The Landmark Samar Ghosh v. Jaya Ghosh case
, a watershed moment in the Hindu
Marriage Act, transformed the understanding of mental cruelty in divorce
proceedings. Its frequent citation in Supreme Court and High Court decisions
demonstrates its tremendous importance in the legal environment. In this case,
the appellant successfully established a case of mental cruelty, resulting in
the issuance of a divorce.
Recognizing the complexities of human conduct, the
court wisely chose to reject the concept of a broad, all-encompassing definition
of mental cruelty. It recognized that cruelty is a very subjective experience
that is closely intertwined with a person's upbringing, sensitivity, educational
background, personal history, and a plethora of other elements.
court acknowledged the constantly changing cultural standards that impact our
concept of mental cruelty, making a consistent approach unworkable. As a result,
evaluating divorce judgments in instances involving mental cruelty requires a
comprehensive and context-specific technique that takes into consideration the
diverse and fluid character of this sophisticated legal notion.
Cruelty is considered as grounds for divorce and is defined under 'Sec 13(1) (i-a)'
of 'The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955' has, after the solemnization of the marriage,
treated the petitioner with cruelty; or 
Cruelty is defined as "behavior that causes physical or mental pain to others
and causes them to suffer, especially intentionally." Cruelty as a basis for
divorce might be defined as intentional and unjustifiable behavior that
endangers life, limb, or health, bodily or mental, or gives rise to a reasonable
fear of such a risk. Cruelty may be both physical and mental in nature.
case of Samar Ghosh v. Jaya Ghosh
 the learned court expanded the definition
of the word "mental cruelty" and provided grounds and illustrations for the term
mental cruelty as grounds for divorce under the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955.
Issues Of The Case:
- Both the appellant and the respondent were senior Indian Administrative
Service (IAS) personnel. The appellant and respondent married in Calcutta on
December 13, 1984, in accordance with the Special Marriage Act of 1954. The
respondent is a divorcee with a daughter from a previous marriage. The
respondent was given custody of the kid against her first husband, Debashish
Gupta, who was also an IAS officer.
- According to the appellant, shortly after the marriage respondent asked
the appellant not to interfere with the carrier, the respondent unilaterally
declared that she would not have any children from the marriage for at least
two years and that the appellant should not try to interface an inquiry
about the child
- The two had a disagreement in the realms of love, affection, future
planning, and normal human connections. The appellant has attempted to
adjust himself to the position produced by the respondent.
- The appellant asserted that the respondent's inhuman behavior towards
him became apparent in no time. Also, during the applicant's prolonged
illness, the respondent refused to look after him and took care of him. For
the same reason, the applicant has put all his possible efforts into
adjustments and built a normal family. He even visited Chinsurah every
weekend, where the respondent was posted. The applicant used to feel like a
stranger in his own family. The applicant felt that the marriage with the
respondent was merely an eyewitness because serious matrimonial problems
developed between them and kept on growing.
- The respondent was transferred to Calcutta in May 1985 and was allotted
a flat at the Minto Park House Estate allotted to the appellant. The respondent
used to come in contact with the domestic servant and cook, who used to live in
the flat and do all the domestic household chores. The respondent used to make
the allegation that her daughter was neglected and that she might even be hard
on the domestic servant-cum-cook, Prabir Malik. Both the applicant and the
respondent started leaving separately in September 1985.
- Later in the year 1988, the appellant again tried to establish his home
with the respondent after forgetting their past. According to the appellant,
the respondent never treated the house as her family house. The mother of
the respondent and the respondent himself used to tell her daughter that the
appellant was not her father. Both the daughter and the mother of the
respondent used to start avoiding the appellant. The respondent used to tell
the appellant that he was not the father of the child and that he should
stop talking and loving the child. This used to offend the appellant.
- According to the appellant, Prabir Malik came to the flat on August 24, 1990,
and stayed there that night. The next two days, which were holidays, the
respondent and her father also came there on August 25, 1990. On seeing Prabir
Malik (servant-cum-cook), she lost her temper and mental equanimity and started
shouting at the appellant. He was later asked to leave the flat, and it was seen
that this act was preconceived. The appellant felt very humiliated and left the
flat and had to stay with a friend for a temporary shelter until he was allotted
a government flat in his name on September 13, 1990.
