Supreme Court of India
Bench: B Agrawal, A Mathur, D Bhandari
Appeal (civil) 812 of 2004
Naveen Kohli vs Neelu Kohli
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 21/03/2006
B.N. AGRAWAL,A.K. MATHUR & DALVEER BHANDARI
J U D G M E N T
Dalveer Bhandari, J
This appeal is directed against the judgment of the Allahabad High Court dated 07.07.2003 passed by the Division Bench in First Appeal No.323 of 2003.
The appellant and the respondent are husband and wife. The appellant has filed a petition under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 for divorce. The Family Court after comprehensively dealing with the matter ordered cancellation of marriage between the parties under Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act which was solemnized on 20.11.1975 and directed the appellant to pay Rs.5 lacs as her livelihood allowance. The appellant deposited the amount as directed.
The respondent aggrieved by the said judgment preferred First Appeal before the Division Bench of the Allahabad High Court. After hearing the parties the appeal was allowed and the decree passed by the Family Court, Kanpur City seeking divorce and annulment of the marriage was dismissed.
The appellant aggrieved by the said judgment of the High Court had preferred special leave petition under Article 136 of the Constitution of India. This Court granted special leave to appeal to the appellant.
Brief facts which are necessary to dispose of this appeal are recapitulated.
The appellant, Naveen Kohli got married to Neelu Kohli on 20.11.1975. Three sons were born out of the wedlock of the parties. The appellant constructed three factories with the intention of providing a separate factory for his three sons. He also constructed bungalow no.7/36 A for their residence. The parties got all their three sons admitted and educated in a public school in Nanital. According to the appellant, the respondent is bad tempered and a woman of rude behaviour. After marriage, she started quarrelling and misbehaving with the appellant and his parents and ultimately, the appellant was compelled to leave the parental residence and started to reside in a rented premises from May 1994. According to the version of the appellant, the respondent in collusion with her parents got sufficient business and property transferred in her name.
The appellant alleged that in the month of May 1994, when he along with the respondent and their children visited Bombay to attend the golden jubilee marriage anniversary of his father-in-law, he noticed that the respondent was indulging in an indecent manner and found her in a compromising position with one Biswas Rout. Immediately thereafter, the appellant started living separately from the respondent since May 1994. The appellant suffered intense physical and mental torture.
According to the appellant, the respondent had withdrawn Rs.9,50,000/- from the Bank Account of the appellant and deposited the same in her account.
The appellant alleged that the respondent got a false first information report registered against him under Sections 420/467/468 and 471 IPC which was registered as Case No.156 of 1995. According to him, the respondent again got a case under Sections 323/324 I.P.C. registered in the police station Panki, Kanpur City and efforts were made to get the appellant arrested.
The appellant filed a Civil Suit No. 1158/1996 against the respondent. It was also reported that the appellant was manhandled at the behest of the respondent and an FIR No.156 of 1996 was filed by the eldest son at the behest of the respondent against the appellant in police station, Panki complaining that the appellant had physically beaten her son, Nitin Kohli.
The respondent in her statement before the Trial Court had mentioned that she had filed an FIR against the appellant under Section 420/468 IPC at the Police Station, Kotwali and the respondent had gone to the extent of filing a caveat in the High Court in respect of the said criminal case so that the appellant may not obtain an order from the High Court against her filing the said FIR.
In the same statement, the respondent had admitted that she had filed an FIR No.100/96 at the Police Station, Kohna under Section 379/323 IPC against the appellant.
The respondent had also filed a complaint against the appellant and his mother under Sections 498A/323/504/506 IPC at Police Station, Kohna.
The respondent in her statement had admitted that she had opposed the bail of the appellant in the criminal case filed at the Police Station, Kotwali on the basis of legal advice. In that very statement she further admitted that after the police had filed final report in both the criminal cases relating to Police Station, Kotwali and Police Station, Kohna, she had filed protest petition in those cases.
This clearly demonstrates the respondent's deep and intense feeling of revenge. The respondent in her statement had also admitted that she had filed a complaint in the Women Cell, Delhi in September 1997. According to the appellant, the respondent had filed a complaint no.125 of 1998 against the appellant's lawyer and friend alleging criminal intimidation which was found to be false.
According to the appellant, the respondent filed a forged complaint under sections 397/398 of the Companies Act before the Company Law Board, New Delhi and in the affidavit of the respondent she stated that the appellant was immoral, alcoholic, and was having affairs with numerous girls since marriage. She also called him a criminal, infidel, forger and her manager to denigrate his position from the proprietor to an employee of her company.
The appellant also mentioned that the respondent filed a false complaint in Case No.1365 0f 1988 using all kinds of abuses against the appellant.
On 8.7.1999, the respondent filed a complaint in the Parliament Street Police Station, New Delhi and made all efforts to ensure the appellant's arrest with the object of sending him to jail. The appellant was called to the police station repeatedly and was interrogated by the police and only after he gave a written reply and the matter on scrutiny was found to be false, the appellant with great difficulty was able to save himself from imprisonment.
On 31.3.1999 the respondent had sent notice for breaking the Nucleus of the HUF, expressly stating that the Family Nucleus had been broken with immediate effect and asking for partition of all the properties and assets of the HUF and stating that her share should be given to her within 15 days. According to the appellant, this act of the respondent clearly broke all relations between the appellant and the respondent on 31.3.1999.
The respondent had filed a complaint against the appellant under Section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act directing payment of maintenance during the pendency of the case. This was rejected by the Trial Court and she later filed an appeal in the High Court.
