Annulment of Marriage under Hindu Law

Marriage is necessarily the basis of social organization and the foundation of important legal rights and obligations. In Hindu Law, Marriage is treated as a Samaskara or a Sacrament. A Hindu marriage joins two individuals for life, so that they can pursue dharma (duty), artha (possessions), kama (physical desires), and moksa (ultimate spiritual release) together. It also joins two families together. The colours are normally red and gold. It is a vow between two people to stay together and uphold traditional family values in accordance with Dharma. In the traditional Hindu system of marriage, there is no role for the state as marriage remained a private affair within the social realm. Within this traditional framework reference, marriage is undoubtedly the most important transitional point in a Hindu’s life and the most important of all the Hindu samskaras, or life-cycle rituals. Divorce, however is a thorny question and Annulment is a very unusual remedy. In our modern world, an Annulment tends to be more a creature of religion than of law. Annulments are rarely granted and when they are, very specific circumstances must exist.

Fraud:– It is essential to note that the section does not speak of fraud in any general way or of every misrepresentation or concealment which may be fraudulent but fraud whereby the consent of the petitioner was obtained to the solemnization of the marriage. If there was actual consent to the solemnization of the marriage with the respondent the marriage cannot be annulled on the ground of fraud. In matrimonial law when fraud is spoken of as a ground for avoiding a marriage, it does not include such fraud as induces a consent but is limited to such fraud as procures the appearance without the reality of consent. This distinction is clearly brought out by the case where it was held that concealment by a woman from her husband at the time of her marriage of the fact that she was then pregnant by another man was no ground for avoiding the marriage on the plea that the consent was obtained by clause (d). It will be noticed that the Legislature has in view of this expressly provided in clause (d) that in such a case the marriage may be annulled if the petitioner was at the time of the marriage ignorant of that fact. In another case, which seems to illustrate the rule it was held that concealment of the fact that the wife had been a naikin by profession and even in the keeping of more than one person prior to the marriage was not fraud if there was consent to the marriage (e). A person who freely consents to a solemnization of the marriage with the other party in accordance with customary ceremonies, that is, with knowledge of the nature of the ceremonies and intention to marry, cannot raise an objection to the validity of the marriage on the ground of any fraudulent representation or concealment. Thus for instance a marriage cannot be avoided by showing that the petitioner was induced to marry the respondent by fraudulent statements relating to family or fortune or caste or religion or age or character of the respondent(cl). The test is that there should be real consent to solemnization of marriage and consent to marry the particular person. Where, however, there is no real consent, as for instance where a party is kept under the impression that what is being performed is only a betrothel or there is deception as to the identity of the other party, that would be fraud which affords a ground for annulment of the marriage under the rule laid down in this clause.”

In Som Dutt v. Smt. Raj Kumari, , husband sought annulment of marriage for fraud committed upon him by his wife in concealing her true age from him and thereby inducing him to marry a woman much older than him in age. Date of birth of wife as mentioned in her horoscope compared with that of her husband showed her to be a year younger than her husband. She admitted her date of birth which made her three years older than her husband. Her date of birth as recorded in her matriculation certificate made her seven years older than her husband. No effort was made to get the date corrected in case of any error in it. Wife was also suffering from recurrent attacks of hysteria and garrulity. In an attack after marriage she was found to be anxious and irritable and had suicidal feelings and there was also disturbance of her memory and intelligence. In these circumstance, a single Judge has held, “marriage was liable to be annulled due to gross matrimonial fraud committed upon husband both with regard to age of his wife as also her mental state.”

Division Bench of this Court in Sujatha v. Hariharan, (1995) 2 Mad LJ 327 has held that it must be of such a nature which affects ordinary marital life of the parties. In the said case there was an eye defect curable by proper treatment. Concealment of such fact at the time of the marriage cannot said to be fraud, hence annulment of marriage on that ground cannot be granted. After analysing various earlier case laws of other High Court as well as this Court and in the light of Section 12(1)(c) of the Act, the Bench has come to the following conclusion:–

“To summarise the above case law, to have a cause of action for annulling a marriage under Section 12(1)(c) of the Hindu Marriage Act, to constitute fraud there must be some abuse of confidential position, some intentional imposition or some deliberate concealment of material facts which are the fundamental basis of the marriage contract. (See laws of Marriage and Divorce by H.K. Saharay, second edition at page 127). The above case law makes it clear that the concealment, even if any, must be of such nature which affects the ordinary marital life of the parties. In this case, it has come out in evidence that the appellant is a post-graduate. She is now undergoing B.Ed. course and has also studied Hindi for three courses. It has also come out in evidence that while she was in her husband’s house, she was doing all manual and household work and the petitioner has even taken her to a cinema. How far the marital life is affected, is not explained by the petitioner. He only says that he had did not like the respondent (wife) and hence there is no consummation of marriage. Pending trial, the Family Court has got a report from another doctor where also the eye defect was stated to be minus 15 and minus 17. No attempt was made by the petitioner to give treatment to the wife, and he has not even ascertained whether it can be cured or not. Unless it is incurable, as observed in the earlier case law, any concealment of the same, will not amount to concealment of a material fact which will give a cause of action for annulling the marriage. According to the appellant and her father, the eye defect is curable if proper treatment is given. Even in the present state, it does not affect her marital life. She says that the marriage was consummated and they had physical contact on many days. If the eye defect is not a material fact which does not affect the marital life, the petitioner cannot have any cause of action for annulling the marriage. In this case, he has not adduced any evidence whether the eye defect is curable or not, and whether the decree of the defect could be reduced, he takes her to the doctor only for the purpose of ascertaining and assessing the defect, and not to get it cured. That also show that his intention is not bona fide. We have stated that even according to his own showing, he did not consider the eye defect is a material fact. According to him, it is alleged mental illness of the respondent that causes him concern and if it is for that reason he wanted the annulment of marriage. To say that he has taken her to a Psychiatrist, but that is a evidence regarding her alleged mental defect. On the contrary, we have the oral evidence of R.W. I herself where she ably speaks before court about her mental condition.”