Supreme Court judges divided over illegal and indecent act



Is it an offence to cohabit with a woman after inducing a belief of marriage in her? Is it an offence to back out of such a relationship? Supreme Court (SC) judges Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra are divided and want a larger bench to decide the matter. Chief Justice of India (CJI) SH Kapadia will soon take a call on setting up such a bench to put at rest the controversy over an ‘illegal’ act and ‘indecent’ behaviour. Katju and Mishra differences have emerged over an appeal filed by Ram Chandra Bhagat, who was convicted by a trial court and the Jharkhand high court for committing an offence under IPC section 493 (cohabitation by a man after deceitfully inducing a belief of lawful marriage in a woman). The section also says every man who by deceit cohabits with a woman who is not his wife on the assurance that they are a legally married couple is liable to be punished with imprisonment up to 10 years.

Mishra found no ambiguity in this provision. She agreed with Katju on the limited issue that law and morality might stand on different footings. But in her perception they are “inextricably linked”. Mishra also said a legal decision could not be based purely on morality.Katju, however, said often an act may be regarded immoral by society, but it may not be illegal. He offered a different interpretation of section 493 IPC that it is meant for couples legally married under Hindu Marriage Act.Revenue officer Bhagat lived like a couple with Sunita Kumari for years and they had two children. Sunita accompanied him wherever he was posted. He had filed an affidavit with the authorities that they were a married couple. The voters list too shows this. However, he kicked her out of home in 1990. She lodged a criminal complaint and the courts convicted Bhagat, saying he had committed fraud and cheated Sunita.

Bhagat has not behaved like a “gentleman”. He lived with Sunita for nine years and had two children with her and “hence as a decent person he should have married her, which he did not do”, they said.

Katju, however, said Bhagat didn’t commit an illegal act and that there was a difference between law and morality.“If we say something is illegal, we must point to some specific section of IPC or some other statute which has been violated,” he said, adding, “Merely saying that the person has done something improper will not necessarily make the act illegal.”


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