It was a reckless love. The man was married, and the woman professed a religion different from his. The law did not approve, and when they tried to marry after a change of religion, they were failed by a cleric. So, they made an agreement to bind themselves together. But this piece of paper turned out to be as fallible as their love.
Fourteen years on, the 38-year-old man from Kerala has walked to freedom after three years in jail — acquitted of the charge of “raping” the woman. The Supreme Court has said he was “fatally” in love outside his marriage, and that he failed as a husband and father, but was not guilty of rape or cheating.
A bench of Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Vikramjit Sen underlined that the woman filed the case against him in April 2000, evidently under pressure from her family. She had claimed that he concealed his marriage from her to establish a physical relationship.
Setting aside the order of the high court which had reduced his jail term from seven years to four, the Supreme Court held that the woman was aware that the man was already married. “But possibly because a polygamous relationship was not anathema to her because of the faith which she adheres to, she was willing to start a home with him,” it said.
She was well educated and was told by the sub-registrar that the marriage agreement did not establish a valid marriage, the court said. It also noted that if indeed the man’s marital status had been unknown to her, she should have had no reason to approach an imam for his conversion, rather than simply getting married under the Special Marriage Act.
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“In our deduction there was no seduction; just two persons fatally in love, their youth blinding them to the futility of their relationship… (they) wanted to live together in a relationship as close to matrimony as the circumstances would permit,” the court said.
But the man, the court said, was also “not innocent” — since he had entered into a relationship with another woman “in violation of his matrimonial vows and his paternal duties”.
The court said: “If he has suffered incarceration for an offence for which he is not culpable, he should realise that retribution in another form has duly visited him…. It can only be hoped that his wife will find in herself the fortitude to forgive so that their family may be united again and may rediscover happiness…”