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Satprakash Meena vs Alka Meena on 7 July, 2021

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Signature Not Verified
Digitally Signed By:DINESH
SINGH NAYAL
Signing Date:08.07.2021
19:25:20

$~
* IN THE HIGH COURT OF DELHI AT NEW DELHI
Reserved on: 3rd June, 2021
Date of Decision: 07th July, 2021
+ C.R.P.1/2021 and CM APPL. 332/2021

SATPRAKASH MEENA ….. Petitioner
Through: Mr. F.K. Jha, Advocate.
versus

ALKA MEENA ….. Respondent
Through: Mr. Abhinav Gupta Mr. Nitesh
Ranjan, Advocates.
CORAM:
JUSTICE PRATHIBA M. SINGH
JUDGMENT

Prathiba M. Singh, J.

1. The question in this petition is as to the applicability of The Hindu
Marriage Act, 1955 (hereinafter referred as the “HMA, 1955”), in respect of
the parties who belong to the Meena community in view of the exclusion
under Section 2(2) of the HMA, 1955.

2. The Petitioner – Mr. Satprakash Meena and the Respondent- Ms. Alka
Meena got married on 24th June, 2012. According to the Petitioner, the
marriage was solemnized in Jaipur, Rajasthan, as per Hindu rites and customs.
Both the parties belong to the Meena community and the same is an admitted
position. The Petitioner is an engineer who is working in Delhi and the
Respondent is stated to be a house maker. The parties have a minor child
namely Master Lakshya, who was born on 12th April, 2013 in Delhi.

3. A petition seeking divorce under Section 13-1(ia) of the HMA,
1955was filed by the Petitioner on 2nd December, 2015, before the Principal

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SINGH NAYAL
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Judge (West), Family Court, Tis Hazari, Delhi. The Respondent did not
appear in the said petition. There is a dispute as to whether the Respondent
was served or not. The Respondent, however, preferred a transfer petition
being Alka Meena v. Satprakash Meena [Transfer Petition Civil No.
1671/2016] before the Supreme Court. In the said transfer petition, according
to the Petitioner, the Respondent took a categorical stand that the marriage
was solemnized as per the Hindu rites and customs. Vide order dated 6th
April, 2017, the transfer petition was disposed of, however, the Respondent
was permitted to avail of the facility to participate in the proceedings through
video conferencing.

4. An FIR was lodged by the Respondent under The Protection of Women
from
Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (hereinafter the “DV Act”) as also an
application seeking maintenance, under
Section 125 of The Code of Criminal
Procedure, 1973(hereinafter the “
CrPC”) in the city of Jaipur.

5. In the divorce petition, since the Respondent did not appear, she was
proceeded ex-parte. However, after she was permitted to participate in the
proceedings through video conferencing by the Supreme Court (in the transfer
petition), she filed an application under Order VII Rule 10 and Order VII Rule
11
of The Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (hereinafter “the CPC”) before the
Family Court. In the said application she prayed for rejection of the divorce
petition, on the ground that the provisions of the HMA, 1955 do not apply to
the parties concerned as they are members of a notified Scheduled Tribe in
Rajasthan, and hence the HMA, 1955 would not be applicable to the case of
the said parties in view of Section 2(2) of the HMA, 1955.

6. The said application was decided by the Family Court and the divorce
petition was dismissed by holding that the provisions of the HMA, 1955 do

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Digitally Signed By:DINESH
SINGH NAYAL
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not extend to the Meena community, which is a notified Scheduled Tribe. The
said order dated 28th November, 2020 is under challenge in the present
petition.

Submissions of the Petitioner

7. Ld. counsel for the Petitioner Mr. Jha submits that the Respondent had
admitted in various pleadings that the marriage was solemnized as per Hindu
rites and customs. Reference was placed upon the transfer petition filed before
the Supreme Court, the complaint filed under the
DV Act in Rajasthan,
application filed by the Respondent under
Section 125 CrPC, as also the FIR
registered by the Respondent under
Section 498A Indian Penal Code
(hereinafter the “
IPC”). He submitted that since the Respondent admitted that
the marriage was solemnized as per the Hindu rites and customs, the
provisions of HMA, 1955 would be fully applicable to the facts of the case
and hence the divorce petition under the provisions of the HMA, 1955 ought
to be maintainable.

8. Reliance was placed on the judgment of the Supreme Court in
Labishwar Manjhi v. Pran Manjhi and Ors. (2000) 8 SCC 587, specifically
upon paragraphs 5 and 6 of the said judgment, to argue that in the said
judgment it has been clearly held that if the members of tribes follow
customary and practices of Hinduism, the
Hindu Succession Act,
1956(hereinafter the “HSA, 1956”) would be applicable. The said case
related to the Santhal Tribe, who were seen following Hindu customs, and
hence the Supreme Court held that the HSA would be applicable to their
situation, in spite of the said tribe being a notified tribe.

9. The submission of ld. Counsel for the Petitioner was that both the
parties are following Hindu rites and customs, and although they are residing

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SINGH NAYAL
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in the city of Jaipur and they belong to the Meena community, the HMA, 1955
would be applicable.

