The case of Sarla mudgul v. Union of India, is considered a landmark case when the supreme court declared that if a Hindu convert in Islam just to do second marriage (as four marriages are allowed in Islam), he will be liable for bigamy even after his conversion.
In this case, the court also emphasized the need of Uniform Civil Code as different personal code affecting the human rights of people especially women.
Supreme Court on Uniform Civil Code
“The pattern of debate, even today, is the same as was voiced forcefully by the members of the minority community in the Constituent Assembly. If, `the non-implementation of the provisions contained in Article 44 amounts to grave failure of Indian democracy’ represents one side of the picture, then the other side claims that, `Logical probability appears to be that the code would cause dissatisfaction and disintegration than serve as a common umbrella to promote homogeneity and national solidarity’.
When Constitution was framed with secularism as its ideal and goal, the consensus and conviction to be one, socially, found its expression in Article 44 of the Constitution. But religious freedom, the basic foundation of secularism, was guaranteed by Articles 25 to 28 of the Constitution. Article 25 is very widely worded. It guarantees all persons, not only freedom of conscience but the right to profess, practice and propagate religion.
What is religion? Any faith or belief. The Court has expanded religious liberty in its various phases guaranteed by the Constitution and extended it to practices and even external overt acts of the individual. Religion is more than mere matter of faith. The Constitution by guaranteeing freedom of conscience ensured inner aspects of religious belief. And external expression of it were protected by guaranteeing right to freely, practice and propagate religion. Reading and reciting holy scriptures, for instance, Ramayana or Quran or Bible or Guru Granth Sahib is as much a part of religion as offering food to deity by a Hindu or bathing the idol or dressing him and going to a temple, mosque, church or gurudwara. Marriage, inheritance, divorce, conversion are as much religious in nature and content as any other belief or faith. Going round the fire seven rounds or giving consent before Qazi are as much matter of faith and conscience as the worship itself. When a Hindu becomes convert by reciting Kalma or a Mulsim becomes Hindu by reciting certain Mantras it is a matter of belief and conscience.
Some of these practices observed by members of one religion may appear to be excessive and even violative of human rights to members of another. But these are matters of faith. Reason and logic have little role to play. The sentiments and emotions have to be cooled and tempered by sincere effort. But today there is no Raja Ram Mohan Rai who single handed brought about that atmosphere which paved the way for Sati abolition. Nor is a statesman of the stature of Pt. Nehru who could pilot through, successfully, the Hindu Succession Act and Hindu Marriage Act revolutionising the customary Hindu Law. The desirability of uniform Code can hardly be doubted.
But it can concretize only when social climate is properly built up by elite of the society, statesmen amongst leaders who instead of gaining personal mileage rise above and awaken the masses to accept the change. The problem with which these appeals are concerned is that many Hindus have changed their religion and have become convert to Islam only for purposes of escaping the consequences of bigamy.
Much misapprehension prevails about bigamy in Islam. To check the misuse many Islamic countries have codified the personal Law, `Wherein the practice of polygamy has been either totally prohibited or severely restricted. (Syria, Tunisia, Morocco, Pakistan, Iran, the Islamic Republics of the Soviet Union are some of the Muslim countries to be remembered in this context’. But ours is a Secular Democratic Republic. Freedom of religion is the core of our culture. Even the slightest deviation shakes the social fibre. `But religious practices, violative of human rights and dignity and sacerdotal suffocation of essentially civil and material freedoms, are not autonomy but oppression’.
Therefore, a unified code is imperative both for protection of the oppressed and promotion of national unity and solidarity. But the first step should be to rationalise the personal law of the minorities to develop religious and cultural amity. The Government would be well advised to entrust the responsibility to the Law Commission which may in consultation with Minorities Commission examine the matter and bring about the comprehensive legislation in keeping with modern day concept of human rights for women.
The Government may also consider feasibility of appointing a Committee to enact Conversion of Religion Act, immediately, to check the abuse of religion by any person. The law may provide that every citizen who changes his religion cannot marry another wife unless he divorces his first wife. The provision should be made applicable to every person whether he is a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian or a Sikh or a Jain or a Budh. Provision may be made for maintenance and succession etc. also to avoid clash of interest after death. This would go a long way to solve the problem and pave the way for a unified civil code.”
Smt. Sarla Mudgul vs. Union of India & Ors, 1995 AIR 1531, 1995 SCC (3) 635