- Both the appellant and respondent have been living separately since
27-8-1990. The respondent has refused to cooperate and has stopped sharing
his bed with him without any justification. The appellant also asserted that
the Respondent derives sadistic pleasure from the disagreement and plight of
the appellant, which greatly affected his health and mental peace. In
considering all these circumstances, the appellant would not be in a
position to continue the marriage with the respondent and eventually file a
suit for the grant of divorce.
After reviewing the plaint, written declarations, and evidence on record, the
learned Additional District Judge, Fourth Court, Alipore, framed the following
Trial Court Decision:
- Is the case maintainable?
- Is the respondent guilty of the claimed cruelty?
- Is the petitioner entitled to the divorce decree she seeks?
- What additional relief or reliefs does the petitioner have?
The learned trial court, after analyzing and considering all the evidence,
concluded that the following facts were indicative of mental cruelty on the part
of the respondent towards the appellant: the respondent refused to cohabit with
the appellant, unilaterally decided not to have a child after the marriage, and
ejected the appellant from the Minto Park apartment on 25-8-1990, forcing the
appellant to seek shelter with a friend until another one was allotted.
trial court further noted that the respondent went to the flat and cooked
entirely for himself, allowing the appellant to eat outside or prepare his
meals. Furthermore, while the appellant suffered from a protracted sickness in
1985, the respondent did not care for him. , the respondent failed to care for
the appellant throughout his extended sickness in 1985 and failed to enquire
about it when the appellant needed bypass surgery in 1993.
respondent degraded and drove out the appellant's royal servant-cum-cook, Prabir
Malik. After taking these findings into account, the learned extra district
judge concluded that the appellant had successfully established the case of
mental cruelty against the respondent. As a result, the divorce was issued by an
order dated December 19, 1996, and the parties' marriage was dissolved.
High Court Decision:
The respondent, who was unhappy with the learned additional district judge's
judgment, filed an appeal before the high court. The high court's learned
division bench issued a ruling on May 20, 2003, reserving the additional
district judge's decision on the grounds
The High Court ruled that the respondent woman, with her high social standing,
had the right to choose when she wanted to have a child after marriage. The
appellant failed to disclose when the respondent made the decision not to have a
child and failed to provide an approximate date when informed of the judgment.
The court found that the appellant's living with the respondent amounted to
condoning cruelty. The court dismissed the appellant's claim that the respondent
refused to reside with him because he failed to provide the date, month, or
The court also ruled that the appellant and respondent sleeping in
separate rooms did not imply they did not cohabit. The court also stated that
refusing to cook in such a situation, when the parties belonged to the upper
crust of society and the wife had to go to work, could not be considered mental
cruelty. The court's decision that the wife's failure to meet with the husband
during his sickness did not amount to mental cruelty.
Supreme Court Decision:
After the High Court reserved the Trial court's decision because the appellant
had not been able to show the accusation of mental cruelty, the appellant was
brought before the Supreme Court by special leave, which allowed the appeal.
The learned Additional District Judge granted and issued the decision in the
mental cruelty suit. In view of the law expressed by a series of instances, the
learned supreme court considers it is important to assess whether the High Court
was justified in reversing the learned Additional District Judge's verdict. He
feels that dealing with the issues that have been determined is appropriate.