10. He thereafter, relied upon the following judgments:-

i. OmPrakash v. LalitaMeena, 2015 (3) CDR 1217 (Raj)
ii.
Yamanaji H. Jadhav v. Nirmala, AIR 2002 SC 971
iii. Subramani and Ors. v. M. Chandralekha, (2005) 9 SCC 407
iv. Mirza Raja PushpavathiVijayaramGajapathi Raj Manne
Sultan Bahadur and Ors. v.

PushavathiVisweswarGajapathiraj and Ors., AIR 1954 SC 118
v. Maneka Gandhi v. Indira Gandhi, AIR 1984 Delhi 428
vi.
Krishna Veni v. Union of India and Ors., 2021 SCC OnLine
Cal 437

11. Referring to the above judgments, ld. Counsel for the Petitioner argued
that in order to establish the grounds of the objection which have been raised
by the Respondent before the trial court and to decide the question as to
whether a particular fact has been established or not, and for adjudication of
the petition for divorce on that basis, evidence would have to be led. He
submitted that if any particular customary law is alleged to be followed, as in
the present case the wife has alleged that Meena tribe customs are being
followed, the same cannot be presumed by the Court without evidence being
adduced. Thus, he submitted that even if it is held that the Respondent is
entitled to take the argument that the parties are governed by the customary
practices of the Meena tribe, the trial court could not have presumed the same
and dismissed the petition, without proper trial.

12. Mr. Jha, ld. counsel for the Petitioner further urged this Court that once
a Scheduled Tribe follows the customs and practices of the particular religion,

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SINGH NAYAL
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they should be bound by the law that applies to the said religion. As seen in
the present case, if it is held that the Scheduled Tribe of Meena would not be
governed by the HMA,1955 it would lead to enormous difficulties for women
as bigamy would be recognised and could even lead to desertion of women.

13. On the strength of these judgments and of these submissions, ld.
Counsel for the Petitioner submitted that the impugned order dated 28th
November, 2020 is not sustainable.

Submissions of the Respondent

14. Mr. Gupta, ld. Counsel appearing for the Respondent on the other hand,
submitted that the Respondent had not filed a reply in the divorce petition as
it was her stand that she was never served in the matter. Owing to the order
passed in the transfer petition, it is only at the stage of final arguments that
the Respondent entered appearance.

15. Ld. Counsel submitted that an application Under Order VII Rule 10
CPC and Order VII Rule 11 CPC was filed by the Respondent inter alia
contending that due to the Meena tribe being a Scheduled Tribe in the State
of Rajasthan, it’s right to constitutional protection would be excluded if the
provisions of the HMA, 1955 are held to be applicable. He submitted that the
judgments of the various Courts, including the Supreme Court, are clear to the
effect that even if Hindu customs are being followed, the same would not
automatically mean that the provisions of the HMA, 1955 would be applicable
in the case of members of a notified Scheduled Tribe.

16. Reliance was placed upon the following judgments by the ld. Counsel
for the Respondent:

i. Dr. Surajmani Stella Kujur v. Durga Charan Hansdah and
Anr., (2001) 3 SCC 13:

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SINGH NAYAL
Signing Date:08.07.2021
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ii. Dr. Bini B. v. Jayan P.R., 2015 SCC OnLine Ker 39489.:

iii. Rajendra Kumar Singh Munda v. Smt. Mamta Devi, 2015 SCC
OnLine Jhar 3735
iv.
Ramlal v. Prem Bai [S.B. CIVIL MISC. APPEAL NO.

1271/1999 judgment dated 10th July, 2018 of The Rajasthan
High Court],
v. Rupa Debbarma v. Tapash Debbarma, 2020 SCC OnLine Tri
425

17. On the strength of these judgments, it was submitted by the ld. Counsel
for the Respondent that the impugned judgment dismissing the divorce
petition, does not deserve to be interfered with.
Submissions made in Rejoinder

18. Mr. Jha, ld. Counsel appearing for the Petitioner took the Court through
various documents i.e., the marriage card of the parties, the complaint under
Section 498A of the IPC, the FIRs registered pursuant to the said complaint,
the complaint made under the
DV Act, the Petition under Section 125CrPC
and the affidavit in support thereof, the charge sheet under
Section 498A of
the IPC. On the strength of these documents and legal judicial records, Mr.
Jha, ld. Counsel submitted that these documents would show that the marriage
of the parties took place as per Hindu reeti riwaz through the Saptpadi and in
front of the fire. Thus, the parties completely adhered to the Hindu way of
conducting a marriage, customs and rites. Therefore, the HMA, 1955 would
applicable to them. The marriage card is also emphasised to show that it
begins with the phrase ‘Shree Ganeshay Namah’.

19. He thereafter relied upon the transfer petition filed before the Supreme
Court which was disposed of on 6th April, 2017. Therein, the Respondent had

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SINGH NAYAL
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made an assertion that the marriage was conducted as per the Hindu rites and
customs.

20. Thereafter, Mr. Jha, ld. Counsel referred to the following judgments:

i) Ms. Jorden Diengdeh v. S.S. Chopra, AIR 1985 SC 935.

ii) Nihoto Sema v. Kanili Kimi Limi, (1986) 2 GLR 296

iii) Sekawat s/o Shaukat Tadvi v. Rehane Budhan Tadavi Anr., 2016
SCC OnLine Bom 3853

21. On the strength of these three judgments Mr. Jha submitted that for
Scheduled Tribes who profess Christianity or Islam are concerned, the
respective personal law would apply. Similarly, in the present case, since the
parties are following Hinduism customary and rites, the HMA, 1955ought to
be made applicable.

