Was High Court in error while pronouncing the Judgment?
The appellant and the Respondent got married in 1977.
• In 1983, the appellant filed a suit for dissolution of the marriage, alleging that his wife was suffering from severe mental disorder, psychiatrically recognised as ‘Schizophrenia’ which rendered her unsociable and despite competent professional treatment, her condition deteriorated to the point of making manifest in her suicidal tendencies and aggressive violent behaviour towards others.
• The appellant could not therefore be reasonably expected to live with the respondent as man and wife.
• The respondent denied the imputation of insanity.
• Both the husband and wife gave evidence, to prove their respective cases, other witnesses were also examined.
• The respondent produced a copy of the order passed by the Magistrate in proceedings initiated by the appellant in Lunacy Act for the committal of his wife to a mental asylum.
• The order stated that there was no abnormality in her, requiring institutionalized treatment.
• On appreciation of the evidence, the trial court accepted the case of the appellant and granted a decree for dissolution of the marriage.
• The respondent appealed in the High Court. Allowing the appeal, the High Court reversed the decree of dissolution of marriage, granted by the Trial Court. It held that the appellant had not shown that his wife’s mental illness was so severe as to justify a reasonable apprehension that it would be impossible or unsafe for the appellant to live with her. An appeal was then filed in the Supreme Court.
• High Court rightly accepted the part of appellant’s case about the suffering of the respondent, but fell in error in weighing the possible manifestation of that insidious disease in golden scales and in its conclusion that the appellant could yet live with her.
• If the evidence of conduct of the respondent is assessed in the background of the fact of her disease, there would be no room for any speculative allowance to be made for any possibility of any alternative hypothesis for that behaviour.
• In assessing the reasonableness of the husband’s apprehension that he could not be expected to spend the rest of his life with a ‘Schizophrenic’, due acknowledgment required to be made to his subjective susceptibilities also.
• The Appellant was determined to get rid of her, as a result of the domestic discord between her and the appellant’s mother and sister.
• Section 13(1)(iii) does not make the mere existence of a mental disorder of any degree sufficient to justify the dissolution of a marriage. The burden of proof of the existence of the requisite degree of mental disorder is on the spouse basing the claim on the state of facts.
• The High Court on a reasonable assessment of the situation, rightly came to the conclusion that the requisite degree of the mental-disorder which alone would justify dissolution of marriage has not be established and the decree of dissolution of marriage, granted by the trial court was not justified. Supreme Court relied on its few earlier judgments as well.
• The appeal was dismissed.
"Giving something a name seems to have a deadening influence upon all our relations to it. It brings matter to a finality. Nothing further seems to need to be done. The disease has been identified. The necessity for further understanding of it has ceased to exist." (See "The Auto- biography of a purpose": William Alanson White New York: Double-day & Co., 1938, p. 53) It is precisely for this reason that a learned authority on mental health saw wisdom in eschewing the mere choice of words and the hollowness they would bring with them. He said:"I do not use the word 'schizophrenia' because I do not think any such disease exists .... I know it means widely different things to different people. With a number of other psychiatrists, I hold that the words 'neurosis', 'psychoneurosis', 'psychopathic personality', and the like, are similarly valueless. I do not use them, and I try to prevent my students from using them, although the latter effort is almost futile once the psychiatrist discovers how conveniently ambiguous these terms really are ......"
"In general, we hold that mental illness should be thought and spoken of less in terms of disease entities than in terms of personality disorganization. We can precisely define organization and disorganization; we cannot precisely define disease ......."
"Of course, one can describe a 'manic' or a 'depressed' or a 'schizophrenic' constellation of symptoms, but what is most important about this constellation in each case? Not, we think, its curious external form, but rather what it indicates in regard to the process of disorganization and reorganization of a personality which is in a fluctuant state of attempted adjustment to environmental reality. Is the imbalance increasing or decreasing? To what is the stress related? What psychological factors are accessible to external modification? What latent capacities for PG NO 928 satisfaction in work, play, love, creativity, are discoverable for therapeutic planning? And this is language that can be understood. It is practical language and not language of incantation and exorcism. "
(Emphasis Supplied) (See Karl Menninger, "Communication and Mental Health", "The Menninger Quarterly (1962) p. 1--Readings in Law and Psychiatry: Richard C. Allen, Elyce Zenott Ferster, Jessee C. Rubin: Revised & Expanded Edn. 1975: page 38).
15. This medical-concern against too readily reducing a human being into a functional non-entity and as a negative- unit in family or society is law's concern also and is reflected, at least partially, in the requirements of Section 13(1)(iii). In the last analysis, the mere branding of a person as schizophrenic will not suffice. For purposes of Section 13(1)(iii) 'schizophrenia' is what Schizophrenia does.