Mental Cruelty

Advocatetanmoy Judicial Dictionary


Cruelty contemplated by the sub-clause is both physical and mental. We are concerned herein with the latter. It is not possible to define ‘mental cruelty’ exhaustively. As observed by Lord Reid in Gollins v. Gollins, 1964 AC 644:

“No one has ever attempted to give a comprehensive definition of cruelty and I do not intend/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 requirements that the party seeking relief must show actual or probable injury to life, limb or health. It is easy to see that the origin of this requirement is the decision in the well known case of Russel v. Russel (1897 AC 395).”

To the same effect are the observations of Lord Pearce:

“It is impossible to give a comprehensive definition of cruelty, but when reprehensible conduct or departure from normal standards of conjugal kindness causes injury to health or an apprehension of it, it is, I think, cruelty if a resonable 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 endure it……..

I agree with the 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 it……….

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.”

The reference to “injury” to life, limb or health” in the above passages must be understood in the context of the requirements of the divorce law then obtaining in the United Kingdom.

The change of law brought about by the Hindu Marriage Law’s (Amendment) Act, 1976 deserves notice. Prior to the said Amendment Act, cruelty was not a ground for claiming divorce under the Hindu Marriage Act. It was a ground only for claiming judicial separation under S. 10. By the said Amendment Act, cruelty was made a ground for divorce as well evidently in recognition of the changing mores of the Society. While doing so, it is significant, the words “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,” qualifying the expression “cruelty” in S. 10 (l)(b), were omitted by Parliament. It is, therefore, not necessary for the party claiming divorce to prove that the cruel treatment is of such a nature as to cause an apprehension a reasonable apprehension -in his/ her mind that it will be harmful or injurious for him/her to live with the other party. Now what does this change mean? Surely, the deletion of the said words could not have been without a purpose. The cruelty of the nature described in S. l0( l)(b) has been explained in this Court’s decision in Dastane v. Dastane, AIR 1975 SC 1534. Chandrachud, J., speaking for the Bench, held that where an allegation of cruelty is made, the inquiry has to be “whether the conduct charged 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.” The learned Judge held further “it is not necessary, as under the English law, that the cruelty must be of such a character as to cause “danger” to life, limb or health or as to give rise to a reasonable apprehension of such a danger. Clearly, danger to life, limb or health or a reasonable apprehension of it is a higher requirement than a reasonable apprehension that it is harmful or injurious for one spouse to live with the other. But under S. 10(l)(b), harm or injury to health, reputation, the working-career or the like, would be an important consideration in determining whether the conduct of the respondent amounts to cruelty. Plainly, what we must determine is not whether the petitioner has proved the charge of cruelty having regard to the principles of English law, but whether the petitioner proves that the respondent has treated him with such cruelty as to cause a reasonable apprehension in his mind that it will be harmful or injurious for him to live with the respondent.” This requirement is no longer present in S. 13(l)(ia).

If so, the question arises what kind of cruel treatment does clause (ia) contemplate? In particular, what is the kind of mental cruelty that is required to be established’?

While answering these questions, it must be kept in mind that the cruelty mentioned in clause (ia) is a ground now for divorce as well as for judicial separation u/S. 10. Another circumstance to be kept in mind is that even where the marriage has irretrievably broken down, the Act, even after the 1976 (Amendment) Act, does not permit dissolution of marriage on that ground. This circumstance may have to be kept in mind while ascertaining the type of cruelty contemplated by S. 13(ia).

Mental cruelty in S. 13(l)(ia) 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 determined 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.

At this stage, we may refer to a few decisions of this Court rendered u/S. 13(1) (i-a). In Shobha Rani v. Madhukar Reddi, (1988) 1 SCC 105 , Justice K. Jagannatha Shetty, speaking for the Division Bench, held:

“Section 13(1 )(i-a) uses the words “treated the petitioner with cruelty”. The word “cruelty” has not been defined. Indeed it could not have been defined. It 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. 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 the Court will have no problem to determine it It is a question of fact and degree. If it is mental, the problem presents difficulty. First, the enquiry must begin as to the nature of the cruel treatment. Second 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’, 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. 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 injuries 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.

It will be necessary to bear in mind that there has been marked change 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 stigmatised 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 precedents. Because as Lord Denning said in Sheldon v. Sheldon, (1966)2 All ER 257, 259 “the categories of cruelty are not closed”. Each case may be different. We deal with the conduct of human beings who are not 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.”

Refer: V. Bhagat Vs Mrs. D. Bhagat-19/11/1993 – AIR 1994 SC 710 : (1993) 3 Suppl. SCR 796 : (1994) 1 SCC 337 : JT 1993 (6) SC 428 : (1993) 4 SCALE 488

Read also:-

  1. Cruelty by wife
  2. Grounds for divorce
  3. Hindu Marriage
  4. judicial separation
  5. Mental cruelty

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