22. Mr. Gupta, ld. Counsel for the Respondent, however, on the other hand
submitted that Hinduism is not considered to be a religion but only a way of
life. Though, the parties follow the customary principles and rites of
Hinduism, the status of a tribe of the Meena community cannot be taken away.
On a query from the Court as to what are the methods of obtaining divorce in
the Meena community, he submitted that the same is through a Panchayat and
there is a Board for the said purpose. He further submitted that since there is
a child in the present case, the Scheduled Tribe status of the child cannot also
be taken away. Though Scheduled Tribes who are Christian and Muslim, may
be covered by their respective personal law, due to the specific exclusion
under the HMA, 1955 the Scheduled Tribe of Meena community would not
be covered by the said Act. He further submitted that the members of the
Meena community pray to Hanuman Ji which is a deity, also referred to as
Balaji.

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Digitally Signed By:DINESH
SINGH NAYAL
Signing Date:08.07.2021
19:25:20

Analysis and findings

23. The parties in this petition, both belong to the Meena Community. It is
the case of the wife that the Meena community is covered by the exclusion
under Section 2(2) of the HMA which reads:

“(2) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-
section (1), nothing contained in this Act shall apply
to the members of any Scheduled tribe within the
meaning of clause (25) of
article 366 of the
Constitution unless the Central Government, by
notification in the Official Gazette, otherwise
directs.”

24. The divorce petition under Section 13-1(ia) of the HMA was dismissed
by the trial court on the basis of the exclusion in Section 2(2) of the HMA,
1955. The trial court had not conducted the trial in the petition or considered
the evidence in the matter, but summarily dismissed the petition simply on the
ground that since the parties belong to the Meena Community, the provisions
of the HMA, 1955 would not be applicable. The relevant extracts of the trial
court judgment read as under:-

“7. Hence, by Sub-Section 2 of Section 2 of HMA,
Hindu Marriage Act is not applicable to the
members of Scheduled tribe within the meaning of
Clause 25 of
Article 366 of the Constitution, unless
the Central Government by notification in the
official Gazette otherwise directs. No such
notification is put forth or pleaded before the court
by any of the sides.

8. Hence, by virtue of Section 2 of sub-section (2) of
HMA, the present petition filed by the petitioner
seeking decree of dissolution of marriage under
HMA is not maintainable being barred by Section
2(2) of HMA itself.

XXX

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Digitally Signed By:DINESH
SINGH NAYAL
Signing Date:08.07.2021
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12. Accordingly, in view of the above discussion and
in the light of the above mentioned pronunciations
of law, the present petition filed by the petitioner /
non-applicant-husband u/s.13(1)(ia) of HMA 1955
as amended by the marriage laws
(Amendment Act,
1976) is dismissed being not maintainable in view
of the provisions of
Section 2(2) of Hindu Marriage
Act. The petition is dismissed. File be consigned to
Record Room”.

25. The submissions made on behalf of the parties reveal that there are two
judgments of the Supreme Court that are relied upon. The husband i.e. the
Petitioner who has preferred the divorce petition relies upon Labishwar
Manjhi (supra) whereas the Respondent- wife relies upon the judgment of
the Supreme Court in Dr. Surajmani Stella Kujur (supra).

26. In Labishwar Manjhi (supra), the Supreme Court was dealing with a
petition relating to inheritance amongst the members of the Santhal Tribe.
According to the customs of the Santhal Tribe, females were excluded from
the right of succession. The Trial Court held that the parties would be bound
by Hindu law and that the widow would be entitled to inherit the property of
the deceased as they followed Hindu rites and customs. The ld. Single Judge
of the High Court allowed the appeal but the ld. Division Bench remanded the
matter to the First Appellate Court to examine the question as to whether
parties were sufficiently Hinduised or not. The First Appellate Court on
remand held that the parties were sufficiently Hinduised and Hindu law of
succession would apply. The ld. Division Bench in appeal, however, held that
the Hindu law of Succession prior to the amendment would apply and hence
the widow inherited the property during her life time and on her death would
devolve to the agnates of her husband. The question before the Supreme Court

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was as under:-

“The question which arises in the present case is,
whether the parties who admittedly belong to the
Santhal Tribe are still continuing with their
customary tradition or have they after being
Hinduised changed their customs to that which is
followed by the Hindus.”

27. The Supreme Court, thereafter, analysed the evidence on record and
held that though the parties belonged to the Santhal tribe, they followed the
customs of Hindus and not of the Santhal tribe. Thus, the exclusion under
Section 2(2) of the HSA, 1956 would not apply to the parties. The Supreme
Court then concluded as under:-

“6. The question which arises in the present case is,
whether the parties who admittedly belong to the
Santhal Tribe are still continuing with their
customary tradition or have they after being
Hinduised changed their customs to that what is
followed by the Hindus. It is in this context when the
matter came first before the High Court, the High
Court remanded the case for decision in this regard.
After remand, the first appellate court recorded the
finding that most of the names of their families of
the parties are Hindu names. Even P.W. 1 admits in
the cross-examination that they perform the pindas
at the time of death of anybody. Females do not use
vermilion on the forehead after the death of their
husbands, widows do not wear ornaments. Even
P.W. 2 admits that they perform Shradh ceremonies
for 10 days after the death and after marriage
females used vermilion on their foreheads. The
finding is that they are following the customs of the
Hindus and not the Santhal’s. In view of such a
clear finding it is not possible to hold that sub-
section (2) of Section 2 of the Hindu Succession Act

