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Family law – Hindu law Cases I
Surajmani Stella Kujur v. Durga Charan Hansdah
AIR 2001 SC 938 : (2001) 3 SCC 13
R.P. SETHI, J. - 2. Who is a “Hindu” for the purposes of the applicability of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (“the Act”) is a question of law to be determined in this appeal. 3. Section 2 of the Act specifies the persons to whom the Act is applicable. Clauses (a), (b) and (c) of sub-section (1) of Section 2 make the Act applicable to a person who is a Hindu by religion in any of its forms or developments including a Virashaiva, a Lingayat or a follower of the Brahmo, Prarthana or Arya Samaj and to a person who is a Buddhist, Jain or Sikh by religion. It is also applicable to any other person domiciled in the territories of India who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew by religion. The applicability of the Act is, therefore, comprehensive and applicable to all persons domiciled in the territory of India who are not Muslims, Christians, Parsis or Jews by religion.

4. The term “Hindu” has not been defined either under the Act or the Indian Succession Act or any other enactment of the legislature. As far back as in 1903 the Privy Council in Bhagwan Koer v. J.C. Bose [ILR (1902) 31 Cal 11, 15] observed: We shall not attempt here to lay down a general definition of what is meant by the term ‘Hindu’. To make it accurate and at the same time sufficiently comprehensive as well as distinctive is extremely difficult. The Hindu religion is marvellously catholic and elastic. Its theology is marked by eclecticism and tolerance and almost unlimited freedom of private worship. Its social code is much more stringent, but amongst its different castes and sections exhibits wide diversity of practice. No trait is more marked of Hindu society in general than its horror of using the meat of the cow. Yet the Chamars who profess Hinduism, but who eat beef and the flesh of dead animals, are however low in the scale included within its pale. It is easier to say who are not Hindus, and practically the separation of Hindus from non-Hindus is not a matter of so much difficulty. The people know the differences well and can easily tell who are Hindus and who are not.

5. The Act, is, therefore, applicable to: (1) All Hindus including a Virashaiva, a Lingayat, a Brahmo, Prarthana Samajist and an Arya Samajist, (2) Buddhists; (3) Jains; (4) Sikhs. 6. In this appeal the parties are admittedly tribals, the appellant being an Oraon and the respondent a Santhal. In the absence of a notification or order under Article 342 of the Constitution they are deemed to be Hindus. Even if a notification is issued under the Constitution, the Act can be applied to Scheduled Tribes as well by a further notification in terms of sub-section (2) of Section 2 of the Act. It is not disputed before us that in the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950 as amended by Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Order (Amendment) Acts 63 of 1956, 108 of 1976, 18 of 1987 and 15 of 1990, both the tribes to which the parties belong are specified in Part XII. It is conceded even by the appellant that “the parties to the petition are two tribals, who otherwise profess Hinduism, but their marriage being out of the purview of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 in light of Section 2(2) of the Act, are thus governed only by their Santhal customs and usage”. Surajmani 2 Stella Kujur v. Durga Charan Hansdah

7. The appellant has, however, relied upon an alleged custom in the tribe which mandates monogamy as a rule. It is submitted that as the respondent has solemnised a second marriage during the subsistence of the first marriage with the appellant, the second marriage being void, the respondent is liable to be prosecuted for the offence punishable under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code.

8. No custom can create an offence as it essentially deals with the civil rights of the parties and no person can be convicted of any offence except for violation of law in force at the time of...
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