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Cruelty: Changing Facets Of Using Mental Cruelty As A Ground For Divorce

Marriage is a sacred covenant that requires the blessing of the Almighty before it can be established. Marriage is a holy tie, not just between two people, but also between their families, according to Hindu culture and law, and not just a contract. Religious procedures with the fire god as witness are required for a marriage to be considered as valid under Hindu law.
Marriage is a vow to stay together in all circumstances, to support one other, to love, care for, and most importantly, to respect the other person and their decisions.

Marriage may appear to be a simple term, but it is far from simple. In real life, there is no such thing as a 'happily ever after,' as shown in movies and stories. Marriage is a life-long endeavor. You must work on it every day, nourish it with affection in order for it to grow healthily, embellish it with care in order for it to be adorable, and handle it delicately so that no one is wounded in the process.

Marriages were the only thing that was recognized in ancient times. There was no culture of marriages breaking down and eventually ending, which is referred to as divorce in basic words. The Divorce Act, 1869, was the first formal law dealing to divorce in India, enacted by the British for Christians.

Even today, in some parts of India, divorce is considered to be a taboo. The societal pressure that surrounds divorce, forces so many people, especially women, to stay tangled in 'agonizingly toxic' marriages. It's always a better choice to get apart and break the ties in relationships where one couldn't find felicity. Today, people seek divorce on varied grounds like mutual consent, adultery, cruelty, desertion, renunciation, etc. In this project, we will mainly deal with mental cruelty as a ground for divorce.

Cruelty: An Overview Of The Concept

Cruelty, in its most literal sense, entails being cruel to another person, either physically or through inflicting rudeness mentally. In a more limited sense, it just refers to some violent acts. When we apply the concept of cruelty to relationships, a simple disagreement or disagreements between spouses do not qualify as cruelty.

An act must have the nature of a terrible element to qualify as cruelty. Even while physical deeds are an important aspect of cruelty, grief does not have to be expressed in this way. A continuous sequence of ill treatment or mental suffering, in addition to physical acts of wrongdoing, constitutes cruelty.

Cruelty is defined as an act that causes the victim to be unable to live with their spouse due to conditions that make it hard for the victim to continue living with their spouse. In cases where cruelty is alleged, the facts are examined in light of other variables such as the parties' socioeconomic standing, educational backgrounds, and so on to determine whether or not the action qualifies as cruelty.

It's nearly impossible to properly define the range of situations that would constitute cruelty. In such a circumstance, it is up to the court's discretion to determine whether an act qualifies as cruelty based on its conscience.

Cruelty As A Ground For Divorce

Cruelty was never recognized as a reason for divorce in the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. Cruelty was only considered as a reason for judicial separation in circumstances when the parties desired it. The injured person was expected to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the cruelty perpetrated on them was severe enough to make it impossible for them to live a normal life with their spouse.

Cruelty was recognized as a reason for divorce in the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, which was amended in 1976. The words which were added said, "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".

Cruelty is mainly defined under section 498A of the Indian Penal Code.
For an act to qualify as cruelty under section 498A, the following pre-requisites must be followed:
  • The woman must be the legally wedded wife of the man who is alleged.
  • The woman must have confronted any act of cruelty or marital abuse.
  • Such cruelty must be inflicted upon her either by her husband or by her in-laws which include the parents and siblings of the husband and no one apart from them.

Provisions In The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955

Divorce on the grounds of cruelty is recognized under section 13(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act. of the Hindu Marriage Act, which says:
"Any marriage solemnized, whether before or after the commencement of this Act, may, on a petition presented by either the husband or the wife, be dissolved by a decree of divorce on the ground that the other party has, after the solemnization of the marriage, treated the petitioner with cruelty".

Even after including cruelty as a reason for divorce, the legislature failed to give a comprehensive definition. As a result, it is based on the judiciary's view of what is the best way to grant relief to the parties seeking divorce. Even before the 1976 amendment, the Supreme Court had not shied away from using cruelty as a basis for awarding divorce.

In the case of Dastane v. Dastane, 1975, the court determined that the wife's threats of suicide and verbal abuse of her husband and his father, among other things, were sufficient grounds for a divorce, which was granted on the basis of this mentally-inflicted cruelty.