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excludes the present parties from the application of
the said Act. Sub-section (2) only excludes members
of any Scheduled Tribe admittedly as per finding
recorded in the present case though the parties
originally belong to the Santhal Scheduled Tribe
they are Hinduised and they are following the
Hindu traditions. Hence, we have no hesitation to
hold that sub-section (2) will not apply to exclude
the parties from application of the
Hindu
Succession Act. The High Court fell into error in
recording a finding to the contrary. In view of this,
the widow of Lakhiram would become the absolute
owner by virtue of
Section 14 of the said Act,
consequently the gift given by her to Appellants 2
and 3 was a valid gift, hence the suit of Respondent
No. 1 for setting aside the gift deed and inheritance
stands dismissed.”

28. Thus, in the above decision the following factors were considered by
the Supreme Court viz.,
• The names of the parties and their families are Hindu names;
• At the time of death of a family member Pindas are performed;
• Women do not wear vermilion after the death of the husband;
• Widows do not wear ornaments.

• Shradh Ceremonies are performed for 10 days after death.

29. On the basis of these practices, the Supreme Court held that the parties
were Hinduised as they were following Hindu traditions. Thus, the exclusion
under Section 2(2) of the HSA, 1956 was held to not apply to the parties and
they would be governed by the provisions of the HSA. It is relevant to note
that the exclusion in Section 2(2) of HMA and Section 2(2) of HSA, 1956 are
identical in wording.

30. In Dr. Surajmani Stella Kujur (supra), the issue was one of bigamy.

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Digitally Signed By:DINESH
SINGH NAYAL
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The Appellant in the said case had conceded that both the parties were tribals
who otherwise were professing Hinduism. The husband had solemnised the
second marriage during the subsistence of the first marriage. The wife had
then argued that the husband is liable to be prosecuted for the offence under
Section 494 IPC. The wife had claimed before the Trial Court in the said case
that she was of Hindu religion but since there was no notification under
Section 2(2), the husband could be prosecuted for bigamy. According to the
wife, the tribe mandated monogamy as a rule. The Supreme Court, however,
observed as under:-

“8. No custom can create an offence as it essentially
deals with the civil rights of the parties and no
person can be convicted of any offence except for
violation of law in force at the time of commission
of the act charged. Custom may be proved for the
determination of the civil rights of the parties
including their status, the establishment of which
may be used for the purposes of proving the
ingredients of an offence which, under
Section 3(37)
of the General Clauses Act, would mean an act or
omission punishable by any law by way of fine or
imprisonment.
Article 20 of the Constitution,
guaranteeing protection in respect of conviction of
offence, provides that no person shall be convicted
of any offence except for violation of law in force at
the time of commission of the act charged as an
offence. Law under
Article 13 clause (3) of the
Constitution means the law made by the legislature
including intra vires statutory orders and orders
made in exercise of powers conferred by the
statutory rules.”

31. The Supreme Court further held that the alleged custom of monogamy
of the Santhal Tribe does not have the force of law and cannot prohibit the

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solemnisation of a second marriage. Mere pleading of the custom is not
sufficient. Until and unless a second marriage is held to be void,
Section 494
IPC would not apply.

32. The judgment in Dr. Surajmani Stella Kujur (supra), was considered
by the Kerala High Court in Dr. Bini B.(supra). In the said case, the parties
belonged to the Kuruma community/tribe, they otherwise professed
Hinduism. The husband had filed a petition under Section 9 of the HMA, 1955
for restitution of conjugal rights. The trial court had allowed the petition under
Section 9. In appeal, it was contended that the provisions of HMA, 1955
would not apply in view of
Section 2(2). The ld. Division Bench of the Kerala
High Court considered various judgments including Dr. Surajmani Stella
Kujur (supra) and held as under:-

“15. It is clear from the above decisions that when
custom become part of the tribal community as a
law, it will guide their attitude and practice in their
social and economic life. Custom is considered as
the guiding principle among them, which will
acquire the status of law. The party claiming custom
is necessary to plead and prove that such custom
followed in the community is ancient and certain.
Since custom is aftcient (sic ancient) the person
relying bn(sic on) it has to establish it by clear and
unambiguous evidence! It is true mat (sic that) the
majority of the Tribal people are living below the
poverty line and they have not reached development
which is equal to the civilized section of the other
people in the civil society. Therefore, the validity of
the custom must be examined and decided by a
Court, when full facts are placed before it for
consideration.

16. The application of custom among the Tribes and
restrictions under
section 2(2) of the Act, were not

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considered by the Family Court. It has been clearly
stipulated in the Act that the provisions of the Act
are not applicable to members of the Scheduled
Tribe unless there is a notification issued by the
Central Government in the Official Gazette making
the Act applicable to the scheduled tribes. No such
notification has been produced before the Family
Court, therefore the order passed by the Family
Court, Kalpetta is liable to be set aside. Hence, this
appeal is allowed. We set aside the order dated
27.9.2012 in O.P. No. 148/2011 of Family Court,
Kalpetta and the matter is remitted to the lower
Court for fresh consideration as per law. Both
parties are at liberty to adduce fresh evidence in
support of their contentions”.

