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SC puts social over signed marriage
- Twice-wedded teacher asked to pay first wife, daughter

Calcutta, Nov. 25: The Supreme Court has set aside a high court order and recognised the first social marriage of a Nadia school teacher while cancelling his second marriage, which was registered under the Hindu Marriage Act.

The court appreciated the role of the teacher's daughter who fought a relentless legal battle for nine years to restore to her mother the rightful status her father had denied her.

Bhaktadas Biswas, a teacher of Debagram Primary School, had an arranged marriage with Pratima in 1972. The ceremony took place at Ghola, Bhaktadas' village, about 15 km from Debagram.

After two years, Bhaktadas rented a house near his school in Debagram, about 150 km from Calcutta, and stared living there on the working days. There he fell in love with Aduri and married her in 1974 under the Hindu Marriage Act at a marriage registrar's office.

In 1977, Pratima, Bhaktadas' first wife, gave birth to Mithu. Five years later, she learnt about her husband's second marriage and protested. Bhaktadas drove her out of his house with the five-year-old Mithu.

When Mithu turned 12, Bhaktadas took her in his custody and admitted her to a local school. In 1995, Mithu, soon after her school-leaving examination, demanded that her father bring her mother Pratima to their house.

Bhaktadas refused, leading to a standoff. As earlier, he drove Mithu out again, who went and stayed with her mother.

In the same year, Mithu and Pratima moved a petition before the judicial magistrate of a Krishnagar court, demanding maintenance from Bhaktadas. After a prolonged hearing, the magistrate rejected the petition and observed that the second marriage, a registered one, was valid in the eyes of law.

'Pratima and Mithu were struggling to make ends meet. But Mithu continued her studies and maintained the family by giving private tuition. Aggrieved with the judgment of the judicial magistrate, the determined girl challenged it before the district judge of Nadia,' said Subir Debnath, Mithu's counsel.

The district judge observed that the marriage between Bhaktadas and Pratima was legal as the immediate relations of both parties were witness to it and ordered Bhaktadas to pay maintenance of Rs 800 every month.

The teacher moved Calcutta High Court against the order. Justice D.P. Sengupta upheld the judicial magistrate's order in 2003, recognising Bhaktadas' second marriage.

Encouraged by Subir, Mithu filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court, which upheld Pratima's marriage to Bhaktadas.

A division bench of Justices A. Santosh Hegde and S.B. Sinha set aside the high court order 10 days ago. It pointed out that all the near relations of both the groom and the bride had witnessed the first marriage. Though the second marriage was a registered one, none of the relatives were witnesses to it,' the judges said.

They ordered the teacher to pay Rs 1,000 every month from this December as maintenance to Pratima and Mithu. It also gave him three weeks to pay up arrears of Rs 10,000.

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