The Delhi High Court held that parties follow Hindu customs for the purpose of marriage, then during a divorce proceeding the Court would be inclined to hold that the HMA, 1955 would be applicable to them. The Court also stated that a Uniform Civil Code is necessary to eliminate struggles and conflicts that arise due to contradictions in the personal laws.
Facts of the case
The petitioner and the respondent are a couple belonging to the Meena community. According to the petitioner, their marriage was solemnized as per Hindu rites and customs.
The petitioner filed a petition seeking divorce under Section 13-1 (ia) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (hereinafter referred to as HMA, 1955). An FIR was lodged by the respondent under The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, and an application seeking maintenance under Section 125 of The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
During the hearing of the petition, the respondent prayed for the rejection of the divorce petition on the ground that the provisions of the HMA, 1955 was not applicable to them as they are members of a notified Scheduled Tribe in Rajasthan; hence falling under the purview of the exemption granted under Section 2(2) of the HMA, 1955. The Family Court accepted the prayer of the respondent and dismissed the divorce petition. Aggrieved, the petitioner challenged the order of the Family Court.
Arguments before the court
The Learned Counsel appearing for the petitioner submitted that the respondent had, in various occasions admitted that their marriage was solemnized as per Hindu rites and customs; therefore, the divorce petition would be maintainable under the HMA, 1955.
Reliance was placed on the judgement of the Supreme Court in Labishwar Manjhi v. Pran Manjhi and Ors. (2000) 8 SCC 587, which states that “if members of tribes follow customary and practices of Hinduism, the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 would be applicable.” It was submitted that “if a Scheduled Tribe follows the customs and practices of the particular religion, they should be bound by the law that applies to the said religion.”
The Learned Counsel appearing for the respondent stated that “even if Hindu customs are being followed, the same would not automatically mean the provisions of the HMA, 1955 would be applicable n the case of members of a notified Scheduled Tribe.” Additionally, it was submitted that “though, the parties follow the customary principles and rites of Hinduism, the status of a tribe of the Meena community cannot be taken away.”
The Court observed that the marriage of the petitioner and the respondent were conducted in accordance with Hindu customs. The marriage also included the ceremony of Saptapadi. The Court took notice of the marriage invitation and stated that various other ceremonies were also conducted as per Hindu customs.
The Court stated that “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.”
The Court also observed that if no tribal customs have been established to deal with divorce proceedings or if the parties admit that they follow Hindu customs, then there would be no reason to hold the application of the provisions of the HMA, 1955.
Delhi High Court’s Decision
The Court held that the Trial Court had not considered the submissions made by the respondent. Hence the judgement was held to be not sustainable. The Trial was directed to proceed with the adjudication of the petition under 13-1 (ia) of the HMA, 1955 and render a decision within six months.
Additionally, the Court while referring to the conflicts that arise in personal laws expressed the need for a Uniform Civil Code.
The Court stated that, “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.”