It has to be said in all fairness that in a landmark, latest and extremely laudable judgment titled Sheenu Mahendru vs Sangeeta @ Soniya in First Appeal No. 139 of 2017 which was reserved on May 10 and decided on May 23, 2019, a Division Bench of Uttarakhand High Court comprising of Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia and Justice RC Khulbe has very rightly observed that the persistent efforts of a wife to compel her husband to get separated from his mother constitute an act of cruelty. The Division Bench thus allowed the appeal of a husband who had sought divorce on the ground of cruelty by wife. Very rightly so!
To start with, the ball is set rolling in para 1 of this noteworthy judgment authored by Justice RC Khulbe for himself and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia by first and foremost observing that, 'This appeal has been filed against the impugned judgment and order dated 03.11.2017 and its decree passed by the learned Judge, Family Court, Haridwar in Original Suit No. 314 of 2015 'Sheenu Mahendru Vs. Sangeeta @ Soniya', whereby the petition filed by the appellant under Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 has been dismissed.'
To recapitulate, it is then pointed out in para 2 that, 'The brief facts of the case are that the marriage of the parties was solemnized on 10.12.2010 as per Hindu rites and rituals. After the marriage the respondent stayed with the appellant's house in Khankhal at Haridwar. Out of the wedlock of the parties a son was born on 03.10.2011. The father of the appellant had died before the marriage of the appellant. The appellant has six sisters and all of them were married before the marriage of the appellant. The only old and infirm mother of the appellant was living with the appellant. After the marriage, the respondent started pressuring the appellant to reside separately at Delhi. She also started pressuring the petitioner to sell out his parental house. The appellant tried to convince the respondent that he has a private job and is not able to quit the job but the respondent became adamant on the demand that the appellant should sell his parental house. The respondent is comparatively less educated and always abides by the instructions of her elder sister Nisha Kocher and brother-in-law Chandra Prakash Kocher, it is alleged. Thereafter, the respondent again started threatening the appellant that if the appellant will not accede to her demand, then she would commit suicide and kill her son as well. At times, the respondent used to take out a knife and threatened to kill herself or to drown herself in Ganga, or to take any other suicidal step.'
Not stopping here, it is then pointed out in this same para 2 that, 'She also started misbehaving, and even physically torturing the old and infirm mother of the appellant. The respondent frequently started taunting the appellant that she was ill-fated to marry an idiot like the appellant. The appellant tried to convince the respondent but she refused to fulfill her marital duties, and on 13.05.2012 in the absence of the appellant, she left her matrimonial home and took all the ornaments with her.'
Truth be told, it is then brought out in para 3 that, 'The appellant then filed an application under Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act for restitution of conjugal rights against the respondent. In that case the respondent appeared before the Court. During the proceedings, the appellant came to know that the respondent has filed an F.I.R. No. 147 of 2013 under Section 406 and 498-A IPC read with Section 34 IPC against the appellant and his family members with false allegations. During that case filed under Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act, the respondent made a statement before the Court that she is ready to reside with her husband. On the request of the respondent the appellant took a rented house at Haridwar but the respondent did not come to reside with the appellant in the rented accommodation. Later on as per the direction of the Court, the appellant handed over all the household goods to the respondent in presence of the police personnel at Police Station Motinagar on 12.08.2013. Subsequently, on the direction of the Court the appellant took the respondent to his rented house at Haridwar, where they even celebrated the birthday of their son. The parties stayed together for some time at Haridwar as per the compromise reached between the parties but even then, the respondent refused to consummate marital relations. However, again the respondent started pressurising the appellant to settle down at Delhi. The respondent had become so violent that she would put a knife on the neck of her child and started threatening that if the appellant does not accede to her demand then she would kill the child and herself. When the appellant refused to fulfill her demand then the respondent told him that now she would not reside with him and told that she wants divorce and started demanding Rs 10 lakh. Many times, the respondent used abusive language for appellant in front of all his relatives. No physical relations were established between the parties since 17.09.2014 and she is living separately from the appellant since then. The appellant Sheenu Mahendra has filed the divorce petition under Section 13(1)(i-a)(i-b) of the Hindu Marriage Act for dissolution of marriage. As per the evidence, after marriage respondent Sangeeta started torturing the appellant as well as his old and infirm mother. She also compelled him to settle with her at Delhi. The respondent did not want to reside with her in-laws, since the mother of the appellant is an old and infirm woman. When the appellant did not agree to settle in Delhi, then the respondent refused to consummate the marriage. Ultimately on 13.05.2012, she left her matrimonial home and took all the ornaments along with her. With these averments the divorce petition was filed.'
