The Indian legal system is a complex web of statutes and regulations, each designed to uphold justice and protect the rights of citizens. Among the myriad provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), section 125 stands as a significant pillar. This provision is not just a legal mandate but also a reflection of the moral duty that individuals owe to their dependents.
In the case of K.Vimal v. K Veeraswamy(1991), it was held that the basic purpose of introducing Section 125 CrPC was to achieve a social purpose. After the invocation of Section 125 CrPC by the petitioner, the court may order the respondent i.e. the husband to maintain his wife by providing monthly maintenance to her. Under the ambit of this section, respondents have to maintain their parents and children as well.
Although the sections and provisions enumerated in CrPC are procedural in nature, but section 125 CrPC is an exception in this regard, as the same is both procedural and substantive in nature. This is because the section not only outlines the process for obtaining maintenance orders but also has substantive elements as well. Once a maintenance order is issued under section 125, it becomes a legally enforceable right, and failure to comply with it can lead to penal consequences that highlight its substantive nature.
The history of section 125 CrPC can be traced back to the 19th century when British colonial rulers sought to regulate the social and economic aspects of Indian society. It was introduced to address the concerns of destitute wives and children abandoned by their husbands. Over the years, section 488 underwent several amendments to widen its scope.
The 1973 Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) brought significant changes to this provision. It was renumbered as section 125 CrPC and expanded to include not only wives but also both (legitimate and illegitimate children) and parents and even adult children who are unable to maintain themselves.
The case of Mohd. Ahmad Khan v. Shah Bano Begum & Ors. (1985), also known as Shah Bano case is a landmark legal case in India related to Section 125 CrPC. It reaffirmed the principle that Section 125 CrPC is a secular law applicable to all Indian citizens regardless of their religion.
Read also- The Entire Story of Shah Bano Case
In Bhagwan Dutt v. Kamla Devi (1975), the Hon’ble Supreme Court emphasized that Section 125 is a measure of social justice and is applicable to all, irrespective of religion or personal law.
In Shantha v. Gangadhar (2010) the Supreme Court clarified that a divorced wife is eligible for maintenance until she remarries or is able to maintain herself.
Furthermore, in the landmark judgement of Rajnesh v. Neha (2020) the Supreme Court laid down comprehensive guidelines for determining the quantum of maintenance in cases under section 125 CrPC.
In reality, these judgments have significantly shaped the interpretation and application of section 125 CrPC ensuring that the provision effectively serves its purpose and provides social justice.
To invoke section 125 CrPC, the person seeking maintenance must demonstrate that she is unable to maintain herself financially and the person from whom maintenance is sought has the means to provide it. The application for maintenance can be filed in a magistrate’s court where the person seeking maintenance resides or where the person from whom maintenance is sought resides.
To initiate the process, an application is to be filed by the person seeking maintenance before the magistrate and the court will issue a notice to the opposite party to appear before the court. Both parties will have the opportunity to present evidence regarding their financial status and the need for maintenance. If the court is satisfied that the applicant is entitled to maintenance, it will pass an order specifying the amount of maintenance to be paid, the frequency of payment, and other relevant details.
During the pendency of a case under Section 125, there is also a provision of interim maintenance, wherein the court may order the respondent to pay monthly allowances to the wife. However, while invoking an order under Section 125 CrPC, the court has to ensure that the husband has sufficient means to support his wife after separation and also be certain that the wife is not living in adultery or living separately from her husband without sufficient reasons.
The Importance of the Provision
Section 125 CrPC plays a crucial role in supporting and safeguarding the financial interests of women and their dependents in India, ensuring that they have the financial support to maintain themselves in difficult circumstances, contributing to their well-being and financial stability. It acts as a social safety net for women who may find themselves in vulnerable financial situations due to various reasons such as divorce, abandonment, or old age.
The provision applies to all women regardless of their religion and strives to ensure equal rights for women in financial matters. Section 125 provides a relatively quick and straightforward legal remedy for women in need as the proceedings are summary in nature and it does not require a lengthy legal battle.
The chances of misuse
However, section 125 can potentially be misused in certain situations. In some cases, a person might falsely claim to be a spouse, child, or parent to extract financial support from the alleged defaulter. Persons may also hide their annual income and financial resources to appear eligible for maintenance even when they are not in genuine need.
Some individuals use Section 125 as a delaying tactic in divorce or other legal proceedings, making it cumbersome and expensive for the other party. Some parties also misuse this section by not cooperating with efforts for reconciliation or mediation, thus prolonging the maintenance proceedings. Moreover, in cases of personal vendettas or acrimonious divorces, this section may be misused as a tool for revenge or harassment.
Even the women may hide her remarriage in order to continue to claim maintenance from her former husband. Therefore to prevent misuse and ensure fairness, the courts are responsible for evaluating the evidence and circumstances of each case carefully. It is essential for the legal system to strike a balance between providing genuine relief to those in need and preventing abuse of the law.
The current position of section 125 CrPC in the Indian legal system is that of playing a critical role in protecting those who cannot support themselves financially. It is widely used by those in need and therefore serves a significant social purpose. As such, considering the social purpose behind it, people should use it in the right spirit and manner and thereby uphold the principles and ideals of this section.
The article is authored by Bishaldeep Kakati and Minakshi Kakati. Bishaldeep and Minakshi are practicing advocates at Gauhati High Court.