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Under clause (ia) of sub-section (1) of section 13 and under sub-section (1) of section 10 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 cruelty is a ground of divorce as well as judicial separation respectively. Whether a particular act or conduct complained of is covered under the ground of cruelty or not, will always be decided on facts and circumstances in each case. 

What is Cruelty? 

Under the English Law, legal concept of cruelty is conduct of such a character as to cause danger to life, limb or health (physical or mental) or as to give rise to a reasonable apprehension of such danger. Before the amendment of the Hindu Marriage Act, which was brought in the year 1976, the rigid meaning and interpretation was given to the ground of cruelty. But even before the amendment, the Supreme Court in Dastane Vs. Dastane, AIR 1975 SC 1534, tried to give a literal meaning to the ground of cruelty applicable in terms of divorce or judicial separation. 

Though the concept of English Law and the Hindu Marriage Act in terms of cruelty as a ground for divorce or judicial separation is more or less the same, yet the learned Judges in India still hold that marriage is a sacrament taking into consideration the social and cultural conditions of our country. 

In Sukumar Vs Manohar Shivaram Jagesha, the Court observed: 

The question whether a particular act or behaviour would amount to cruelty or not depends upon the character, way of life of the parties, their social and economic conditions, their status, customs and traditions. Each case is to be decided on the facts of its own. The judges and the lawyers should not import their own notions of life while dealing with matrimonial cases. 

Classification of Cruelty: 

Cruelty is classified into two heads. 

1. Physical cruelty and 

2. Mental cruelty 

Physical Cruelty:

It is a settled law that physical violence is not necessary ingredient of cruelty. Unending accusations and imputations can cause more pain and misery than a physical beating. Therefore, it goes without saying that the act of cruelty consists of mental torture or physical violence. If it is a physical violence, there will be no problem for a court to arrive at a decision while determining a case presented before it, but in case of mental torture or harassment, the court finds comparatively more difficult to come to final conclusion. 

Firstly the court begins its enquiry as to the nature of cruel treatment as well as the impact of that treatment in the mind of the spouse. Ultimately it is a matter of inference to be drawn by taking into account of the nature of the conduct and its effect on the complaining spouse. 

Kaushalya Vs Wisakhi Ram: 

The husband had been ill treating the wife and beating her. On one occasion she had to go to the police station to lodge a complaint against her husband. The Punjab and Haryana High Court observed that according to the standards of all civilized world these acts would constitute cruelty, even though injuries might not be serious as to require medical treatment. 

Saptmi Vs Jagdish: 

It was held that if a husband constantly abuses and insults the wife and occasionally resorts to physical violence against her, it amounts to cruelty. 

Mental Cruelty: 

An act of mental cruelty is far more severe and dangerous than an act of physical violence. The eye opener cases of mental cruelty are Mohit Bhatnagar Vs Sangeeta Bhatnagar and Deepak Johri Vs Kum Kum Johri, the case of Mohit Bhatnagar has since been decided by the Matrimonial Court after 7 years of long battle and the case of Deepak Johri is still pending in the High Court of Delhi. 

Deepak Johri and his wife Kum Kum Johri have been living separately for more than 12 years and the Court has yet to decide their fate. Criminal proceedings against Mohit Bhatnagar are still going on. As per my opinion, the non-decision of such cases for a very long time, also amount to mental torture, agony, and punishment of the highest order. In other words this amounts to mental cruelty to both the parties on account of delay oriented procedure prevalent in the courts, whatever be the reasons. 

In the judgment of the Supreme Court in V. Bhagat Vs D. Bhagat, the learned judges granted the relief by cutting short the delay oriented procedure adopted by the District Court as well as the High Court of Delhi. Every matrimonial petition may be heard on day to day basis, and be disposed of within six months from the service of the petition on the respondent. The High Court is also required to dispose of every appeal within three months of the service of the notice of appeal to the respondent. 

Inspite of the fact that the law provides that every matrimonial proceeding should be completed within six months, no serious efforts are made either by the courts or by the advocates to adhere to the time limit. And the reality is that no matrimonial proceedings are completed before five or ten years. This long delay itself is also the cause of mental torture or mental cruelty to all aggrieved parties facing matrimonial proceedings in the courts. 

How to prove mental cruelty? 

The standard of in case of mental cruelty need not be beyond reasonable doubt, as is required in the criminal trials. What is required in such cases is that the court must be satisfied of preponderance of probabilities and not satisfaction beyond all reasonable doubts. 

The act of mental cruelty in matrimonial homes, matrimonial violence and wife battering continues all over the world. Often the unwanted acts of mental cruelty prove to be much more devastating than the acts of physical violence. 

Mental cruelty can be inflicted by many ways. A false criminal case to harass the husband would be an act of cruelty. Refusal to have marital intercourse, false complaints to the employees by the wife, an act of nagging, false, scandalous, malicious and baseless charges etc. come under the purview of mental cruelty. 

Kiran Mandal Vs Mohini Mandal: 

Where a wife is found to be of bad temperature and makes false allegations against her husband that he had illicit relations with his brother's wife. It amounted to an act of cruelty. 

Harbhajan Singh Vs Amarjit Kaur: 

The wife not only refused to do household work, but in the presence of guests, also forced the husband to clean the dining table, utensils and crockery. She even slapped the husband. She used to keep her husband waiting outside the house for half an hour or more on his return from the office. She went to the extent of levelling false charges of embezzlement against her husband to the bank authorities, where he was employed. 

Shanti Devi Vs Raghav Prakash: 

The wife made an allegation that her husband was impotent. She also put on fire the doctoral thesis of her husband, which was yet to be submitted. The husband was a lecturer in the college. 

Ashok Kumar Vs Vijay Lakshmi: 

False allegations of the wife that an attempt by the husband was made to burn her amounts to cruelty.

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