Briefly stated, para 4 then brings out that, 'The respondent filed her written statement and factum of marriage was admitted. It is also admitted that out of the wedlock of the parties, a son was born. She also admitted that she filed a criminal case, F.I.R. No. 147 of 2013, under Section 406 and 498-A IPC read with Section 34 IPC against the appellant and his family members at Delhi. It is also stated that on the basis of mutual agreement, both the parties filed a divorce petition before the Family Court, Haridwar but the parties could not reach an agreement, therefore the case was dismissed. The appellant filed a case against the respondent under Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act. The respondent appeared before the Court and stated that she is still ready and willing to live with the petitioner in a separate rented accommodation at Haridwar. She also stated that she never pressurized the appellant to settle at Delhi. She never committed marpeet with the appellant. The marital relations between the parties remained in existence till 2014. The appellant committed marpeet with the respondent on 15.09.2014 at his residence. It is also stated that all the expenses pertaining to education and maintenance of the child are being incurred by the respondent.'
About cruelty, the Bench eloquently observes in para 14 that, 'The word 'cruelty' appears to have been used in the Section in context of human behaviour in relation to or in respect of matrimonial obligations or duties. Cruelty can be termed as behaviour or conduct of one spouse which adversely affects the other. Thus broadly speaking ‘cruelty' as a ground for the purpose of divorce under Section 13(1)(i-a) can also be taken as a behaviour of one spouse towards the other which causes reasonable apprehension in his or her mind that it is not safe to continue matrimonial relationship. Cruelty can be physical or mental or even intentional or unintentional. The mental cruelty is difficult to establish by direct evidence. It is a matter of inference to be drawn from acts and circumstances of the case. A feeling of anguish and frustration in one spouse caused by the conduct of other can be appreciated on the assessment of facts and circumstances in which the two of them have been living. The inference has to be drawn from overall facts and circumstances considered cumulatively.'
Furthermore, while elaborating on mental cruelty, it is then envisaged in para 15 that, 'Mental cruelty and its effect cannot be stated with arithmetical accuracy. It varies from individual to individual, from society to society and also depends on the status of the persons. What would be mental cruelty in the life of two individuals belonging to a particular stratum of the society may not amount to mental cruelty in respect of another couple belonging to a different stratum of society.'
Needless to say, it is then clarified in para 16 that, 'The burden lies upon the respondent to establish the charge of cruelty. The question is as to what is the standard of proof to be applied in order to judge whether the burden has been discharged or not. The rule which governs matrimonial cases is, that a fact could be established, if it is proved by a preponderance of probabilities. Proof beyond reasonable doubt is a proof of a higher standard, which generally governs criminal trials or trials involving inquiry into issues of a quasi criminal nature. Such proof beyond a reasonable doubt could not be imported in matters of pure civil nature especially matrimonial matters.'
It cannot be lost on us that it is then held in para 17 that, 'From the evidence it is clear that when the respondent has left the matrimonial home in the year 2012, the appellant filed a petition no. 408 of 2012 under Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act for restitution of conjugal rights against the respondent, the respondent appeared before the Court and after that, she filed an F.I.R. No. 147 of 2013 under Section 406 and 498-A IPC read with Section 34 IPC against the appellant and his family members with false allegations at Delhi.'
What's more, para 18 then reveals that, 'It is the allegation of the appellant that after marriage the respondent started pressurizing him to reside separately from his old aged mother. The respondent also started to pressurize the appellant to sell out his parental house. It is the contention of the appellant also that the respondent has forced him to quit his job so that he may settle at Delhi with the respondent. The respondent never wanted to live with her mother-in-law. The respondent also filed an F.I.R. No. 147 of 2013 under Sections 406 and 498-A IPC read with Section 34 IPC at Delhi. In this regard Premlata Mahendra, who is the mother of the appellant, appears as DW-2. In her statement she also proved the allegations as alleged by the appellant against the respondent. She also stated that the respondent tortured her and abused her on many occasions. She also stated that the respondent filed a false criminal case against the appellant and his relatives.'