33. Thus, the Kerala High Court set aside the decree under Section 9 but
remanded the matter for fresh consideration and for leading the evidence to
prove the customs as was relied upon by the parties.

34. In Rajendra Kumar Singh Munda (supra) the parties belonged to the
Munda tribe which was a notified tribe in Jharkhand and the ld. Division
Bench took the view that Munda being a tribal community that was notified
for the state of Jharkhand, in view of the provisions of Section 2(2) of the
HMA, 1955 and the constitutional protection granted, the decree of divorce
under the HMA, 1955 was not sustainable and the same was set aside.

35. In Ram Lal V. Prem Bai (supra), the district court, had issued a decree
in the wife’s favour but the petitioner challenged it in the high court pleading
that being a tribal man, the decree passed by the lower court under the HMA,
1955 is not binding on him. The Court quashed the order passed by a lower
court in Tonk, Rajasthan, granting conjugal rights to a tribal woman under the
HMA, 1955, holding that the members of the Meena community are not

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covered under HMA, 1955.

36. In Anom Apang v. Geeta Singh (2012) 2 GLR 583, the Gauhati High
Court held that even though one of the parties belong to the Adi Tribe, since
the marriage was solemnised according to the Hindu customs and traditions,
the HMA, 1955 would apply.
In Rupa Debbarma v. Tapash Debbarma
(supra), the Tripura High Court disagreed with the Gauhati High Court. The
parties belonged to the Tripuri community. The trial court granted a decree of
divorce under the HMA on the ground of cruelty and desertion. The question
before the High Court was whether the said divorce granted under the HMA
was sustainable or not. The Tripura High Court noted both Labishwar Manjhi
(supra) and Dr. Surajmani Stella Kujur (supra) and held that the provisions
of the HMA, 1955 would not apply. The observations of the Tripura High
Court are as under:-

“35. So far the question of conversion is concerned,
simply because the marriage has been performed
following the Hindu customs and rites, it cannot be
stated that parties intending marriage had been
converted to Hinduism. Conversion is a conscious
abandonment of the customs of the community or
the religion and adoption of the religion which
someone intends to be converted to. None of the
appellant and the respondent did not claim to have
converted to Hinduism by abandoning their
customs. Thus, there had been no conversion and by
considering “conversion”, the
Hindu Marriage Act
cannot be applied. This court however, will affirm
the finding in respect of cruelty as returned by the
Addl. District Judge. However, the desertion has
not been proved on preponderance of probabilities
in as much as, the appellant has clearly stated that
she had intention to restitute the marriage. But this
finding will have no effect in the suit as the suit itself

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is not maintainable having barred by Section 2(2)
of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.”

37. A perusal of the various decisions discussed above shows that there is
divergence in the views being taken by various High Court. The two decisions
which are to be considered by this Court are the decisions of the Supreme
Court in Labishwar Manjhi (supra) and Dr. Surajmani Stella Kujur (supra).

38. Before proceeding to adjudicate the question of law that arises, some
facts need to be noted. In the present case, both parties have since inception
pleaded that they belong to the Meena Community, however their marriage
was solemnised according to Hindu rites and ceremonies and they follow
Hindu customs. This fact is admitted by the wife in several documents and
pleadings. Relevant extracts from the various documents are set out herein
below:-

(1) Marriage Invitation:- A copy of the marriage invitation clearly shows
that the wedding was conducted in accordance with the Hindu rites and
customs as the auspicious programmes included Lagan, Barat etc., The
invitation also uses all the symbols including the term “Shree Ganeshaya

Namha”(श्रीगणेशायेनमः)

(2) Complaint and FIR and charge sheets registered under Section 498

(a) IPC:- Pursuant to the said complaint filed by the wife under Section 498
of the IPC it is admitted by the wife that she was married to the Petitioner as

per “Poore Hindu Riti Riwaz”(पूरेहिन्दरू ीतीररवाज़)

(3) Complaint under the Domestic Violence Act:-In this complaint, she
admits that she was married to the Petitioner on 24th June, 2012 as per `Hindu

Riti Riwaz, Saptapadi ke Anusar’.(हिन्दरू ीतीररवाज़,सप्तपदीकेअनुसार)

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(4) Application under Section 125 CrPC:- In this complaint she
admits that she was married as per “Hindu Riti Riwaz ,Saptapadi ke

Anusar”(हिन्दू रीती ररवाज़, सप्तपदी के अनुसार)

(5) Affidavit:-In the affidavit filed by the wife she admits that the marriage
was conducted with the Petitioner as per “Hindu Riti Riwaz Se Agni ke

Samaksh Saptapadi ke Anusar” (हिन्दू रीतीररवाज़ से अग्नन के समक्ष सप्तपदी

के अनुसार)

(6) Transfer Petition filed before the Supreme Court
In the transfer petition, it is stated :

“2. Brief Facts of the case are as under:-

1. On 24.06.2012, the marriage between the
Petitioner and the Respondent was solemnized
according to Hindu Rites and Customs at Jaipur,
Rajasthan according to Hindu rights and
ceremonies.”

