Case Name: Rathnamma & others (Appellant) Vs. Sujathamma & others (Respondent)
Case No.: Civil Appeal No. 3050 of 2010
Before: Supreme Court [Bench of Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice Hemant Gupta]
1. Sonnappa died during the pendency of the suit leaving behind two sons and three daughters. Appellant are the legal heirs of the Sonappa.
2. Sujathamma (Respondent), maternal grand-daughter of Sonnappa, claims to have married Hanumanthappa (one of the two son of Sonnappa). Later, Hanumanthappa died. The claim of the Respondent is that she is entitled to the share of the estate of Sonnappa, as wife of deceased Hanumanthappa.
3. The Respondent filed the civil suit with the assertion that the parties are related to each other as members of joint Hindu Undivided Family. The Respondent asserted that the Sonnappa is her father-in-law. Since the property is said to be ancestral property and that property stands in the name of the Sonnappa, therefore, Respondent claims that she is entitled to the share of Hanumanthappa as his wife.
4. The stand of the Appellant is that the father of the Respondent managed to obtain signatures of the Sonnappa by way of malafide practices and that the Sonnappa never consented for the marriage of his second son Hanumanthappa as he was suffering from juvenile diabetes mellitus coma, cardio respiratory arrest and such other symptoms. Also that the respondent was about 14 years of age at the time of death of Hanumanthappa and that she was not fit for marriage. Further, it was asserted that if any document is produced by the respondent to show that she was married, it is a concocted (means fabricated) one.
The question before the Court was that whether the respondent is wife of late Hanumanthappa?
Decision of Trial Court & High Court:
The learned trial court found that Hanumanthappa was 19 years 9 months old at the time of marriage and the respondent was 15 years of age at the time of marriage. It was, thus, held that the respondent and the deceased (Hanumanthappa) have not attained the qualifying age (Qualifying age for Bridegroom is 21 and Bride is 18) at the time of registration in the office of Sub-Registrar and, thus, marriage was void ab initio. It is also held that there is no evidence of performance of necessary marriage ceremonies in terms of Section 7 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 19551 , therefore, mere registration of an agreement of marriage is not sufficient to prove marriage. However, Court of First appeal marriage to be valid. And similarly the High Court in second appeal held that there was a marriage between respondent and Hanumanthappa and therefore succeed the estate of Hanumanthappa. Aggrieved against the judgment passed by High Court of Karnataka appellants approached the Supreme Court.
References by the Apex Court:
1. Th Court in Varada Bhavanarayana Rao v. State of A.P AIR 1963 SC 1715, Since the entire claim of the respondent is based upon her marriage with Hanumanthappa, the burden of proof as to any particular fact lies on the person who wishes the Court to believe in its existence is the established principle of law. (Section 103 of Evidence Act, Burden of Proof as to particular fact)
2. This Court in a judgment reported as Salekh Chand (Dead) by LRs v. Satya Gupta & Ors. (2008) 13 SCC 119:
“It is incumbent on party setting up a custom to allege and prove the custom on which he relies. Custom cannot be extended by analogy. It must be established inductively and not by a priori methods. Custom cannot be a matter of theory but must always be a matter of fact and one custom cannot be deduced from another. It is a well-established law that custom cannot be enlarged by parity of reasoning.”
Decision by the Supreme Court:
1. The entire case is based upon an agreement of marriage in which there is no assertion regarding solemnization of the customary ceremonies or the rites or that the parties had performed saptpadi in the manner contemplated under Section 7(2) of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955. The burden to prove marriage was on the respondent alone. The appellants have denied marriage of the respondent, therefore, the burden to prove marriage was on the respondent alone. (Non-performance of essential ceremonies).
2. Also the Court while referring to the case Salekh Chand (Dead) by LRs v. Satya Gupta & Ors. Said that the respondent has not proved custom of marriage to her mother’s brother and/or judicial precedent recognizing such marriage. In the absence of any pleading or proof of custom, the argument that in Vokkaliga community, such marriage can be performed cannot be accepted as no judicial precedent was brought to the notice of the Court that such a custom exists in the Vokkaliga community nor there is any instance quoted in evidence of existence of such custom. Therefore, the marriage cannot be said to be taken place in terms of Section 5(v) of the Hindu Marriage Act (Which talks about Prohibition on marriage if parties are within Sapinda Relationship) which is to the effect that the parties are not sapindas to each other, unless the custom or usage governing each of them permits of a marriage between the two.
Therefore, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of Trial Court and held that the respondent cannot succeed the estate of Hanumanthappa on the basis of a marriage which she has failed to prove.