The Honourable Supreme Court had objectively assessed these judgments in light
of established law, and must first grasp and comprehend the idea of cruelty by
relying on serious Judgements and definitions as stated below:
- � N.G. Dastane (Dr.) v. S. Dastane
- � Sirajmohmedkhan Janmohamadkhan v. Hafizunnisa Yasinkhan [(1981) 4 SCC 250]
- � Rajani v. Subramonian [AIR 1990 Ker 1]
- � V. Bhagat v. D. Bhagat [(1994) 1 SCC 337] para 16 at SCC p. 347
- � Chetan Dass v. Kamla Devi [(2001) 4 SCC 250], para 14 at SCC pp. 258-59
- � Savitri Pandey v. Prem Chandra Pandey [(2002) 2 SCC 73] (SCC p. 80, para 6)
- � Gananath Pattnaik v. State of Orissa [(2002) 2 SCC 619 : 2002 SCC (Cri) 461] under: (SCC p. 622, para 7)
- � Parveen Mehta v. Inderjit Mehta [(2002) 5 SCC 706], SCC at pp. 716-17, para 21
This extract is taken from Samar Ghosh v. Jaya Ghosh, (2007) 4 SCC 511: 2007 SCC
OnLine SC 423 at page 545
98. On proper analysis and scrutiny of the judgments of this Court and other
courts, we have come to the definite conclusion that "there cannot be any
comprehensive definition of the concept of "mental cruelty" within which all
kinds of cases of mental cruelty can be covered. No court in our considered view
should even attempt to give a comprehensive definition of mental cruelty"
99. Human mind is extremely complex and human behaviour is equally complicated.
Similarly human ingenuity has no bound, therefore, to assimilate the entire
human behaviour in one definition is almost impossible. "What is cruelty in one
case may not amount to cruelty in other case. The concept of cruelty differs
from person to person depending upon his upbringing, level of sensitivity,
educational, family and cultural background, financial position, social status,
customs, traditions, religious beliefs, human values and their value system."
100. Apart from this, "the concept of mental cruelty cannot remain static;" it
is bound to change with the passage of time, impact of modern culture through
print and electronic media and value system, etc. etc. What may be mental
cruelty now may not remain a mental cruelty after a passage of time or vice
versa. "There can never be any straitjacket formula or fixed parameters for
determining mental cruelty in matrimonial matters. The prudent and appropriate
way to adjudicate the case would be to evaluate it on its peculiar facts and
circumstances while taking aforementioned factors in consideration."
After careful consideration of the decisions of this Court and other courts, the
Supreme Court came to the firm conclusion that there can be no comprehensive
definition of "mental cruelty" that encompasses all types of incidents of mental
cruelty. No court in our considered view should even attempt to give a
comprehensive definition of mental cruelty
Human behavior and the human intellect are both incredibly complex. Similarly,
human creativity knows no bounds, making it nearly difficult to include all
human behavior in a single description. What is cruelty in one circumstance may
not be cruelty in another. Cruelty is defined differently by each individual
based on his or her upbringing, level of sensitivity, educational, family, and
cultural background, financial situation, social standing, customs, traditions,
religious views, human values, and value system.
Apart from that, mental cruelty cannot be static; it is destined to vary with
time, the effect of modern culture through print and electronic media, and value
systems, among other things. What is mental cruelty now may not be mental
cruelty in the future, or vice versa. There can never be a formula or set of
guidelines for assessing mental cruelty in marital cases. The reasonable and
suitable approach to adjudicating the matter would be to analyse it based on its
unique facts and circumstances while taking the aforementioned elements into
Although no general norm for guidance can ever be created, we feel it is
important to give some instances of human conduct that may be appropriate in
dealing with cases of "mental cruelty."
The following examples are only
illustrative and are not exhaustive:
- In light of the parties' whole married existence, intense mental pain, misery, and suffering that would make it impossible for the parties to live together might fall within the wide bounds of mental cruelty.
- A thorough examination of the parties' whole marital history reveals that the situation is such that the offended party cannot fairly be expected to put up with such behavior and continue to live with the other party.
- While mere coldness or lack of affection cannot be considered cruelty, regular rudeness of language, petulance of manner, apathy, and neglect can reach a point where the marital life for the other spouse is completely intolerable.
- Mental cruelty is a mental condition. For a long period, one spouse's tremendous grief, disappointment, and anger caused by the actions of the other may escalate to mental cruelty.
- A pattern of cruel and degrading treatment designed to torment, discommode, or make the spouse's life unpleasant.
- Persistently unjustified conduct and behavior by one spouse that has a negative impact on the physical and mental health of the other spouse. The treatment complained of, as well as the resulting risk or concern, must be grave and significant.
- Mental cruelty can also be defined as sustained abominable behavior, studied neglect, apathy, or utter deviation from the typical standard of conjugal friendliness that causes mental health harm or derives sadistic enjoyment.
