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Understanding Cruelty – Grounds For Divorce In India

The expression “cruelty” has not been defined, however Section 13(1)(ia) of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955, provides:

13 Divorce — 
(1) Any marriage solemnised, 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;
(ia) has, after the solemnisation of the marriage, treated the petitioner with cruelty;

Cruelty can be physical or mental

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. The question of mental cruelty has to be considered in the light of the norms of marital ties of the particular society to which the parties belong, their social values, status, and environment in which they live.

If from the conduct of the spouse, an inference can be legitimately drawn that the treatment of the spouse is such that it causes an apprehension in the mind of the other spouse, about his or her mental welfare, then this conduct amounts to cruelty. Cruelty may be physical or corporeal or may be mental. In physical cruelty, there can be tangible and direct evidence, but in the case of mental cruelty, there may not at the same time be direct evidence. In cases where there is no direct evidence, Courts are required to probe into the mental process and mental effects of incidents that are brought out in evidence. It is in this view that one has to consider the evidence in matrimonial disputes.

Cruelty may be mental or physical, intentional or unintentional. If it is physical, the Court will have no problem in determining it. It is a question of fact and degree. If it is mental, the problem presents difficulties. First, the inquiry must begin as to the nature of cruel treatment, second the impact of such treatment in 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. However, there may be a case where the conduct complained of itself is bad enough and per se unlawful or illegal. Then the impact or injurious effect on the other spouse need not be inquired into or considered. In such cases, the cruelty will be established if the conduct itself is proved or admitted. Continue reading