39. The above documents and exhibits before the Trial Court clearly show
that the Respondent-wife admits:-

(i) that the marriage was conducted as per the “Hindu Riti Riwaz”

(ii) that the marriage was effected by following the “Saptapadi”

(iii) that the marriage was conducted in front of `Agni’ – fire.

40. The above admissions have been made by the Respondent wife
repeatedly in various documents which were exhibited before the trial court.

41. The question that arises is as to whether in these facts, the parties ought
to be governed by the provisions of the HMA or should they be relegated to
procedures of the Meena tribe?

42. In so far as the provision Section 2(2), HMA,1955 is concerned, it is

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clear that the provisions of the Act would not apply to the members of the
Scheduled Tribal community unless the Scheduled Tribe is a notified tribe. It
is the admitted position between parties that the said community is not a
notified tribe.
Section 2(2) reads as under:-

“(2) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-
section (1), nothing contained in this Act shall apply
to the members of any Scheduled tribe within the
meaning of clause (25) of
article 366 of the
Constitution unless the Central Government, by
notification in the Official Gazette, otherwise
directs.”

43. The Act, however, applies to any person who is Hindu by religion and
includes a Virashaiva, a Lingayat or a follower of the Brahmo, Prarthana even
followers of Brahma Prathana of Arya Samaj. It also applies to Buddhists,
Jains and Sikhs by religion. The HMA, 1955 regulates all aspects of marriages
applicable to Hindus including restitution of conjugal rights of judicial
separation, divorce etc. If the HMA, 1955 does not apply to any particular
individual or any parties, such parties would be relegated to their respective
customary practices or community Courts. In fact, in Nihoto Sema (supra),
the High Court of Gauhati considered this issue in relation to parties belonging
to the Naga tribes but were professing Christian religion. The Court framed
the following question:

“3.The question is whether the Indian Divorce Act,
1869 is applicable to the State of Nugaland (sic
Nagaland).”

44. In para 26, the Court observed that there is nothing to show even in the
texts that there is any customary form of divorce prevalent amongst the Sema
Nagas. Thereafter the Court held in para 28 as under:-

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“…In this Case, the Additional Deputy
Commissioner in his order clearly held that when
the parties are unwilling to go to the customary
courts, the Court cannot compel the parties to go to
the panchayat. This is obviously a case where the
wife has been complaining that her husband has
been guilty of adultery coupled with cruelty and
sought divorce and that the husband-petitioner took
the child (daughter, aged about 3 ½ years) away
from the Nursery School without the knowledge and
consent of the respondent (wife) and separated the
child from the mother and prayed for the custody of
the child. This appears to be a case where the
marriage is irretrievably broken and persuasion is
no proper remedy.”

45. Similarly, in Sekawat (supra) the Bombay High Court held that the
wife belonging to the Muslim community would be entitled to claim
maintenance under
Section 125 of the CrPC.

46. In the present case, admittedly, the party’s marriage was solemnised as
per the Hindu customs and rites. Ld. counsel for the Respondent-wife
admitted during the course of submissions that the wife did not deny that she
is a Hindu and the tribe is a Hindu tribe, however, according to him this would
not take away the status of the parties being a part of the notified Scheduled
Tribe under the Constitution of India.

47. The word `Hindu’ is not defined in any of the statutes. It is in view of
the fact that there is no definition of Hindu, that the Supreme Court has held
in Labishwar Manjhi (supra) that if members of Tribes are Hinduised, the
provisions of the HMA, 1955 would be applicable. The manner in which the
marriage has been conducted in the present case and the customs being
followed by the parties show that as in the case of Hindus, the marriage is

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conducted in front of the fire. The Hindu customary marriage involves the
ceremony of Saptapadi which has also been performed in the present case.
The various other ceremonies, as is clear from the marriage invitation are also
as per Hindu customs. If members of a tribe voluntarily choose to follow
Hindu customs, traditions and rites they cannot be kept out of the purview of
the provisions of the HMA, 1955. Codified statutes and laws provide for
various protections to parties against any unregulated practices from being
adopted. In this day and age, relegating parties to customary Courts when they
themselves admit that they are following Hindu customs and traditions would
be antithetical to the purpose behind enacting a statute like the HMA, 1955.
The provisions of exclusion for example under
Section 2(2) are meant to
protect customary practices of recognised Tribes. However, if parties follow
Hindu customs and rites, for the purpose of marriage, this Court is inclined to
follow the judgment of the Supreme Court in Labishwar Manjhi (supra) to
hold that the parties are Hinduised and hence the HMA, 1955 would be
applicable. Moreover, nothing has been placed before the Court to show that
the Meena community Tribe has a specialised Court with proper procedures
to deal with these issues. In these facts, if the Court has to choose between
relegating parties to customary Courts which may or may not provide for
proper procedures and safeguards as against codified statutes envisioning
adequate safeguards and procedures, this Court is inclined to lean in favour of
an interpretation in favour of the latter, especially in view of the binding
precedent of the Supreme Court in Labishwar Manjhi (supra) which
considered an identical exclusion under the HSA,1956.

