In the case of a lawyer, then 52 years old, who had married a 14-year-old girl in 2015, the Bombay High Court has ruled that if the girl, who is now a legal adult, is ready to cohabit with the man as his wife, “the marriage which otherwise is voidable, becomes valid”.
The girl had on February 13, 2017, registered a police complaint alleging rape, sexual assault and violation of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act. The accused, who is now 56, was in jail for 10 months after police filed an FIR.
Following this, the two parties settled their dispute amicably and the accused approached the court in April with the girl’s contest to quash the FIR. Senior counsel for the petitioner Ashok Mundargi had told the court that the girl was ready and willing to cohabit with her husband. While the court did not quash the FIR against the man, it stayed the proceedings against him pending in the sessions court.
The girl had, in an affidavit submitted to the court, stated that the “dispute between herself and the petitioner has been settled and, therefore, she is giving no objection to quash the FIR”.
Additional Public Prosecutor Aruna Pai opposed the petition, arguing that the petitioner (the lawyer) was charged with a serious offence under the Indian Penal Code and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. She added that quashing the FIR by consent would send a wrong signal to the public at large and, therefore, the FIR against him should not be quashed.
A division bench of Justice Ranjit More and Justice Bharati H Dangre said it was concerned about the welfare of the girl. “Undisputedly, the girl was a minor at the time of her marriage with the accused. But now, she has become a major and has expressed her willingness to cohabit with the petitioner,” said the bench.
“Since respondent no. 2 (the girl) is ready to cohabit with petitioner no. 1 as his legally wedded wife, the marriage which otherwise is voidable, becomes valid. We are also of the opinion that ultimately respondent no. 2 will suffer if the subject case is allowed to go on as she is now married and no one in society would accept her as a wife and we think at this stage securing her future is of prime importance.”
Mundargi had told the court that six acres of land had been transferred to the girl’s name by the petitioner. He said another five acres would be transferred by executing legal documents. He said Rs 7.5 lakh would be invested in a Fixed Deposit account in the girl’s name. The senior counsel also said the girl has passed her Class XI exams and would be pursuing further education.
The bench said, “In order to enable us to observe the conduct and behaviour of the petitioner towards respondent no. 2, we defer the hearing of this petition till 10th February 2020. In the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case, during the pendency and final disposal of the petition, further proceedings…pending on the file of learned Sessions Court at Mumbai shall remain stayed.”