, the question required to be examined

is whether the alleged marriage which is between the persons of

less than 21 years and 18 years and between the prohibited degree

is a valid marriage. The plaintiff will be entitled to the estate of

Hanumanthappa only if she proves her valid marriage. The plaintiff

has not pleaded any custom permitting marriage within the

prohibited degree nor there is any proof of solemnization of any

marriage by customary ceremonies and rites, therefore, the

plaintiff will not be entitled to succeed only on the basis of alleged

registration of an agreement of marriage. In the absence of

customary ceremonies or the custom permitting marriage between

the prohibited degree, the plaintiff has no legal right to claim the

share in the property only on the basis that some of the witnesses

produced by her admitted that she married Hanumanthappa.

16. This Court in a judgment reported as Salekh Chand (Dead) by

SectionLRs v. Satya Gupta Ors.4 while dealing with the claim of

adoption under the Hindu Adoption and SectionMaintenance Act, 1966,

held as under:

“21. SectionIn Mookka Kone v. Ammakutti Ammal [AIR 1928
Mad 299] it was held that where custom is set up to
prove that it is at variance with the ordinary law, it
has to be proved that it is not opposed to public
policy and that it is ancient, invariable, continuous,
notorious, not expressly forbidden by the legislature
and not opposed to morality or public policy. It is not
disputed that even under the old Hindu Law,
4 (2008) 13 SCC 119

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adoption during the lifetime of a male issue was
specifically prohibited. In addition, I have observed
that such an adoption even if made would be
contrary to the concept of adoption and the purpose
thereof, and unreasonable. Without entering into the
arena of controversy whether there was such a
custom, it can be said that even if there was such a
custom, the same was not a valid custom.

22. It is incumbent on party setting up a custom to
allege and prove the custom on which he relies.
Custom cannot be extended by analogy. It must be
established inductively and not by a priori methods.
Custom cannot be a matter of theory but must
always be a matter of fact and one custom cannot be
deduced from another. It is a well-established law
that custom cannot be enlarged by parity of
reasoning.

23. Where the proof of a custom rests upon a limited
number of instances of a comparatively recent date,
the court may hold the custom proved so as to bind
the parties to the suit and those claiming through
and under them; but the decision would not in that
case be a satisfactory precedent if in any future suit
between other parties fuller evidence with regard to
the alleged custom should be forthcoming. A
judgment relating to the existence of a custom is
admissible to corroborate the evidence adduced to
prove such custom in another case. Where, however
a custom is repeatedly brought to the notice of the
courts, the courts, may hold that the custom was
introduced into law without the necessity of proof in
each individual case.

24. Custom is a rule which in a particular family or a
particular class or community or in a particular
district has from long use, obtained the force of law.
Coming to the facts of the case PW 1 did not speak
anything on the position either of a local custom or of
a custom or usage by the community; PW 2, Murari
Lal claimed to be witness of the ceremony of
adoption, he was brother-in-law of Jagannath, son of
Pares Ram who is said to have adopted Chandra
Bhan. This witness was 83 years old at the time of
deposition in the court. He did not speak a word
either with regard to the local custom or the custom
of the community. PW 3 as observed by the lower

12
appellate court was only 43 years old at the time of
his deposition whereas the adoption had taken place
around 60 years back. He has, of course, spoken
about the custom but that is not on his personal
knowledge and this is only on the information given
by PW 2 Murari Lal. He himself did not speak of such
a custom. The evidence of the plaintiff was thus
insufficient to prove the usage or custom prevalent
either in the township of Hapur and around it or in
the community of Vaish.”

17. In the present case, the plaintiff has not proved custom of marriage

to her mother’s brother and/or judicial precedent recognizing such

marriage. In the absence of any precedent or custom of such

marriage, no judicial notice can be taken of a custom as argued by

the learned counsel for the plaintiff. In the absence of any pleading

or proof of custom, the argument that in Vokkaliga community,

such marriage can be performed cannot be accepted as no judicial

precedent was brought to the notice of the Court that such a

custom exists in the Vokkaliga community nor there is any instance

quoted in evidence of existence of such custom.

18. The burden to prove the marriage was on the plaintiff. The plaintiff

has failed to prove the marriage. The entire case is based upon an

agreement of marriage in which there is no assertion regarding

solemnization of the customary ceremonies or the rites or that the

parties had performed saptpadi in the manner contemplated under

Section 7 of the Act, therefore, the plaintiff cannot succeed the

estate of Hanumanthappa on the basis of a marriage which she has

failed to prove.

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19. Consequently, the present appeal is allowed while restoring the

judgment and decree of the learned Trial Court.

………………………………………J.

(L. NAGESWARA RAO)

………………………………………J.

(HEMANT GUPTA)

NEW DELHI;

NOVEMBER 15, 2019.

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