Types Of Cruelty

Cruelty is basically recognized in two types:

Physical Cruelty

Physical cruelty, as the name suggests, entails acts of violence. At this point, it's crucial to note that the violence we're discussing must be limited to that which occurs within the confines of a married relationship. Physical cruelty includes acts of physical aggression, bodily injuries, life-threatening activities, and so on. Physical cruelty as a foundation for divorce is one of the simplest to establish in a court of law, as it is the most common reason for seeking divorce.

The Muslim Marriage Act of 1939 lists Habitual Assaults as one of the reasons for divorce. Assault is defined in Section 351 of the IPC as a serious crime that is punishable. The Parsi community recognizes "grievous harm" as a reason for divorce under the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936, which is defined under article 320 of the Indian Penal Code. As a result, we may safely assume that cruelty, assault, and grievous harm all fall within the category of physical violence, which is a good reason to seek divorce.

Mental Cruelty

An action that couldn't be proven so easily in the court of law, due to the absence of tangible effects of the same, mental cruelty has gained recognition in today's society. Torture need not necessarily come in form of physical hurt. It comes by way of emotional hurt too. And while it may be a little easier to treat the wounds that are evident on the outer surface of a human body, emotional or mental hurt is way more complicated to cure as no such medications are available to treat the woes of the heart.

Have you ever pondered why people choose to conclude their lives? The emotional anguish is bringing them closer to death. Mental anguish can be as heinous as forcing someone to commit suicide. And the most dangerous aspect of it is that it usually goes unreported. Nobody could see the injuries to the heart that had occurred. We may understand the alarming implications of being hurt by the person you thought you'd want to stay with till your last breath when we apply emotional damage to marriages. As a result, it's critical to realize how tough it is to stay in a relationship that causes mental anguish and causes you to doubt your own existence.

Who Is Entitled To Relief In Case Of Cruelty?

When we hear the words "cruelty" or "torture," our minds immediately go to the conclusion that a woman is being tortured by a man. However, it is not always appropriate to pity the woman, believing that only the man is to be blamed. Different cases reveal different scenarios, and torture of a man is not unheard of. Furthermore, if we overlook the gender boundary, a man or a woman are both human beings first, and all beings experience emotions�some in controlled amounts, while others in overwhelming ones. As a result, it would be a grave injustice if we continued to demonize a man without contemplating the chance that he himself would be wronged.

In the case of Mayadevi v. Jagdish Prasad, 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that in cases of emotional or mental torture inflicted on either spouse, not just the wife, the courts will not hesitate to grant divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty, which in simple terms means that a husband can get a divorce if the court finds sufficient reasons to believe that he was subjected to his wife's mental tortures. In this case, the husband filed a divorce petition, stating that his wife has treated him and his children with mental cruelty by depriving them of food and engaging in other forms of torture. The husband was granted divorce once the court was convinced of this.


How Mental Harassment Affects The Life Of An Individual?

A healthy body is defined by more than just the absence of sickness. To comprehensively describe a healthy being, a stable, trouble-free brain is also essential. And we're talking about a period in which mental health is a hot topic. Let us consider the effects of mental torture on a human being.

You expect the other person to adore, respect, and support you in your initiatives in a married relationship, and you make efforts to do the same. But what if, instead of loving you, your other significant half causes you mental harm? What impact will it have on you?
Torture of the mind may not always include verbal abuse or the threat of physical harm. Rather, it is the most minute things, that we fail to acknowledge. Cruelty, when taken in its widest sense covers up the most ordinary things that usually go unnoticed.

You want to wear a certain type of attire but your spouse refrains you from doing so, citing unjustifiable reasons, this too is cruelty. You want to work in a certain office or pursue a certain profession but your partner denies you opportunities for the same. Your spouse is forcing you to have a baby when you are not ready for it. Your partner has a problem with your college friend who belongs to the other gender. All these real-life scenarios constitute cruelty.

These little things aren't as insignificant as they might seem at the first glance. A lot of things, that we believe are of little value, leave disastrous effects on a person, who confronts them. Miniscule things, leave unamending effects on people, that leads to some insidious stress that keeps growing inside a person. This stress eventually leads to an unending and unsettling thought that keeps on bothering a person, making them question their choices. If this entire chain of events, take a bigger form, it could also lead to actions of self-harm or in the worst cases- suicide.

