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Cruelty As Ground Of Divorce Under Hindu Marriage Act, 1955

Marriage has been the greatest and most important institution in human civilization from the dawn of humanity. It has always existed in some form in every culture, providing societal legitimacy to a bonding experience between man and woman and establishing the groundwork for the family, society's building block.[1] It necessitates reciprocal respect, esteem, love, and affection, as well as enough room for acceptable modifications with the spouse.

Marriage in India, is a sacred covenant and is arranged by two families rather than two people. It is attempted to be protected by both society and Indian law. In addition, the partnership must adhere to societal standards. Matrimonial behaviour is now controlled by a legislation that was drafted with such norms and the changing social order in mind.


The purpose of marriage is to promote self-control and affection for the entire family, which keeps the family together and prevents it from breaking apart. Every couple attempts to keep their relationship by putting aside their disagreements because marriages are very crucial, but things change when you can no longer control the circumstance, and divorce[2] is the last resort for such broken relationships.

Divorce refers to the legal breakup or dissolution of a marriage so that one can leave his or her spouse and be free of marital obligations. The day-to-day events in a marital relationship cause ambiguity in the partners' ability to live peacefully with each other. A simple argument, petty obnoxious behaviour, or disputes between spouses are all part of everyday marital life.[3] Cruelty[4], on the other hand, refers to acts of violence.


Cruelty-inducing behaviour should be extreme and severe in character. Cruelty is defined as a pattern of ill-treatment, mental or physical torment directed at one of the partners. Cruelty in marriage can be described in a variety of ways. It can take numerous forms, depending on the socioeconomic level and circumstances of the parties to the marriage. It differs from one individual to another. It also changes depending on the period, location, economic condition, and other factors.

The Shorter Oxford Dictionary 'cruelty' as 'the quality of being cruel; disposition of inflicting suffering; enjoyment of or indifference to another's pain; mercilessness; hard-heartedness'.[5]
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.[6]

The courts identify numerous grounds for claim on the basis of cruelty and forms of cruelty in their varied judgments, and the courts give legal support for the sufferer in this regard. In a sensitive human connection such as marriage, one must consider the situational possibilities.[7] Cruelty can be physical or mental in nature. There can be visible and direct proof in the case of physical cruelty, but there may not be obvious evidence in the case of mental cruelty. [8]

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 gives one of the most extensive definition of term cruelty. The Act defines domestic violence to include actual abuse or threat of abuse� physical, sexual, verbal, emotional or economic violence. Section 3 of the Act says that any act, omissions or commission or conduct of the respondent shall constitute domestic violence in case it (a) harms or injures or endangers the health, safety of life, limb or wellbeing, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse; physical abuse� means any act or conduct which is of such a nature as to cause bodily pain, harm, or danger to life, limb, or health or impair the health or development of the aggrieved person and includes assault, criminal intimidation and criminal force.[9]


An effort was made to define cruelty in the classic English case of Russel v. Russel,[10] which contained the first use of the term.

Cruelty was held to be a conduct of such character as to have caused danger to life or health, bodily or mentally, gives rise to reasonable apprehension of such danger. The definition includes both physical and mental cruelty within its scope but it also emphasizes on the typical nineteenth century belief that no act can amount to cruelty unless it creates an apprehension or actually causes injury to the petitioner�.

Cruelty was never considered as a reason for divorce; instead, it was used solely in situations of judicial separation. The Supreme Court, however, affirmed this in the landmark decision of Narayan Ganesh Dastane Vs. Sucheta Narayan Dastane[11] in 1975.

Cruelty as a basis for divorce was added to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955,[12] with the addition of a legal meaning to the term cruelty in 1976. In India, 1976, the legislation was amended to make it a cause, keeping in mind the changing mores of society.�[13]

A marriage can be dissolved by a decree of divorce on the premise that the petitioner was treated with cruelty after the solemnization of marriage,� according to the law. As a result, if one husband or wife treats the other cruelly after marriage, either can get a divorce.