The appellant had deposited Rs.5 lacs on Court's directions but that amount was not withdrawn by the respondent. On 22.1.2001 the respondent gave an affidavit before the High Court and got non-bailable warrants issued against the appellant. Consequently, the appellant was harassed by the police and ultimately he got the arrest order stayed by the High Court. The respondent admitted in her statement that she got the advertisement published in the English National Newspaper 'Pioneer'. The advertisement reads as under :
Be it known to all that Mr. Naveen
Kohli S/o Mr. Prem Kumar Kohli was
working with my Proprietorship firm
as Manager. He has abandoned his
job since May 1996 and has not
He is no more in the employment of
the firm. Any Body dealing with him shall be doing so at his own risk, his authority to represent the firm has
been revoked and none should deliver him orders, cash cheques or drafts
payable to the firm.
M/s NITIN RUBBERS
152-B, Udyog Nagar,
The respondent in her statement before the Court did not deny the contents of the affidavit but merely mentioned that she did not remember whether she called the appellant a criminal, infidel and a forger in the affidavit filed before the Company Law Board.
The respondent did not deny her using choicest abuses against the appellant but merely stated that she did not remember.
The respondent also filed a contempt petition in the Company Law Board against its order of the Company Law Board dated 25.9.2000 in order to try and get the appellant thrown out of the little apartment and urged that the appellant be sent to jail.
Before the Family Court, the respondent stated about solemnization of the marriage with the appellant on 20.11.1975. In her written statement she had denied the fact that she was either a rude or a quarrelsome lady. The respondent also denied that she had mentally, physically and financially harassed and tortured the appellant. She also stated that she never refused cohabitation with the appellant. She also denied indulging in any immoral conduct. She averred in the written statement that the appellant has been immorally living with a lady named 'Shivanagi'.
The appellant and the respondent filed a number of documents in support of their respective cases. On the basis of the pleadings and the documents, the Additional Principal Judge of Family Court framed the following issues :-
"1. Whether the respondent treated the plaintiff with cruelty by registering various criminal cases, getting the news published and initiating civil
2. Whether the defendant treated the plaintiff with cruelty by her objectionable behaviour as stated in the plaint?
3. Whether respondent has made false allegation against the plaintiff? If yes, its impact?
Whether in the presence of plaintiff, the defendant displayed her behaviour with Dr. Viswas Rout which comes in the
category of immorality as has been stated in para 11 of the plaint? If yes, its impact?
4. Whether the petition is not maintainable on the basis of preliminary objections 1 to 3 of the written statement?
5. Whether plaintiff has kept Smt. Shivanagi with him as his concubine? If yes, its impact?
6. Whether suit of the plaintiff is barred by the provisions of Section 11, C.P.C.?
7. Whether plaintiff is entitled to get the decree of dissolution of marriage against defendant?
8. Whether plaintiff is entitled to get any other relief?"
Issues number 1 & 2 relate to the term 'Cruelty' and Issue no. 3 is regarding impact of false allegations levelled by the respondent against the appellant. All these three issues were decided in favour of the appellant and against the respondent. The learned Trial Court came to a definite conclusion that the respondent had filed a very large number of cases against the appellant and got him harassed and tortured by the police. It also declared him an employee of the factory of which the respondent is a proprietor by getting an advertisement issued in the newspaper. According to findings of the Trial Court, the appellant was mentally, physically and financially harassed and tortured by the respondent.
The Trial Court framed specific issue whether the appellant had kept Smt. Shivangi with him as his concubine. This allegation has been denied by the appellant. The respondent had failed to produce any witness in respect of the aforesaid allegation and was consequently not able to prove the same. The Trial Court stated that both parties have levelled allegations of character assassination against each other but failed to prove them.
The Trial Court stated that many a times efforts have been made for an amicable settlement, but on the basis of allegations which have been levelled by both the parties against each other, there is no cordiality left between the parties and there is no possibility of their living together. According to the Trial court, there was no possibility to reconnect the chain of marital life between the parties. Hence, the Trial Court found that there is no alternative but to dissolve the marriage between the parties. The Trial Court also stated that the respondent had not filed any application for allowing permanent maintenance and Stridhan but, in the interest of justice, the Trial Court directed the appellant to deposit Rs.5,00,000/- toward permanent maintenance of the respondent. The Trial Court also ordered that a decree of dissolution of marriage shall be effective after depositing the payment of Rs.5,00,000/- by the appellant. Admittedly, the appellant had immediately deposited the said amount.
The respondent, aggrieved by the judgment of the Principal Judge, Family Court, Kanpur City, preferred the first appeal before the High Court, which was disposed of by a Division Bench of the Allahabad High Court.
According to the High Court, the Trial Court had not properly appreciated and evaluated the evidence on record. According to the High Court, the appellant had been living with one Shivangi. As per the High Court, the fact that on Trial Court's directions the appellant deposited the sum of Rs.5,00,000/- within two days after the judgment which demonstrated that the appellant was financially well off. The Division Bench of the High Court held that actions of the appellant amounted to misconduct, un-condonable for the purpose of Section 13(1)(a) of the Hindu Marriage Act. The appeal was allowed and the Trial Court judgment has been set aside. The suit filed by the appellant seeking a decree of divorce was also dismissed.
The appellant preferred a Special Leave Petition before this Court. We have carefully perused the pleadings and documents on record and heard the learned counsel appearing for the parties at length.
Both the parties have levelled allegations against each other for not maintaining the sanctity of marriage and involvement with another person. According to the respondent, the appellant is separately living with another woman, 'Shivanagi'. According to the appellant, the respondent was seen indulging in an indecent manner and was found in compromising position with one Biswas Rout. According to the findings of the Trial Court both the parties failed to prove the allegations against each other. The High Court has of course reached the conclusion that the appellant was living with one 'Shivanagi' for a considerable number of years. The fact of the matter is that both the parties have been living separately for more than 10 years. Number of cases including criminal complaints have been filed by the respondent against the appellant and every effort has been made to harass and torture him and even to put the appellant behind the bars by the respondent. The appellant has also filed cases against the respondent.
We would like to examine the facts of the case in the light of the settled position of law which has been crystallized by a series of judgments.
In the light of facts and circumstances of this case we would also like to examine the concept of Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage particularly with reference to recently decided cases.