Moving on, the Bench then discloses in para 19 that, 'Respondent Sangeeta admitted in her evidence that her mother-in-law Premlata is a 76 years old lady. She also admitted that she filed a case under Section 498-A IPC against the appellant and other family members at Delhi. She also admitted that she is residing at Delhi with her sister.'
Furthermore, para 20 then enunciates that, 'The appellant stated in his evidence that on the request of the respondent, he took a house on rent at Haridwar where the respondent resided with him and where they celebrated the birthday of their son. It is also an admitted fact that respondent lodged an F.I.R. against the appellant as well as his relatives. The respondent admitted in her statement that she wants to continue to reside at Delhi with her child. These facts are also proved by PW2, Premlata Mahendra, who also proved that the respondent always tortured her and used abusive language. She also stated that the respondent lodged a false complaint against the appellant and other relatives with false allegations at Delhi.'
To put things in perspective, it is then divulged in para 21 that, 'In the present case, it is clear from the evidence that the respondent had started torturing the appellant as well as his infirm and old mother after the marriage. It is also clear that on the request of the respondent, the appellant took a separate house on rent at Haridwar where the respondent resided with her son but again she started torturing the appellant and forced him to settle down at Delhi. From the evidence, it is also proved that the respondent went to Delhi along with all the ornaments to settle there. When the appellant filed an application under Section 9 of Hindu Marriage Act for the restitution of conjugal rights against the respondent, the respondent filed a criminal case Section 498A IPC at Delhi not only against the appellant but also against other relatives of the appellant-husband with false allegations. The respondent also admitted in her statement that a compromise took place between the parties earlier, and on the basis of the compromise, the divorce suit was filed before the Family Court at Haridwar in which the appellant was ready to give Rs. 10 lakh as one time settlement, and was also ready to give custody of his child to the respondent, but due to some reasons, it could not be materialized.'
More importantly, the Bench then very clearly and categorically points out in para 22 that, 'It is proved that the parties are living separately since 2014 and this Court also tried for settlement which could not bring any fruit. It is also clear that the respondent has filed false criminal case not only against the appellant but also against the relatives of the appellant. She is not willing to live with the appellant-husband, rather willing to settle down at Delhi with her son. The respondent does not want to see the face of the old and infirm mother of the appellant. Many times after the marriage, she tortured the old and infirm mother of the appellant. It is also clear that the respondent-wife wanted the appellant to get separated from his old and infirm mother. The evidence shows that the family was virtually maintained from the income of the appellant-husband. It is not a common practice, desirable and acceptable norm for a son to leave his old mother when there is no one else to take care of her in order to settle with his wife, particularly when he is the only earning member in the family. After being brought up and educated by his mother, the son has a moral and legal obligation to take care and maintain her when she becomes old and has no other source of income to maintain her. In normal circumstances, the wife is expected to be with the family of the husband after marriage because she becomes an integral a part of the family of the husband, and without any justifiable reason, she may not insist that her husband stays separately from her old mother, and to live with his wife in a separate and rented accommodation. If a wife makes such a demand, then she must have some justifiable reason for the same. In this case, we do not find any justifiable reasons. In our opinion, normally no husband would tolerate this nor would any son like to be separated from his old mother, who is dependent upon her son. The persistent efforts of the respondent-wife to compel the appellant to get separated from his mother would be torturous for the husband, and in our opinion this act of respondent certainly constitutes an act of cruelty. However, these allegations were not touched by the Family Court. It is also evident that the respondent has lodged a complaint against her husband and his relatives. Such type of behaviour must come within the definition of ‘cruelty'.'
To be sure, it is then held in para 23 while pooh-poohing the inept manner in which the trial court handled this case that, 'We have also carefully gone through the evidence adduced by the parties before the Trial Court. The constant persuasion by the respondent for getting separated from the mother of the appellant and constraining the appellant to live separately only with her, was also not considered to be of any importance by the Trial Court. Even no importance was given to the incident with regard to the statement made by the respondent to commit suicide and to kill her son. The mere idea with regard to facing illegal consequences would put a husband under tremendous stress. The thought itself is distressing. Such a mental cruelty should not have been taken lightly by the learned Family Court. It is needless to add that such threats or statements constitute cruelty.'