48. In so far as the judgment in Dr. Surajmani Stella Kujur (supra) is
concerned, the said decision dealt with an offence of bigamy which was

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pleaded to be contrary to the customs in the Santhal Tribe. The said custom
had not been established on record and hence the Court held that since the
custom was not established by the parties, an offence could not be created by
a mere pleading of a custom. Moreover, even in Dr. Surajmani Stella Kujur
(supra), the Supreme Court clearly holds that for determination of civil rights,
customs may be proved and can form the basis. Thus, insofar as divorce
proceedings are concerned, if proper tribal customs are not established or the
following of Hindu customs or rites is admitted by the parties, there is no
reason to hold that the provisions of the HMA, 1955 would not apply.

49. Unfortunately, the trial court has failed to consider the admissions made
by the Respondent wife which have been set out hereinabove leading to the
incorrect conclusion. The trial court also failed to consider the decision of the
Supreme Court in Labishwar Manjhi (supra).

50. Courts have been repeatedly confronted with the conflicts that arise in
personal laws. Persons belonging to various communities, castes and
religions, who forge marital bonds, struggle with such conflicts. It is with the
hope of bringing uniformity and to eliminate these struggles and conflicts,
that the Supreme Court way back in 1985, in
Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah
Bano Begum and Ors, (1985) 2 SCC 556 observed:

“32. It is also a matter of regret that Article 44 of
our Constitution has remained a dead letter. It
provides that “The State shall endeavour to secure
for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the
territory of India”. There is no evidence of any
official activity for framing a common civil code for
the country. A belief seems to have gained ground
that it is for the Muslim community to take a lead in
the matter of reforms of their personal law. A
common
Civil Code will help the cause of national

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integration by removing disparate loyalties to laws
which have conflicting ideologies. No community is
likely to bell the cat by making gratuitous
concessions on this issue. It is the State which is
charged with the duty of securing a uniform civil
code for the citizens of the country and,
unquestionably, it has the legislative competence to
do so. A counsel in the case whispered, somewhat
audibly, that legislative competence is one thing,
the political courage to use that competence is quite
another. We understand the difficulties involved in
bringing persons of different faiths and persuasions
on a common platform. But, a beginning has to be
made if the Constitution is to have any meaning.
Inevitably, the role of the reformer has to be
assumed by the courts because, it is beyond the
endurance of sensitive minds to allow injustice to be
suffered when it is so palpable. But piecemeal
attempts of courts to bridge the gap between
personal laws cannot take the place of a common

Civil Code. Justice to all is a far more satisfactory
way of dispensing justice than justice from case to
case.”

51. Again in Ms Jordon Diengdeh v. S.S. Chopra, (1985) 3 SCC 62, the
Supreme Court observed in the context of dissolution of marriage between a
couple wherein the wife belong to the Naga Tribe and the husband was a Sikh
by religion that
Article 44 of the Constitution needs to be implemented in its
letter and spirit. The Supreme Court notices the various provisions under the
personal laws applicable to marriages under the
Hindu Marriage Act, Special
Marriage Act, Parsi Marriage and
Divorce Act, Muslim Law etc. The Court
then concluded and observed as under:-

“7. It is thus seen that the law relating to judicial
separation, divorce and nullity of marriage is far,

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far from uniform. Surely the time has now come for
a complete reform of the law of marriage and make
a uniform law applicable to all people irrespective
of religion or caste. It appears to be necessary to
introduce irretrievable breakdown of marriage and
mutual consent as grounds of divorce in all cases.
The case before us is an illustration of a case where
the parties are bound together by a marital tie
which is better untied. There is no point or purpose
to be served by the continuance of a marriage which
has so completely and signally broken down. We
suggest that the time has come for the intervention
of the legislature in these matters to provide for a
uniform code of marriage and divorce and to
provide by law for a way out of the unhappy
situations in which couples like the present have
found themselves in. We direct that a copy of this
order may be forwarded to the Ministry of Law and
Justice for such action as they may deem fit to take.
In the meanwhile, let notice go to the respondents.”

52. The decisions in Shah Bano (supra) and Ms Jordon Diengdeh (supra)
were rendered way back in 1985 and more than 35 years have been passed.
The Supreme Court had expressed hope and observed that the time has come
for enacting a uniform code of marriage and divorce and urged for a ‘complete
reform’. These very sentiments have been again reiterated in Sarla Mudgal
Vs. UOI AIR 1995 SC 1531 and Lily Thomas (2000) 6 SCC 224.

53. In John Vallamattom and Another v. Union of India, (2003) 6 SCC
611, the Supreme Court considered Sarla Mudgal (supra) and further
observed:

“44. Before I part with the case, I would like to state
that
Article 44 provides that the State shall
endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil
code throughout the territory of India. The

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aforesaid provision is based on the premise that
there is no necessary connection between religious
and personal law in a civilized society.
Article 25 of
the Constitution confers freedom of conscience and
free profession, practice and propagation of
religion. The aforesaid two provisions viz. Articles
25 and 44 show that the former guarantees religious
freedom whereas the latter divests religion from
social relations and personal law. It is no matter of
doubt that marriage, succession and the like matters
of a secular character cannot be brought within the
guarantee enshrined under Articles 25 and 26 of the
Constitution. Any legislation which brings
succession and the like matters of secular character
within the ambit of Articles 25 and 26 is a suspect
legislation, although it is doubtful whether the
American doctrine of suspect legislation is followed
in this country.
In Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India
[(1995) 3 SCC 635: 1995 SCC (Cri) 569] it was
held that marriage, succession and like matters of
secular character cannot be brought within the
guarantee enshrined under Articles 25 and 26 of the
Constitution. It is a matter of regret that
Article 44
of the Constitution has not been given effect to.
Parliament is still to step in for framing a common
civil code in the country. A common civil code will
help the cause of national integration by removing
the contradictions based on ideologies.”