Impact of Physical and Mental Cruelty in Matrimonial Matters.
The petition for divorce was filed primarily on the ground of cruelty. It may be pertinent to note that, prior to the 1976 amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 cruelty was not a ground for claiming divorce under the Hindu Marriage Act. It was only a ground for claiming judicial separation under Section 10 of the Act. By 1976 Amendment, the Cruelty was made ground for divorce. The words which have been incorporated are "as to cause a reasonable apprehension in the mind of the petitioner that it will be harmful or injurious for the petitioner to live with the other party". Therefore, it is not necessary for a party claiming divorce to prove that the cruelty treatment is of such a nature as to cause an apprehension reasonable apprehension that it will be harmful or injurious for him or her to live with the other party.
The Court had an occasion to examine the 1976 amendment in the case of N.G. Dastane v. S. Dastane [(1975) 2 SCC 326: AIR 1975 SC 1534], The Court noted that "....whether the conduct charges as cruelty is of such a character as to cause in the mind of the petitioner a reasonable apprehension that it will be harmful or injurious for him to live with the respondent".
We deem it appropriate to examine the concept of 'Cruelty' both in English and Indian Law, in order to evaluate whether the appellant's petition based on the ground of cruelty deserves to be allowed or not.
D. Tolstoy in his celebrate book "The Law and Practice of Divorce and Matrimonial Causes" (Sixth Edition, p. 61) defined cruelty in these words: "Cruelty which is a ground for
dissolution of marriage may be
defined as willful and unjustifiable conduct of such a character as to
cause danger to life, limb or health, bodily or mental, or as to give rise to a reasonable apprehension of such a
The concept of cruelty in matrimonial matters was aptly discussed in the English case in Bertram v. Bertram [(1944) 59, 60] per Scott, L.J. observed: "Very slight fresh evidence is needed to show a resumption of the cruelty, for cruelty of character is bound to show itself in conduct and
behaviour. Day in and day out,
night in and night out."
In Cooper vs. Cooper [(1950) WN 200 (HL)], it was observed as under:
"It is true that the more serious the original offence, the less grave need be the subsequent acts to constitute a revival."
Lord Denning, L.J. in Kaslefsky v. Kaslefsky [(1950) 2 All ER 398, 403] observed as under: "If the door of cruelty were opened
too wide, we should soon find
ourselves granting divorce for
incompatibility of temperament.
This is an easy path to tread,
especially in undefended cases. The temptation must be resisted lest we
slip into a state of affairs where the institution of marriage itself is
"In England, a view was at one time taken that the petitioner in a matrimonial petition must establish his case beyond a reasonable doubt but in Blyth v. Blyth [(1966) 1 All ER 524, 536], the House of Lords held by a majority that so far as the grounds of divorce or the bars to divorce like connivance or condonation are concerned, "the case like any civil case, may be proved by a preponderance of probability".
The High Court of Australia in Wright v. Wright [(1948) 77 CLR 191, 210], has also taken the view that "the civil and not the criminal standard of persuasion applies to matrimonial causes, including issues of adultery". The High Court was therefore in error in holding that the petitioner must establish the charge of cruelty "beyond reasonable doubt". The High Court adds that "This must be in accordance with the law of evidence", but we are not clear as to the implications of this observation."
Lord Pearce observed:
"It is impossible to give a
comprehensive definition of cruelty, but when reprehensible conduct or
departure from the normal
standards of conjugal kindness
causes injury to health or an
apprehension of it, it is, I think,
cruelty if a reasonable person, after taking due account of the
temperament and all the other
particular circumstances would
consider that the conduct
complained of is such that this
spouse should not be called on to
* * *
I agree with Lord Merriman
whose practice in cases of mental
cruelty was always to make up his
mind first whether there was injury
or apprehended injury to health. In the light of that vital fact the court has then to decide whether the sum
total of the reprehensible conduct
was cruel. That depends on
whether the cumulative conduct
was sufficiently weighty to say that from a reasonable person's point of
view, after a consideration of any
excuse which this respondent might
have in the circumstances, the
conduct is such that this petitioner ought not to be called on to endure
* * *
The particular circumstances
of the home, the temperaments and
emotions of both the parties and
their status and their way of life,
their past relationship and almost
every circumstance that attends the
act or conduct complained of may
all be relevant."
Lord Reid in Gollins v. Gollins [1964 AC 644 : (1963) 2 All ER 966]:
"No one has ever attempted to give a comprehensive definition of cruelty
and I do not intend to try to do so. Much must depend on the
knowledge and intention of the
respondent, on the nature of his (or her) conduct, and on the character
and physical or mental weaknesses
of the spouses, and probably no
general statement is equally
applicable in all cases except the
requirement that the party seeking
relief must show actual or probable
injury to life, limb or health.
The principles of law which have been crystallized by a series of judgments of this Court are recapitulated as under :-
In the case of Sirajmohmedkhan Janmohamadkhan vs. Harizunnisa Yasinkhan reported in (1981) 4 SCC 250, this Court stated that the concept of legal cruelty changes according to the changes and advancement of social concept and standards of living. With the advancement of our social conceptions, this feature has obtained legislative recognition, that a second marriage is a sufficient ground for separate residence and maintenance. Moreover, to establish legal cruelty, it is not necessary that physical violence should be used. Continuous ill-treatment, cessation of marital intercourse, studied neglect, indifference on the part of the husband, and an assertion on the part of the husband that the wife is unchaste are all factors which lead to mental or legal cruelty.
