If from the conduct of his spouse it is established or an inference can be legitimately drawn that the treatment of the spouse is such that it causes an apprehension in the mind of the other spouse, about his or her mental welfare then this conduct amounts to cruelty. Cruelty is to be taken as a behaviour by one spouse towards the other, which causes a reasonable apprehension in the mind of the later that it is not safe for him or her to continue the matrimonial relationship with the other. Any conduct of the respondent which would render harmful or injurious for the petitioner to live with the respondent or is of such a nature so as to create a reasonable apprehension to that effect would amount to mental cruelty. Thus it is a matter of inference to be drawn by taking into account the nature of the conduct and its effect on the complaining spouse.
Cruelty was not recognised by the Courts as a ground of Divorce but then came the
landmark case of Dastane v. Dastane which introduced cruelty as a ground of Divorce.
Facts of the Case:
The respondent (Mrs. Sucheta) proposed marriage proposal to appellant Dr. Ganesh Dastane in 1956. The respondent’s father sent letters to the appellant that she had suffered a major sunstroke attack, which has affected her mental conditions and that she had been treated for the same at Yerwada Mental Hospital. No further questions were raised by the appellant / husband’s side. The marriage in the very next month of the said proposal and two daughters were born from this wedlock.
Six years later, in 1961, the appellant asked for Police protection stating that his life was endangered because of the mental conditions of the respondent. The respondent later asked for maintenance for herself and two daughters on the grounds of cruel behaviour by the husband. She also stated the same in a letter to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and also seemed separate maintenance from the government.
In 1962, the husband moved to the Trial Court for revoking the marriage, stating his consent to the marriage was induced by fraud under sec. 12 (1)(c) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, alleging that the respondent had been treated at a mental hospital for schizophrenia, and that the respondent’s father had fraudulently made him believe the fit state of mind of the respondent. Additionally the husband filed for Divorce under sec. 13(1)(iii) and for Judicial separation under sec. 10(1)(b) on the ground that the respondent treated him cruelty and his life’s safety was at risk.
Contentions of the parties:
Appellant: respondent’s family fraudulently described her mental conditions saying that she had been treated and had a fit mental state. The respondent’s behaviour towards the appellant, their kids and family was also questioned and alleged as cruel.
Respondent: appellant deserted her in the same household and would only make sexual relations while abandoning her. That the appellant had asked her to behave in that particular way.
Decision of the Trial Court:
The respondent was held liable for cruelty and the appellant was ordered to pay an interim maintenance of Rs. 400 along with arrears.
The case moved in Appeal to the Bombay High Court, where it was dismissed.
The case was finally put before the Supreme Court, where it was found that the husband’s contentions as to his wife being of unsound mind were fabricated. It was also held that the husband condoned the delay by making sexual relations with her. Hence, the respondent was not held liable for cruelty and divorce was not granted.
Justice V.Y.Chandrachud formulated some principles to determine cruelty, which are as follows:
Cruelty has been used in Section 13 (1) (ia) of the Act in the context of human conduct or behaviour in relation to or in respect of matrimonial duties or obligations.
Cruelty is a course of conduct of one which is adversely affecting the other.
The cruelty may be mental or physical.
The cruelty may be intentional or unintentional.
If it is physical, it is a question of fact and degree.
If it is mental the enquiry must begin as to the nature of the cruel treatment and then as to the impact of such treatment on the mind of the spouse.
If the conduct of the spouse caused a reasonable apprehension in the mind of the petitioner that it would be harmful or injurious to live with the respondent, the conduct amounts to cruelty.
The cruelty alleged may largely depend upon the type of life the parties are accustomed to or their economic and social conditions and their culture and human values to which they attach importance. Each case has to be decided on its own merits.
Various courts followed these principles while deciding the matters regarding cruelty.
It is not necessary that cruelty must be of such a character as to cause danger to life, limb or health as to give risk to a reasonable apprehension of such a danger.
What the court must determine is whether the petitioner has proved that respondent has treated him with cruelty as to cause a reasonable apprehension in his mind that it will be harmful or injurious for him to live with the respondent.
Mental cruelty, a form of cruelty
Mental cruelty is necessarily a matter of inference to be drawn from the facts and circumstances of the case. Instances of cruelty are not to be taken in isolation but to take the cumulative effect of the facts and circumstances emerging from the evidence on record and then draw a fair inference whether the plaintiff has been subjected to mental cruelty due to the conduct of other spouse. Illustrative cases of instances of “mental cruelty” as set out in Samar Ghosh vs. Jaya Ghosh , (2007) 4 SCC 511 which are only illustrative and not exhaustive.
On consideration of complete matrimonial life of the parties, acute mental pain, agony and suffering as would not make possible for the parties to live with each other could come within the broad parameters of mental cruelty.
On comprehensive appraisal of the entire matrimonial life of the parties, it becomes abundantly clear that situation is such that the wronged party cannot reasonably be asked to put up with such conduct and continue to live with other party.
Mere coldness or lack of affection cannot amount to cruelty, frequent rudeness of language, petulance of manner, indifference and neglect may reach such a decree that it makes the married life for the other spouse absolutely intolerable.
Mental cruelty is a state of mind. The feeling of deep anguish, disappointment, frustration in one spouse caused by the conduct of the other for a long time may lead to mental cruelty.
Mental cruelty may consist of verbal abuses and insults by using foul and abusive language, disturbing mental peace. Constant insults, abuses and accusations of adulterous character which make married life impossible to be endured, were held to constitute mental cruelty of a kind worse than physical violence. This was held in Susanamma vs. Varghese, AIR 1957 SC 277
Refusal to have sexual intercourse
It has been held in a plethora of cases that refusal for considerable period by wife without sufficient reason, itself amounts to mental cruelty and husband is entitled to divorce.
It would not make any difference in law whether denial of sexual intercourse is the result of sexual weakness of the respondent disabling him from having a sexual union with the appellant, or it is because of any willful refusal by the respondent is because in either case the result is the same namely frustration and misery to the petitioner due to denial of normal sexual life and the petitioner is entitled to divorce on ground of cruelty, as held in Mrs. Rita Nijhawan vs. Sh.Balkishan Nijhawan, AIR 1973 Delhi 200
Any conduct of the respondent which would render harmful or injurious for the petitioner to live with the respondent or is of such a nature so as to create a reasonable apprehension to that effect would amount to cruelty. Thus it is a matter of inference to be drawn by taking into account the nature of the conduct and its effect on the complaining spouse. There may, however, be cases where the conduct complained of it-self is bad enough and per see unlawful or illegal. Then the impact or the injurious physical effect on the other spouse need not be enquired into or considered. In such cases, the cruelty will be established if the conduct itself is proved or admitted.
It is necessary to bear in mind that there has been marked changes in life around us. In matrimonial duties and responsibilities in particular, we find a sea of change. They are of varying degrees from house to house or person to person. Therefore, when a spouse makes complaint about the treatment of cruelty by the partner in life or relations, the court should not search for standard in life. We the judges and lawyers, therefore, should not import our own notions of life. We may not go in parallel with them. There may be a generation gap between us and the parties. It would be better if we keep aside our customs and manners. It would be also better if we less depend upon precedents.