Human life is God's finest gift, and if something is powerful enough to drive a person to reject that gift and chose the path of slumber, it's time to address it. It's even more difficult to keep yourself together when the hurt or harassment comes from someone you thought was supposed to love and care for you. As a result, it is critical to recognize mental injury as a source of considerable distress and to take steps to help the victim.

Case Laws
Naveen Kohli v. Neelu Kohli
In this case, the husband filed for divorce on grounds of mental as well as physical cruelty. According to his claims, his wife had a quarrelsome nature and she constantly troubled his parents. Tired of the same, he was compelled to move away from his parents' house. After some time, he caught her in a compromising situation with a mutual acquaintance. He later realized that she had transferred hefty sum of money from his bank account to that of her own. The husband also alleged that she registered a fake FIR against him, pressing charges for acts he never committed. All these events inflicted great suffering on the husband and hence, he claimed divorce on grounds of mental cruelty.

The court, after due examination of the facts and circumstances, was of the view that the wife was adamant at making her husband's life miserable through the acts conducted by her and hence, the only remedy was to pass the decree for divorce, that would resolve the issue between them. So, the court granted divorce to the husband on the grounds of mental cruelty inflicted upon him, by his wife.

Yudhishthir Singh Vs. Smt. Sarita
Here, the wife filed an application for restitution of conjugal rights, within one year of her marriage. The facts of the case stated that her husband used to work in some other city, while she was supposed to live at her husband's ancestral house with his parents. Her husband used to visit her on weekends but whenever she would ask him to take her along with him, he would deny her request saying that he wasn't provided enough dowry by her parents.

Due to the unfulfilled demand of dowry, she was sent back to her parents' place and her husband never really made an effort to bring her back. She also alleged that her husband, with an intention to marry some other woman, tried obtaining the decree for divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty.

The court observed that, the allegation put by the husband were false in nature and the arguments put forth by him were vague and ambiguous. The demand of the wife was rightful and she was indeed inflicted with mental cruelty on the part of her husband. Hence, the court dismissed the plea of the husband.

If two people, can no longer find compatibility in a relationship, it is always desirable to part ways and start afresh. Divorce, indeed is a negative concept in itself- it marks the end of a relationship, that came into existence with an expectation of staying together with the other person throughout a lifetime. Infact, the Hindu culture believes in the bond of two people who remain together not just for this lifetime, but for the coming seven. Breaking that bond, which was built on the belief of being together in the journey till the end, is a distressing process, but staying together with pain and dissatisfaction every day, is pointless.

There can be a number of reasons for getting apart and choosing the recourse of divorce. Today, mental cruelty, as a ground for seeking divorce has gained popularity but the issue surrounding this ground is that physical cruelty can be easily proved through medical reports or visible injuries on the body but to prove something that is bothering the head and the heart, is quite challenging.

There are cases where, one party falsely alleges the other party of mental cruelty only for the sake of gaining some undue advantage by way of divorce.
In such a situation, the burden on the shoulders of the judiciary, increases significantly. There is no prescribed criterion for defining if something qualifies as mental cruelty or not. It is up to the reasonableness and discretion of the court to decide whether or not, it is justified to believe if any mental harassment has taken place.

The court, through its extraordinary prudence, has time and again, given welcome judgments of what it had deemed fit in a particular case. Hence, cases constituting mental cruelty and harassment, are a real test of wisdom and must be dealt accordingly.

  • Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
  • Section 498(A), Indian Penal Code, 1860
  • Muslim Marriage Act, 1939
  • Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936
  • Narayan Ganesh Dastane vs Sucheta Narayan Dastane, 1975 AIR 1534, 1975 SCR (3) 967
  • Smt. Maya Devi v. Jagdish Prasad, AIR 2007 SC 1426
  • Yudhishthir Singh Vs. Smt. Sarita, AIR 2002 Raj. 382
  • Naveen Kohli Vs. Neelu Kohli, AIR 2004 All 1

The books referred for completing this project are:
  • Family Law by Paras Diwan
  • Family Law in India by G.C.V Subba Rao
  • Modern Hindu Law by Paras Diwan
The websites referred are:

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