In the case of Sbhoba Rani vs. Madhukar Reddi reported in (1988) 1 SCC 105, this Court had an occasion to examine the concept of cruelty. The word 'cruelty' has not been defined in the Hindu Marriage Act. It has been used in Section 13(1)(i)(a) of the Act in the context of human conduct or behaviour in relation to or in respect of matrimonial duties or obligations. It is a course of conduct of one which is adversely affecting the other. The cruelty may be mental or physical, 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. Whether it caused reasonable apprehension that it would be harmful or injurious to live with the other, ultimately, 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 itself is bad enough and per se unlawful or illegal. Then the impact or the injurious 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. The absence of intention should not make any difference in the case, if by ordinary sense in human affairs, the act complained of could otherwise be regarded as cruelty. Intention is not a necessary element in cruelty. The relief to the party cannot be denied on the ground that there has been no deliberate or wilful ill-treatment.
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.
The Court went on to observe as under : "It will be necessary to bear in mind that there has been marked
changed in the life around us. In
matrimonial duties and
responsibilities in particular, we find a sea 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. A set of facts stigmatized as cruelty in one case may not be so in another case.
The cruelty alleged may largely
depend upon the type of life the
parties are accustomed to or their
economic and social conditions. It
may also depend upon their culture
and human values to which they
attach importance. 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
Lord Denning said in Sheldon
v. Sheldon,  2 All E.R. 257
(CA) 'the categories of cruelty are not closed'. Each case may be different. We deal with the conduct of human
beings who are no generally similar. Among the human beings there is
no limit to the kind of conduct
which may constitute cruelty. New
type of cruelty may crop up in any
case depending upon the human
behaviour, capacity or incapability
to tolerate the conduct complained
of. Such is the wonderful (sic) realm of cruelty."
In the case of V. Bhagat vs. D. Bhagat reported in (1994) 1 SCC 337, this Court had occasion to examine the concept of 'mental cruelty'. This Court observed as under:
"16. Mental cruelty in Section
13(1)(i-a) can broadly be defined as that conduct which inflicts upon the other party such mental pain and
suffering as would make it not
possible for that party to live with the other. In other words, mental
cruelty must be of such a nature
that the parties cannot reasonably
be expected to live together. The
situation must be such that the
wronged party cannot reasonably be
asked to put up with such conduct
and continue to live with the other
party. It is not necessary to prove that the mental cruelty is such as to cause injury to the health of the
petitioner. While arriving at such
conclusion, regard must be had to
the social status, educational level of the parties, the society they move in, the possibility or otherwise of the parties ever living together in case they are already living apart and all other relevant facts and
circumstances which it is neither
possible nor desirable to set out
exhaustively. What is cruelty in one case may not amount to cruelty in
another case. It is a matter to be
decided in each case having regard
to the facts and circumstances of
that case. If it is a case of
accusations and allegations, regard
must also be had to the context in
which they were made."
The word 'cruelty' has to be understood in the ordinary sense of the term in matrimonial affairs. If the intention to harm, harass or hurt could be inferred by the nature of the conduct or brutal act complained of, cruelty could be easily established. But the absence of intention should not make any difference in the case. There may be instances of cruelty by unintentional but inexcusable conduct of any party. The cruel treatment may also result from the cultural conflict between the parties. Mental cruelty can be caused by a party when the other spouse levels an allegation that the petitioner is a mental patient, or that he requires expert psychological treatment to restore his mental health, that he is suffering from paranoid disorder and mental hallucinations, and to crown it all, to allege that he and all the members of his family are a bunch of lunatics. The allegation that members of the petitioner's family are lunatics and that a streak of insanity runs though his entire family is also an act of mental cruelty. This Court in the case of Savitri Pandey vs. Prem Chandra Pandey reported in (2002) 2 SCC 73, stated that mental cruelty is the conduct of other spouse which causes mental suffering or fear to the matrimonial life of the other. "Cruelty", therefore, postulates a treatment of the petitioner with such cruelty as to cause a reasonable apprehension in his or her mind that it would be harmful or injurious for the petitioner to live with the other party. Cruelty, however, has to be distinguished from the ordinary wear and tear of family life. It cannot be decided on the basis of the sensitivity of the petitioner and has to be adjudged on the basis of the course of conduct which would, in general, be dangerous for a spouse to live with the other.
In this case, this Court further stated as under: "9. Following the decision in
Bipinchandra case [AIR 1957 SC
176] this Court again reiterated the legal position in Lachman Utamchand Kirpalani v. Meena [AIR 1964 SC 40] by holding that in its
essence desertion means the
intentional permanent forsaking and
abandonment of one spouse by the
other without that other's consent,
and without reasonable cause. For
the offence of desertion so far as the deserting spouse is concerned, two
essential conditions must be there
(1) the factum of separation, and (2) the intention to bring cohabitation
permanently to an end (animus
deserendi). Similarly two elements
are essential so far as the deserted spouse is concerned: (1) the absence of consent, and (2) absence of
conduct giving reasonable cause to
the spouse leaving the matrimonial
home to form the necessary
intention aforesaid. For holding
desertion as proved the inference
may be drawn from certain facts
which may not in another case be
capable of leading to the same
inference; that is to say the facts
have to be viewed as to the purpose
which is revealed by those acts or by conduct and expression of intention, both anterior and subsequent to the
actual acts of separation."
In this case, this Court further stated that cruelty can be said to be an act committed with the intention to cause suffering to the opposite party. This Court in the case of Gananth Pattnaik vs. State of Orissa reported in (2002) 2 SCC 619 observed as under:
"The concept of cruelty and its effect varies from individual to individual, also depending upon the social and
economic status to which such
person belongs. "Cruelty" for the
purposes of constituting the offence under the aforesaid section need not be physical. Even mental torture or abnormal behaviour may amount to
cruelty and harassment in a given
This Court, in the case of Parveen Mehta vs. Inderjit Mehta reported in (2002) 5 SCC 706, defined cruelty as under:
"Cruelty for the purpose of Section
13(1)(i-a) is to be taken as a
behaviour by one spouse towards
the other, which causes reasonable
apprehension in the mind of the
latter that it is not safe for him or her to continue the matrimonial
relationship with the other. Mental cruelty is a state of mind and feeling with one of the spouses due to the
behaviour or behavioural pattern by
the other. Unlike the case of
physical cruelty, mental cruelty is
difficult to establish by direct
evidence. It is necessarily a matter of inference to be drawn from the
facts and circumstances of the case. A feeling of anguish, disappointment and frustration in one spouse
caused by the conduct of the other
can only be appreciated on
assessing the attending facts and
circumstances in which the two
partners of matrimonial life have
been living. The inference has to be drawn from the attending facts and
circumstances taken cumulatively.
