Report No. 59
3.5. Section 5(M-Unsoundness of mind as a ground of nullity of marriage.-
The first question concerns the effect of mental incompetency upon capacity to contract a valid marriage. This is a matter of some difficulty. The Hindu Marriage Act contains, in section 5(ii) and section 12(1)(b), a provision whereunder, if the opposite party was an "idiot or a lunatic" at the time of the marriage, the marriage can, subject to certain conditions, be avoided. The words "idiot or lunatic" have not been defined in the Act. These words are, no doubt, familiar to Hindu Law. They occur also in the Indian Divorce Act,1 and may have been derived from that Act. The word "lunatic" occurs in the Indian Lunacy Act, 1912, also. But the precise scope of this particular condition of marriage requires some examination.
1. Sections 19(3) and 48, India Divorce Act, 1869.
3.6. Idiocy and lunacy are expressions used in the legislation that had been passed, relating to the removal of certain disabilities of Hindus. An idiot is one congenially incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong.3
1. (a) Tirumamagal v. Ramaswami, (1863) 1 MHCR 214;
(b) R. Muthammal v. Sri Subramaniaswami, AIR 1960 SC 601: (1960) 2 SCR 721.
3.7. In a Calcutta case, AIR 1969 Cal 306, the meaning of the expression "lunatic" in section 5(ii) of the Hindu Marriage Act was discussed at length. The court referred to various cases, including Ratneswari Nandan Singh v. Bhagawati Saran Singh, AIR 1950 FC 142-and noted the contention that unless.total loss of reason, incapacitating a party to the marriage to understand the very ceremony of the marriage, is found, the extremely strong presumption in favour of the validity of the marriage remained unrebutted and, therefore, prevails (which is the law laid down by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Mouji Lal v. Chandrabati Kumari, 1911 ILR 38 Cal 700 (PC), and referated by the Federal Court in the Ratneswari Case). The Court pointed out that the old Hindu Law under which insanity was not a disqualification for purposes of marriage, was no longer in force. Sir Gurudas Banerjee had, in his Tagore Law Lectures on Marriage and Stridhan,1 said:-
"Even considering Hindu marriage to be entirely a sacrament, the acceptance of the bride is a necessary and indispensable part of the ceremony. Therefore, he whose loss of reason is complete, should be deemed incompetent to accept the gift of the bride. Such marriage is invalid on the ground that the capacity for performance of the essential ceremony of the marriage is lacking in the bridegroom."2
The Court then dealt with the section in the Act-The (Hindu Marriage) Act does not say anything about various degrees of lunacy. But who is a lunatic? The Hindu Marriage Act does not even define a 'lunatic'.3 The Indian Lunacy defines a 'lunatic'. By section 3, clause (5) thereof, 'lunatic' means an idiot or a person of unsound mind.
"It is, therefore, a hard and fast definition and we cannot give any other meaning to the word 'lunatic' than that which is mentioned in the definition itself. Hence, going by the language of the Hindu Marriage Act, it is not possible to make room for different degrees of lunacy."
1. Banerjee, Marriage and Stridhan, cited in the Ratneswari case, AIR 1950 FC 142.
2. Emphasis supplied in the Ratneswari case, AIR 1950 FC 142.
3. Emphasis supplied.