- The conduct must be considerably more than jealousy, selfishness, and possessiveness, which creates misery and discontent, and emotional disturbance may not be grounds for divorce based on mental cruelty.
- Minor irritations, quarrels, and the usual wear and tear of marital life that occurs on a daily basis would not be sufficient grounds for granting divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty.
- The married life as a whole should be examined, and a few isolated incidents over a period of years do not constitute cruelty. If the relationship has deteriorated to the point that, due to the acts and behavior of a spouse, the offended party finds it exceedingly impossible to live with the other party anymore, the bad conduct may amount to mental cruelty.
- If a husband undergoes a sterilization operation for no medical reason and without the consent or knowledge of his wife, and similarly, if a wife undergoes a vasectomy or abortion for no medical reason and without the consent or knowledge of her husband, such an act of the spouse may lead to mental cruelty.
- A unilateral choice to refuse intercourse for an extended period of time without any physical inability or justifiable reason may amount to mental cruelty.
- The unilateral decision of either the husband or wife after marriage not to have a child from the marriage may be considered cruelty.
- After a lengthy time of continuous separation, it is reasonable to assume that the marriage link is irreparable. Despite a legal relationship, the marriage becomes a fantasy. In such circumstances, the law does not support the sanctity of marriage by refusing to remove that bond; on the contrary, it displays scant consideration for the couples' sentiments and emotions. In such cases, it may result in mental cruelty.
The Honorable Supreme Court observed that the High Court made a serious error in
overturning the learned Additional District Judge's judgment, which is based on
closely watching the demeanor of the parties and their respective witnesses, as
well as the ratio and spirit of the judgments of this Court and other courts, on
proper consideration of the cumulative facts and circumstances of this case.
The High Court erred in reversing a well-reasoned trial court judgment based on
a firm grasp of the concept of mental cruelty. As a result, the High Court's
judgment is reversed, and the learned Additional District Judge's decision is
Impact on Hindu Law:
The court has also witnessed the application and execution of the two theories
and approaches in the case of Samar Ghosh v. Jaya Ghosh, (2007) 4 SCC 511. There
are two approaches to divorce law: the Breakdown theory and the Fault theory.
The fault hypothesis focuses on a party's fault, whereas the breakdown theory
focuses on the marriage's dissolution. The fault theory necessitates proof of
wrongdoing, whereas the breakdown theory seeks a solution to a problematic
Divorce, according to the breakdown theory, should be viewed as an escape route,
allowing parties and children to come to grips with the new situation and
establish a satisfying basis for their relationship in the new circumstances. If
the marriage is irreparably broken, divorce should not be delayed, since the
repercussions of continuing an unsustainable marriage might create even more
agony for the persons involved. Both theories seek to address the concerns of
divorce and dissolution
The Samar Ghosh v. Jaya Ghosh
, (2007) 4 SCC 511 case is regarded as a
watershed moment in the Hindu Marriage Act on the basis of mental cruelty for
the duration of the order. For assessing divorce judgments and decrees, the
preceding case is cited 24 times in Supreme Court cases and 162 times in High
Court cases. The appellant successfully proved a case of mental cruelty against
the respondent, resulting in their divorce and marriage breakup.
Because human conduct is multifaceted and cannot be absorbed into a single
concept, the court ruled that there cannot be a comprehensive definition of
mental cruelty. Cruelty is defined differently by each individual based on
characteristics such as upbringing, sensitivity, education, familial and
cultural background, financial situation, social standing, conventions,
traditions, religious views, and values. Because of modern society and value
systems, the idea of mental cruelty is also vulnerable to change throughout
There can never be a one-size-fits-all methodology or set of guidelines for
assessing mental cruelty in marital cases. The reasonable and appropriate course
of action in this circumstance would be necessary in determining the decree of
- The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
- Samar Ghosh v. Jaya Ghosh, (2007) 4 SCC 511
- This extract is taken from Samar Ghosh v. Jaya Ghosh, (2007) 4 SCC 511:
2007 SCC OnLine SC 423 at page 545