In case of mental cruelty it will not be a correct approach to take an
instance of misbehaviour in
isolation and then pose the question whether such behaviour is sufficient by itself to cause mental cruelty.
The approach should be to take the
cumulative effect of the facts and
circumstances emerging from the
evidence on record and then draw a
fair inference whether the petitioner in the divorce petition has been
subject to mental cruelty due to
conduct of the other."
In this case the Court also stated that so many years have elapsed since the spouses parted company. In these circumstances it can be reasonably inferred that the marriage between the parties has broken down irretrievably.
In Chetan Dass vs. Kamla Devi reported in (2001) 4 SCC 250 , this Court observed that the matrimonial matters have to be basically decided on its facts. In the words of the Court:
"Matrimonial matters are matters of
delicate human and emotional
relationship. It demands mutual
trust, regard, respect, love and
affection with sufficient play for
reasonable adjustments with the
spouse. The relationship has to
conform to the social norms as well. The matrimonial conduct has now
come to be governed by statute
framed, keeping in view such norms
and changed social order. It is
sought to be controlled in the
interest of the individuals as well as in broader perspective, for
regulating matrimonial norms for
making of a well-knit, healthy and
not a disturbed and porous society.
The institution of marriage occupies an important place and role to play
in the society, in general. Therefore, it would not be appropriate to apply any submission of "irretrievably
broken marriage" as a straitjacket
formula for grant of relief of divorce. This aspect has to be considered in
the background of the other facts
and circumstances of the case."
In Sandhya Rani vs. Kalyanram Narayanan reported in (1994) Supp. 2 SCC 588, this Court reiterated and took the view that since the parties are living separately for the last more than three years, we have no doubt in our mind that the marriage between the parties has irretrievably broken down. There is no chance whatsoever of their coming together. Therefore, the Court granted the decree of divorce.
In the case of Chandrakala Menon vs. Vipin Menon reported in (1993) 2 SCC 6, the parties had been living separately for so many years. This Court came to the conclusion that there is no scope of settlement between them because, according to the observation of this Court, the marriage has irretrievably broken down and there is no chance of their coming together. This Court granted decree of divorce.
In the case of Kanchan Devi vs. Promod Kumar Mittal reported in (1996) 8 SCC 90, the parties were living separately for more than 10 years and the Court came to the conclusion that the marriage between the parties had to be irretrievably broken down and there was no possibility of reconciliation and therefore the Court directed that the marriage between the parties stands dissolved by a decree of divorce.
In Swati Verma vs. Rajan Verma reported in (2004) 1 SCC 123, a large number of criminal cases had been filed by the petitioner against the respondent. This Court observed that the marriage between the parties had broken down irretrievably with a view to restore good relationship and to put a quietus to all litigations between the parties and not to leave any room for future litigation, so that they may live peacefully hereafter, and on the request of the parties, in exercise of the power vested in this Court under Article 142 of the Constitution of India, the Court allowed the application for divorce by mutual consent filed before it under Section 13-B of the Hindu Marriage Act and declared the marriage dissolved and granted decree of divorce by mutual consent. In Prakash Chand Sharma vs. Vimlesh [1995 Supp (4) SCC 642], the wife expressed her will to go and live with the husband notwithstanding the presence of the other woman but the husband was not in a position to agree presumably because he has changed his position by remarriage. Be that as it may, a reconciliation was not possible.
In V. Bhagat v. D. Bhagat (supra), this Court while allowing the marriage to dissolve on ground of mental cruelty and in view of the irretrievable breakdown of marriage and the peculiar circumstances of the case, held that the allegations of adultery against the wife were not proved thereby vindicating her honour and character. This Court while exploring the other alternative observed that the divorce petition has been pending for more than 8 years and a good part of the lives of both the parties has been consumed in this litigation and yet, the end is not in sight and that the allegations made against each other in the petition and the counter by the parties will go to show that living together is out of question and rapprochement is not in the realm of possibility. This Court also observed in the concluding part of the judgment that:
"Before parting with this case, we
think it necessary to append a
clarification. Merely because there
are allegations and counter
allegations, a decree of divorce
cannot follow. Nor is mere delay in
disposal of the divorce proceedings
by itself a ground. There must be
really some extra- ordinary features to warrant grant of divorce on the
basis of pleading (and other
admitted material) without a full
trial. Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage is not a ground by itself.
But while scrutinising the evidence
on record to determine whether the
ground(s) alleged is/are made out
and in determining the relief to be
granted, the said circumstance can
certainly be borne in mind. The
unusual step as the one taken by us
herein can be resorted to only to
clear up an insoluable mess, when
the Court finds it in the interest of both parties."