54. The need for a Uniform Code has been again echoed by the Supreme
Court in
ABC v. State (NCT of Delhi) (2015) 10 SCC 1, wherein it was held:

“20. It is imperative that the rights of the mother
must also be given due consideration. As Ms
Malhotra, learned Senior Counsel for the appellant,
has eloquently argued, the appellant’s fundamental
right of privacy would be violated if she is forced to
disclose the name and particulars of the father of
her child. Any responsible man would keep track of

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his offspring and be concerned for the welfare of the
child he has brought into the world; this does not
appear to be so in the present case, on a perusal of
the pleading as they presently portray.
Furthermore, Christian unwed mothers in India are
disadvantaged when compared to their Hindu
counterparts, who are the natural guardians of their
illegitimate children by virtue of their maternity
alone, without the requirement of any notice to the
putative fathers. It would be apposite for us to
underscore that our directive principles envision
the existence of a Uniform Civil Code, but this
remains an unaddressed constitutional
expectation.”

55. Recently, in Jose Paulo Coutinho v. Maria Luiza Valentina Pereira
and Another, (2019) 20 SCC 85, the Supreme Court observed:

“..24. It is interesting to note that whereas the
Founders of the Constitution in
Article 44 in Part
IV dealing with the Directive Principles of State
Policy had hoped and expected that the State shall
endeavour to secure for the citizens a Uniform Civil
Code throughout the territories of India, till date no
action has been taken in this regard. Though Hindu
laws were codified in the year 1956, there has been
no attempt to frame a Uniform Civil Code
applicable to all citizens of the country despite
exhortations of this Court in
Mohd. Ahmed Khan v.
Shah Bano Begum [Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah
Bano Begum, (1985) 2 SCC 556 : 1985 SCC (Cri)
245] and Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India [Sarla
Mudgal v. Union of India, (1995) 3 SCC 635 : 1995
SCC (Cri) 569] .”

56. The backdrop of all the above decisions and the crux of Art. 44 of the
Constitution is well captured in the Constituent Assembly Debates. Dr. B.R.
Ambedkar while debating on
Article 35 (now Article 44 of the Constitution

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of India) [Constituent Assembly Debates, Volume 7, 23rd November 1948]
said:

“My friend, Mr. Hussain Imam, in rising to support
the amendments, asked whether it was possible and
desirable to have a uniform Code of laws for a
country so vast as this is. Now I must confess that I
was very much surprised at that statement, for the
simple reason that we have in this country a uniform
code of laws covering almost every aspect of human
relationship. We have a uniform and complete

Criminal Code operating throughout the country,
which is contained in
the Penal Code and the
Criminal Procedure Code. We have the Law of
Transfer of Property, which deals with property
relations and which is operative throughout the
country. Then there are the
Negotiable Instruments
Acts: and I can cite innumerable enactments which
would prove that this country has practically a
Civil
Code, uniform in its content and applicable to the
whole of the country. The only province the Civil
Law has not been able to invade so far is Marriage
and Succession. It is this little corner which we
have not been able to invade so far and it is the
intention of those who desire to have
article 35 as
part of the Constitution to bring about that
change. Therefore, the argument whether we
should attempt such a thing seems to me somewhat
misplaced for the simple reason that we have, as a
matter of fact, covered the whole lot of the field
which is covered by a uniform
Civil Code in this
country. It is therefore too late now to ask the
question whether we could do it. As I say, we have
already done it.”

57. The need for a Uniform Civil Code as envisioned under Article 44, has
been reiterated from time to time by the Supreme Court. Cases like the present

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one repeatedly highlight the need for such a Code – ‘common to all’, which
would enable uniform principles being applied in respect of aspects such as
marriage, divorce, succession etc., so that settled principles, safeguards and
procedures can be laid down and citizens are not made to struggle due to the
conflicts and contradictions in various personal laws. In modern Indian
society which is gradually becoming homogenous, the traditional barriers of
religion, community and caste are slowly dissipating. The youth of India
belonging to various communities, tribes, castes or religions who solemnise
their marriages ought not to be forced to struggle with issues arising due to
conflicts in various personal laws, especially in relation to marriage and
divorce. The hope expressed in
Article 44 of the Constitution that the State
shall secure for its citizens Uniform Civil Code ought not to remain a mere
hope. The Supreme Court had, in 1985 directed that the judgment in Ms.
Jordon Diengdeh (supra) to be placed before the Ministry of Law to take
appropriate steps. However, more than three decades have passed since then
and it is unclear as to what steps have been taken in this regard till date.
Accordingly, let the copy of the present judgment be communicated to the
Secretary, Ministry of Law Justice, Government of India, for necessary
action as deemed appropriate.

58. The appeal is allowed. The impugned judgment is not sustainable and
is accordingly set aside. Trial court is directed to proceed with the
adjudication of the petition under 13-1(ia) of the HMA, 1955 on merits and
render a decision within six months.

[

PRATHIBA M. SINGH
JUDGE
JULY 07, 2021
MR/RC

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