As it turned out, the Bench then minces no words in stating emphatically in para 24 that, 'In the present case, living separately of the parties for a long time, public insult, embarrassment to the appellant, agony and humiliation suffered by the appellant, charging the appellant with false allegations amounts to cruelty by the respondent towards her husband. The respondent wife is living separately for the last five years and presently staying at Delhi with a son born out of the wedlock of the parties.'
Most importantly, while endorsing the appellant-husband's claim of cruelty on him by the respondent-wife, it is then held explicitly, eloquently and elegantly in para 25 stating that, 'From the perusal of the entire material on records, the following facts are proved which constitute cruelty:-
a) Disrespectful and disparaging remarks by the respondent wife against the appellant-husband would amount to cruelty under Section 13(1) (i-a) of the Act as laid down in Smt. Santana Banerjee Vs. Sachindra Nath Banerjee AIR 1990 (Calcutta) 367.
b) The respondent-wife created a pressure on appellant-husband by alleging that she will commit suicide and kill her son and entangle the appellant in a false case would amount to be a cruelty as laid down in Harbhajan Singh Monga Vs. Amarjeet Kaur AIR 1986 MP 41.
c) The attitude of respondent-wife abusing the mother in law and making sarcastic remark against the husband before the relatives of husband would amount to be a cruelty as laid down in Rajinder Bhardwaj Vs. Mrs. Anita Sharma AIR 1993 Delhi 135.
d) If the wife physically assaults the mother-in-law and abuses her will amount to be a cruelty.
e) The respondent has compelled the appellant to abandon his 75 years old and infirm mother.
f) The respondent has compelled the appellant to liver separately in a rented house.
g) The respondent had compelled the appellant to live with her at Delhi after selling off his ancestral house.
h) The behaviour of the respondent-wife made the life of the appellant-husband miserable and it became impossible for the appellant to stay with the respondent for the aforesaid reasons. Moreover, the respondent wanted the appellant to leave his own mother and got separated from his mother so that the respondent can live independently, and in that event it would become more torturous for the appellant to stay only with the respondent-wife to tolerate such nature and behaviour of the respondent.
On the whole, the Bench after considering all aspects then observes in para 26 that, 'On the basis of above discussion and considering the facts and circumstances of the case, it appears that the relationship between the parties has deteriorated to the extent that there is no possibility of any reconciliation. Their relationship has reached to the point from where there appears no possibility of harmonious conjugal relationships or there being living together as husband and wife and discharging the matrimonial duties. This itself amounts to a cruelty, if allowed to continue. In these circumstances, the appeal is liable to be allowed.'
Interestingly enough, it is then held in para 27 that, 'However, before parting, we are also conscious of the interest of the minor son born out of the wedlock of the parties. It, would, therefore, be just to award an amount of Rs. 14 lakh to the respondent-wife for maintenance and education etc. of her son Master Yash Mahendra under Section 25 of the Hindu Marriage Act as one time alimony.'
Lastly, it is then held in para 28 that, 'For the aforesaid reasons, the appeal is allowed. The marriage solemnized between the parties on 10.12.2010 is hereby dissolved. The appellant is directed to pay Rs. 14 lakh (fourteen lakh only) to the respondent-wife as one time alimony under Section 25 of the Hindu Marriage Act. Out of this amount a sum of Rs. 10 lakh will be paid by him within one month from today, out of which Rs. 5.00 lakh would be a fixed deposit for five years in the name of his son, with his wife as nominee. The remaining amount will be paid by him within a span of two years in four equal half yearly installments.'
In all fairness, it has to be applauded, appreciated and admired most lavishly not just what the Uttarakhand High Court Bench comprising of Justice RC Khulbe and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia has so very rightly ruled in this highly commendable judgment but also the appellant-husband who has taken his wife to the court to ensure that his mother does not suffer interminably for no fault of hers! This is the best inspiration for every son to follow. It is usually seen that most of the men prefer to side with their wife and desert their parents in one go at the call of their wife very conveniently forgetting that it is their parents who gave their whole life for them and nurtured them with full love and affection by sacrificing their own comforts and enjoyments! But Sheenu Mahendru very rightly decided to opt for his old mother when his wife pressurized him to leave his mother for which he must be commended lavishly in no uncertain terms! Also, the gist of this extremely laudable, landmark and latest judgment is that, 'Wife is expected to be with the husband's family. Wife is not expected to be with her own parent's family. She cannot compel her husband to stay separately from his mother without justifiable reason.' There can be no denying it!