Again in A. Jaychandra v. Aneel Kumar, (2005) 2 SCC 22, a 3 judge Bench of this Court observed that the expression "cruelty" has not been defined in the Act. Cruelty can be physical or mental cruelty which is a ground for dissolution of marriage may be defined as willful and unjustifiable conduct of such character as to cause danger to life, limb or health, bodily or mental, or as to give rise to a reasonable apprehension of such a danger. The question of mental cruelty has to be considered in the light of the norms of marital ties of the particular society to which the parties belong, their social values, status, environment in which they live. Cruelty, as noted above, includes mental cruelty, which falls within the purview of a matrimonial wrong. Cruelty need not be physical. If from the conduct of his spouse same is established and/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. In delicate human relationship like matrimony, one has to see the probabilities of the case. The concept, a proof beyond the shadow of doubt, is to be applied to criminal trials and not to civil matters and certainly not to matters of such delicate personal relationship as those of husband and wife. Therefore, one has to see what are the probabilities in a case and legal cruelty has to be found out, not merely as a matter of fact, but as the effect on the mind of the complainant spouse because of the acts or omissions of the other. Cruelty may be physical or corporeal or may be mental. In physical cruelty, there can be tangible and direct evidence, but in the case of mental cruelty there may not at the same time be direct evidence. In cases where there is no direct evidence, Courts are required to probe into the mental process and mental effect of incidents that are brought out in evidence. It is in this view that one has to consider the evidence in matrimonial disputes. The expression 'cruelty' has been used in relation to human conduct or human behaviour. It is the conduct in relation to or in respect of matrimonial duties and obligations. Cruelty is a course or conduct of one, which is adversely affecting the other. The cruelty may be mental or physical, intentional or unintentional. If it is physical, the Court will have no problem in determining it. It is a question of fact and degree. If it is mental, the problem presents difficulties. First, the enquiry must begin as to the nature of cruel treatment, second the impact of such treatment in the mind of the spouse, whether it caused reasonable apprehension that it would be harmful or injurious to live with the other. Ultimately, 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. However, there may be a case where the conduct complained of itself is bad enough and per se unlawful or illegal. Then the impact or injurious 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 (See Sobha Rani v. Madhukar Reddi (1988) 1 SCC 105). To constitute cruelty, the conduct complained of should be "grave and weighty" so as to come to the conclusion that the petitioner spouse cannot be reasonably expected to live with the other spouse. It must be something more serious than "ordinary wear and tear of married life". The conduct taking into consideration the circumstances and background has to be examined to reach the conclusion whether the conduct complained of amounts to cruelty in the matrimonial law. Conduct has to be considered, as noted above, in the background of several factors such as social status of parties, their education, physical and mental conditions, customs and traditions. It is difficult to lay down a precise definition or to give exhaustive descripttion of the circumstances, which would constitute cruelty. It must be of the type as to satisfy the conscience of the Court that the relationship between the parties had deteriorated to such extent due to the conduct of the other spouse that it would be impossible for them to live together without mental agony, torture or distress, to entitle the complaining spouse to secure divorce. Physical violence is not absolutely essential to constitute cruelty and a consistent course of conduct inflicting immeasurable mental agony and torture may well constitute cruelty within the meaning of Section 10 of the Act. Mental cruelty may consist of verbal abuses and insults by using filthy and abusive language leading to constant disturbance of mental peace of the other party. The Court dealing with the petition for divorce on the ground of cruelty has to bear in mind that the problems before it are those of human beings and the psychological changes in a spouse's conduct have to be borne in mind before disposing of the petition for divorce. However, insignificant or trifling, such conduct may cause pain in the mind of another. But before the conduct can be called cruelty, it must touch a certain pitch of severity. It is for the Court to weigh the gravity. It has to be seen whether the conduct was such that no reasonable person would tolerate it. It has to be considered whether the complainant should be called upon to endure as a part of normal human life. Every matrimonial conduct, which may cause annoyance to the other, may not amount to cruelty. Mere trivial irritations, quarrels between spouses, which happen in day-to-day married life, may also not amount to cruelty. Cruelty in matrimonial life may be of unfounded variety, which can be subtle or brutal. It may be words, gestures or by mere silence, violent or non-violent.
The foundation of a sound marriage is tolerance, adjustment and respecting one another. Tolerance to each other's fault to a certain bearable extent has to be inherent in every marriage. Petty quibbles, trifling differences should not be exaggerated and magnified to destroy what is said to have been made in heaven. All quarrels must be weighed from that point of view in determining what constitutes cruelty in each particular case and as noted above, always keeping in view the physical and mental conditions of the parties, their character and social status. A too technical and hyper- sensitive approach would be counter-productive to the institution of marriage. The Courts do not have to deal with ideal husbands and ideal wives. It has to deal with particular man and woman before it. The ideal couple or a mere ideal one will probably have no occasion to go to Matrimonial Court. In Durga P.Tripathy v. Arundhati Tripathy, (2005) 7 SCC 353, this Court further observed that Marriages are made in heaven. Both parties have crossed the point of no return. A workable solution is certainly not possible. Parties cannot at this stage reconcile themselves and live together forgetting their past as a bad dream. We, therefore, have no other option except to allow the appeal and set aside the judgment of the High Court and affirming the order of the Family Court granting decree for divorce.
In Lalitha v. Manickswamy, I (2001) DMC 679 SC that the had cautioned in that case that unusual step of granting the divorce was being taken only to clear up the insoluble mess when the Court finds it in the interests of both the parties.
Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage
Irretrievable breakdown of marriage is not a ground for divorce under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. Because of the change of circumstances and for covering a large number of cases where the marriages are virtually dead and unless this concept is pressed into services, the divorce cannot be granted. Ultimately, it is for the Legislature whether to include irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a ground of divorce or not but in our considered opinion the Legislature must consider irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a ground for grant of divorce under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. The 71st Report of the Law Commission of India briefly dealt with the concept of Irretrievable breakdown of marriage. This Report was submitted to the Government on 7th April, 1978. We deem it appropriate to recapitulate the recommendation extensively. In this Report, it is mentioned that during last 20 years or so, and now it would around 50 years, a very important question has engaged the attention of lawyers, social scientists and men of affairs, namely, should the grant of divorce be based on the fault of the party, or should it be based on the breakdown of the marriage? The former is known as the matrimonial offence theory or fault theory. The latter has come to be known as the breakdown theory.