Voluntary sexual intercourse with any person other than his or her spouse�; cruelty�; desertion for a continuous period of not less than two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition�; cess(ing) to be a Hindu by conversion to another religion�; and being incurably of unsound mind� are all grounds for divorce under Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act.[14]
Cruelty for the purpose of section 13 (1) (i-a)[15] is to be taken as a behaviour by one spouse towards the other which produces reasonable concern in the latter's mind that continuing the marital bond with the other is not safe.
Cruelty may be divided into two main categories:

Physical cruelty
Physical cruelty on either of the partner would include any physical aggression, bodily injuries, or threats to life, limb, or health that appear to cause fear in the minds of either of the partners. Establishing Physical cruelty is not a difficult chore because physical violence is one of the most prevalent causes of divorce. Assault, serious bodily harm, and cruelty are all intertwined and don't make much of a distinction. Physical cruelty is defined as purposeful physical violence or physical beatings. Physical cruelty includes pushing, slapping, beating, punching, and burning with cigarettes. It is sometimes known as "domestic violence," almost invariably refers to injury inflicted on one spouse by the other.[16]

Mental cruelty
Even though the HMA itself doesn't define mental cruelty as such, the Apex court has defined and established the grounds for mental cruelty in ample verdicts.
In Bhagat v. Bhagat,[17] the Hon'ble Supreme Court defined mental cruelty 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".
A consistent course of conduct inflicting immeasurable mental agony and torture may constitute mental cruelty.[18]

Unusually callous, neglectful and deliberately harassful conduct, False accusations, Drunkenness[19], Reprehensible Conduct , Nagging, Indignity, neglect and indifference, Sex Perversion, Communication of disease, Ill-treatment, Demand for dowry, Demand to live separately, Threat to commit suicide, Marital Rape, Temperamental differences, are described as mental cruelty in various pronouncement of Honourable Courts.[20]

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.�[21]

Cruelty from either of the spouse is a violation of the fundamental right to dignity and liberty. The Indian Constitution, which is the country's founding document, guarantees the right to a dignified life as part of the right to life under Article 21. A breach of the same is inflicting bodily and emotional anguish and suffering on the other.

Even though cruelty is a serious crime, it is rarely discussed. We Indians are accustomed to it. Even if we do our hardest, we will not be able to change everyone's mentality since in India, women rarely file complaints against their spouses and in-laws because to fear, family pressure, societal pressure, a lack of understanding, or police failure. Finally, they come to terms with their situation through enduring cruelty as well as all of the aforementioned stresses.

The concept of marriage is no longer thought to be about a sacred union of two hearts, but rather has evolved into a common contract between two individuals in the strict sense of the term, where one is committed to another to perform marital duties. There are fewer divorce complaints filed on the basis of cruelty. People, in general, tend to assimilate into whatever situation they find themselves in.

Cruelty in marriage may come in a number of forms, from subtle to violent. It can be expressed by words, gestures, or silence and it can be aggressive or nonviolent. It varies depending on who you are and what situation you are in. There is no provision for defining exactly what is. It is up to the courts to determine what constitutes cruelty to a specific individual in specific circumstances. Despite the speculative character of cruelty, the Indian marriage statute deems cruelty to be a form of marital wrong.

Anyone can bring a claim for a divorce based on cruelty; the case will be resolved solely on the circumstances of the case; the court may expand or summarise the meaning of cruelty as they see fit, within the bounds of the law and without prejudice. People must realise that the safeguards in place will assist and protect you against ill-treatment. As a result, rules may differ depending on state laws or the grounds that come under the definition of cruelty. Talking to a professional/therapist about difficulties and concerns can help relieve the emotional strain and pressure that may have been created by matrimonial cruelty, abuse or wrongdoing.

  1. Ayushi Laxmi Verma, Cruelty As A Ground For Divorce Trends Through Ages: A Study, Vol. 1 International Journal of Law Management & Humanities (IJLMH) 1 , 2 (2018),
  2. Replevin, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014).
  3. Pothen, S. Divorce in Hindu Society�, 20 Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 377, 381, (1989).
  4. Id.
  5. Stevenson, Angus, and Lesley Brown, Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  6. A. Jayachandra v. Aneel Kaur reported in (2005) 2 SCC 22.
  7. Rajani v. Subramonian AIR 1990 Ker
  8. Id.
  9. Sec 3 of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005
  10. Russel v. Russel, 1997 A.C. 303.
  11. Narayan Ganesh Dastane Vs. Sucheta Narayan Dastane 1975 AIR 1534.
  12. Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, No. 25, Acts of Parliament, 1955, (India).
  13. V. Bhagat v. D. Bhagat, (1994) 1 S.C.C. 337.
  14. Sec 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act.
  15. Sec 13(1) (i-a) of the Hindu Marriage Act.
  16. Divorce Support, (last visited Jul 14 2021).
  17. AIR 1994 SC 710
  18. Naveen Kohli v. Neelu Kohli, AIR 2004 All 1.
  19. Rita v. Brij Kishore AIR 1976 Raj.
  20. Dr. Diwan Paras, Law of Marriage and Divorce (6th Ed. 2012) Universal Law Publication.
  21. Article 5, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, (UDHR).

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