In India what are the rights available to the second wife in bigamous marriage?

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Q. Few months after my marriage, I made out that my husband was already married with a woman in another place. As I am his second wife, I will not get the benefits as his wife. But really the marriage between me and husband was solemnized without knowledge about his first marriage. What is the remedy available to me?

In your matter, the husband has committed bigamy by not disclosing the fact that he is already married and so he shall be punished under the law. Bigamy is an offence not only under the criminal law but also under Hindu Marriage Act (HMA) 1955 in India.  Section 17 of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 states that any marriage between Hindus is void if either party had their husband or wife living and if they married again would be punishable under Section 494 and 495 of Indian Penal Code. In India second marriages are illegal during the subsistence of the first marriage.

Under Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (HMA), main condition given for a valid marriage is that neither party should have a spouse living at the time of the marriage.

Section 494 IPC states that any married person having a husband or wife living remarries during the life of the former husband or wife then such marriage is void and such person can be punished under law.

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In Sumitra Devi v Bhinkan Choudhary (28 January, 1985) the court held the fact that couples lived as husband and wife for many years is only enough that proves the factum of marriage. It is further stated that any proof like joint bank account, or any police complaint, or voters ID given wherein the husband referred the second wife as his wife can be used to prove her status as a wife.

Supreme Court has ruled that any woman who has been conned to marry by previously married man is entitled to drag that person to court under Section 494 IPC and is punishable for 7 years of jail term.

Supreme Court in Chanmuniya vs Virendra Kumar Singh Kushwaha & Anr(7 October, 2010) has said that if a man and woman have been living together for a long time even without a valid marriage then such woman is entitled to maintenance. Strict proof of marriage need not be a pre-condition for maintenance. With regard to matter, you can clearly refer to the above sections and sue your husband for committing bigamy under the law.

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by Sushma Javare.