In the Report, it is mentioned that the germ of the breakdown theory, so far as Commonwealth countries are concerned, may be found in the legislative and judicial developments during a much earlier period. The (New Zealand) Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Amendment Act, 1920, included for the first time the provision that a separation agreement for three years or more was a ground for making a petition to the court for divorce and the court was given a discretion (without guidelines) whether to grant the divorce or not. The discretion conferred by this statute was exercised in a case in New Zealand reported in 1921. Salmond J., in a passage which has now become classic, enunciated the breakdown principle in these word:
"The Legislature must, I think, be
taken to have intended that
separation for three years is to be
accepted by this court, as prima
facie a good ground for divorce.
When the matrimonial relation has
for that period ceased to exist de
facto, it should, unless there are
special reasons to the contrary,
cease to exist de jure also. In
general, it is not in the interests of the parties or in the interest of the public that a man and woman
should remain bound together as
husband and wife in law when for a
lengthy period they have ceased to
be such in fact. In the case of such a separation the essential purposes
of marriage have been frustrated,
and its further continuance is in
general not merely useless but
In the Report it is mentioned that restricting the ground of divorce to a particular offence or matrimonial disability, causes injustice in those cases where the situation is such that although none of the parties is at fault, or the fault is of such a nature that the parties to the marriage do not want to divulge it, yet there has arisen a situation in which the marriage cannot be worked. The marriage has all the external appearances of marriage, but none of the reality. As is often put pithily, the marriage is merely a shell out of which the substance is gone. In such circumstances, it is stated, there is hardly any utility in maintaining the marriage as a fagade, when the emotional and other bounds which are of the essence of marriage have disappeared.
It is also mentioned in the Report that in case the marriage has ceased to exist in substance and in reality, there is no reason for denying divorce, then the parties alone can decide whether their mutual relationship provides the fulfillment which they seek. Divorce should be seen as a solution and an escape route out of a difficult situation. Such divorce is unconcerned with the wrongs of the past, but is concerned with bringing the parties and the children to terms with the new situation and developments by working out the most satisfactory basis upon which they may regulate their relationship in the changed circumstances.
On May 22, 1969, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland accepted the Report of their Moral and Social Welfare Board, which suggested the substitution of breakdown in place of matrimonial offences. It would be of interest to quote what they said in their basis proposals:
"Matrimonial offences are often the
outcome rather than the cause of
the deteriorating marriage. An
accusatorial principle of divorce
tends to encourage matrimonial
offences, increase bitterness and
widen the rift that is already there. Separation for a continuous period
of at least two years consequent
upon a decision of at least one of the parties not to live with the other
should act as the sole evidence of
Once the parties have separated and the separation has continued for a sufficient length of time and one of them has presented a petition for divorce, it can well be presumed that the marriage has broken down. The court, no doubt, should seriously make an endeavour to reconcile the parties; yet, if it is found that the breakdown is irreparable, then divorce should not be withheld. The consequences of preservation in law of the unworkable marriage which has long ceased to be effective are bound to be a source of greater misery for the parties.
A law of divorce based mainly on fault is inadequate to deal with a broken marriage. Under the fault theory, guilt has to be proved; divorce courts are presented concrete instances of human behaviour as bring the institution of marriage into disrepute.
We have been principally impressed by the consideration that once the marriage has broken down beyond repair, it would be unrealistic for the law not to take notice of that fact, and it would be harmful to society and injurious to the interests of the parties. Where there has been a long period of continuous separation, it may fairly be surmised that the matrimonial bond is beyond repair. The marriage becomes a fiction, though supported by a legal tie. By refusing to sever that tie the law in such cases do not serve the sanctity of marriage; on the contrary, it shows scant regard for the feelings and emotions of the parties. Public interest demands not only that the married status should, as far as possible, as long as possible, and whenever possible, be maintained, but where a marriage has been wrecked beyond the hope of salvage, public interest lies in the recognition of that fact.
Since there is no acceptable way in which a spouse can be compelled to resume life with the consort, nothing is gained by trying to keep the parties tied for ever to a marriage that in fact has ceased to exist.
Some jurists have also expressed their apprehension for introduction of irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a ground for grant of the decree of divorce. In their opinion, such an amendment in the Act would put human ingenuity at a premium and throw wide open the doors to litigation, and will create more problems then are sought to be solved.
The other majority view, which is shared by most jurists, according to the Law Commission Report, is that human life has a short span and situations causing misery cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely. A halt has to be called at some stage. Law cannot turn a blind eye to such situations, nor can it decline to give adequate response to the necessities arising therefrom.
When we carefully evaluate the judgment of the High Court and scrutinize its findings in the background of the facts and circumstances of this case, then it becomes obvious that the approach adopted by the High Court in deciding this matter is far from satisfactory.
The High Court ought to have considered the repercussions, consequences, impact and ramifications of all the criminal and other proceedings initiated by the parties against each other in proper perspective. For illustration, the High Court has mentioned that so far as the publication of the news item is concerned, the status of husband in a registered company was only that of an employee and if any news item is published, in such a situation, it could not, by any stretch of imagination be taken to have lowered the prestige of the husband. In the next para 69 of the judgment that in one of the news item what has been indicated was that in the company, Nikhil Rubber (P) Ltd., the appellant was only a Director along with Mrs. Neelu Kohli whom held 94.5% share of Rs.100/- each in the company. The news item further indicated that Naveen Kohli was acting against the spirit of the Article of the Association of Nikhil Rubber (P) Ltd., had caused immense loss of business and goodwill. He has stealthily removed produce of the company, besides diverted orders of foreign buyers to his proprietorship firm M/s Navneet Elastomers. He had opened bank account with forged signatures of Mrs. Neelu Kohli and fabricated resolution of the Board of Directors of the company. Statutory authority-Companies Act had refused to register documents filed by Mr. Naveen Kolhi and had issued show cause notice. All business associates were cautioned to avoid dealing with him alone. Neither the company nor Mrs. Neelu Kohli shall be liable for the acts of Mr. Naveen Kohli. Despite the aforementioned finding that the news item was intended to caution business associates to avoid dealing with the appellant then to come to this finding in the next para that it will by no stretch of imagination result in mental cruelty is wholly untenable.
