The Hon’ble Supreme Court recently In Badshah v. Urmila Badshah, (2014) 1 SCC 188, has held that ‘wife’ for the purpose of Section 125 means legally wedded wife, therefore, second wife will not be ‘wife’ for the purposes of maintenance, however, an important exception has been carved out in cases where there is concealment of fact of first marriage from the second wife and she has been deceived into believing that she is the first wife. In this case, the Supreme Court gave a purposive interpretation to S.125 of the CRPC and applied the ‘mischief rule’ with a view to subserve the objective of the Act and to prevent evasion of this provision.
Comment : It comes out from this highly progressive judgment that judges breathe life into the letters of law; The courts as the interpreters of law are supposed to supply omissions, correct uncertainties, and harmonize results with justice through a revolutionary interpretation/method of free decision called“libre recherché sceintifique” i.e. “free Scientific research”; This school of interpretation has great potentiality to serve the cause of gender justice.
This marks a shift of approach from the earlier interpretation of the term ‘wife’ advanced in earlier cases such as Savitaben Somabhai Bhatiya v. State of Gujarat & Others (2005) 3 SCC 636, where the term ‘wife’ was construed to mean only a legally wedded wife (which would obviously exclude a second wife, notwithstanding the fact that the second wife may have been deceived into believing that she is the first wife).
Judgment in Badshah (supra) is a commendable exception as strict application of Savitabhen (supra) can lead to injustice in some cases.
Another judgment on these positive lines is Pyla v. Pyla Suri (2011) 12 SCC 189, where ‘marriage’ for the purpose of Section 125 CrPC was held to be a ‘de-facto marriage’ and not necessarily a ceremoniously complete ‘de-jure marriage’. Therefore, a wife seeking maintenance u/s 125 CrPC need not prove the validity of her marriage to the hilt and beyond doubt; Continued cohabitation (consistent with inference of marriage) can also lead to presumption of marriage. This was meant to protect women from ‘false denial of marriage’ by husbands with a view to wriggle out of liability to pay maintenance.