The findings of the High Court that the respondent wife's cautioning the entire world not to deal with the appellant (her husband) would not lead to mental cruelty is also wholly unsustainable.
The High Court ought to have examined the facts of the case and its impact. In the instant case, the following cases were filed by the respondent against the appellant.
1. The respondent filed FIR No. 100/96 at Police Station, Kohna under Sections 379/323 IPC
2. The respondent got a case registered under Sections 323/324 registered in the police station Panki, Kanpur City.
3. At the behest of the respondent FIR No.156 of 1996 was also filed in the police station, Panki.
4. The respondent filed FIR under Section 420/468 IPC at the Police Station, Kotwali.
5. The respondent got a case registered under Section under Sections 420/467/468 and 471 IPC.
6. The respondent filed a complaint against the appellant under Sections 498A/323/504/506 IPC at Police Station, Kohna.
7. The respondent had even gone to the extent of opposing the bail application of the appellant in criminal case filed at the police station, Kotwali
8. When police filed final report in two criminal cases at police station, Kotwali and police station, Kohna, the respondent filed protest petition in these cases.
9. The respondent filed complaint no.125 of 1998 in the Women Cell, Delhi in September 1997 against the appellant's lawyer and friend alleging criminal intimidation.
10. The respondent filed a complaint under sections 397/398 before the Company Law Board, New Delhi.
11. The respondent filed a complaint in Case No.1365 0f 1988 against the appellant.
12. Again on 8.7.1999, the respondent filed a complaint in the Parliament Street Police Station, New Delhi and made all efforts to get the appellant arrested.
13. On 31.3.1999, the respondent have sent a notice for breaking the Nucleus of the HUF.
14. The respondent filed a complaint against the appellant under Section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act.
15. The respondent had withdrawn Rs.9,50,000/- from the bank account of the appellant in a clandestine manner.
16. On 22.1.01 the respondent gave affidavit before the High Court and got non-bailable warrants issued against the appellant.
17. The respondent got an advertisement issued in a national newspaper that the appellant was only her employee. She got another news item issued cautioning the business associates to avoid dealing with the appellant.
The findings of the High Court that these proceedings could not be taken to be such which may warrant annulment of marriage is wholly unsustainable.
Even at this stage, the respondent does not want divorce by mutual consent. From the analysis and evaluation of the entire evidence, it is clear that the respondent has resolved to live in agony only to make life a miserable hell for the appellant as well. This type of adamant and callous attitude, in the context of the facts of this case, leaves no manner of doubt in our mind that the respondent is bent upon treating the appellant with mental cruelty. It is abundantly clear that the marriage between the parties had broken down irretrievably and there is no chance of their coming together, or living together again.
The High Court ought to have appreciated that there is no acceptable way in which the parties can be compelled to resume life with the consort, nothing is gained by trying to keep the parties tied forever to a marriage that in fact has ceased to exist.
Undoubtedly, it is the obligation of the Court and all concerned that the marriage status should, as far as possible, as long as possible and whenever possible, be maintained, but when the marriage is totally dead, in that event, nothing is gained by trying to keep the parties tied forever to a marriage which in fact has ceased to exist. In the instant case, there has been total disappearance of emotional substratum in the marriage. The course which has been adopted by the High Court would encourage continuous bickering, perpetual bitterness and may lead to immorality.
In view of the fact that the parties have been living separately for more than 10 years and a very large number of aforementioned criminal and civil proceedings have been initiated by the respondent against the appellant and some proceedings have been initiated by the appellant against the respondent, the matrimonial bond between the parties is beyond repair. A marriage between the parties is only in name. The marriage has been wrecked beyond the hope of salvage, public interest and interest of all concerned lies in the recognition of the fact and to declare defunct de jure what is already defunct de facto. To keep the sham is obviously conducive to immorality and potentially more prejudicial to the public interest than a dissolution of the marriage bond.
The High Court ought to have visualized that preservation of such a marriage is totally unworkable which has ceased to be effective and would be greater source of misery for the parties.
The High Court ought to have considered that a human problem can be properly resolved by adopting a human approach. In the instant case, not to grant a decree of divorce would be disastrous for the parties. Otherwise, there may be a ray of hope for the parties that after a passage of time (after obtaining a decree of divorce) the parties may psychologically and emotionally settle down and start a new chapter in life.
In our considered view, looking to the peculiar facts of the case, the High Court was not justified in setting aside the order of the Trial Court. In our opinion, wisdom lies in accepting the pragmatic reality of life and take a decision which would ultimately be conducive in the interest of both the parties.
Consequently, we set aside the impugned judgment of the High Court and direct that the marriage between the parties should be dissolved according to the provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. In the extra-ordinary facts and circumstances of the case, to resolve the problem in the interest of all concerned, while dissolving the marriage between the parties, we direct the appellant to pay Rs.25,00,000/- (Rupees Twenty five lacs) to the respondent towards permanent maintenance to be paid within eight weeks. This amount would include Rs.5,00,000/- (Rupees five lacs with interest) deposited by the appellant on the direction of the Trial Court. The respondent would be at liberty to withdraw this amount with interest. Therefore, now the appellant would pay only Rs.20,00,000/- (Rupees Twenty lacs) to the respondent within the stipulated period. In case the appellant fails to pay the amount as indicated above within the stipulated period, the direction given by us would be of no avail and the appeal shall stand dismissed. In awarding permanent maintenance we have taken into consideration the financial standing of the appellant.
Before we part with this case, on the consideration of the totality of facts, this Court would like to recommend the Union of India to seriously consider bringing an amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 to incorporate irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a ground for the grant of divorce. A copy of this judgment be sent to the Secretary, Ministry of Law & Justice, Department of Legal Affairs, Government of India for taking appropriate steps.
The appeal is accordingly disposed of. In the facts and circumstances of the case we direct the parties to bear their own costs.