Meaning of Cruelty – A Ground for Divorce

Cruelty‘ is one of the common grounds in all the personal laws on which a decree for judicial separation or divorce can be obtained. It is also a ground for separate residence and maintenance for the wife. It is a valid defense for defeating a claim for restitution of conjugal rights. ‘Cruelty’ under section 498-A of Indian Penal Code is “Any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman, or harassment of the woman, whether such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her, to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand”

Section 13 of The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, provides for dissolution of a Hindu marriage by a decree of divorce on 13 grounds. One of them is cruelty.

Section 27 of The Special Marriage Act, 1954, provides for 12 grounds for divorce. One of them is cruelty.

Section 2 of The Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939, provides for 8 grounds on which a woman married under the Muslim law is entitled to obtain a decree for dissolution of her Marriage. One of them is cruelty.

Section 32 of The Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936, provides for 11 grounds for divorce. One of them is cruelty.

Section 10 of The Indian Divorce Act, 1869, provides for 7 grounds of dissolution of marriage of Christians. One of them is adultery coupled with cruelty.

None of these Acts, however, define as to what cruelty is.

The idea, the meaning and the concept of cruelty changes from time to time, varies from place to place and differs from individual to individual. It is not the same for persons situated in different economic conditions and status.

Perhaps this is the reason why the Legislature has not, in any of the Acts, defined as to what cruelty is and has left it to the best judgement of the Judiciary to decide as to what amounts to cruelty to a particular person in a particular set of circumstances.

Various Judges have, in numerous judgements, defined as to what amounts to cruelty, but once again those definitions are not general but are related to the facts of those particular cases.

The question of cruelty is to be judged on the totality of the circumstances. In order to term a conduct as cruel it should be so grave and weighty that staying together becomes impossible. A conduct to be cruel must be more serious than the ordinary wear and tear of marriage.

You will be surprised to know that out of 100 cases of divorces, in 95 cases, the ground for divorce is cruelty and in the majority of them the cruel conduct complained of is physical violence. However, cases of mental cruelty are also not unknown to our Courts and, at times, complaints are made of a spouse afflicting cruelty upon another, without physical violence, just by his or her conduct of saying something or refraining from doing something.

By cruelty we normally think a conduct, a behaviour, an act of physical violence. The normal idea of cruelty in the common man’s mind is assaulting somebody. However cruelty as a ground for matrimonial relief is just not physical violence. Cruelty as a ground for divorce need not be physical only. It may be mental. And believe me, mental cruelty is of a worse kind than that of physical violence.

The concept of cruelty is subjective, which is different from person to person, man to man, judge to judge and society to society. There are different acts which will amount to cruelty towards the husband or the wife.

Some acts which will amount to cruelty towards the husband by the wife are:-

* Humiliating her husband in the presence of family members and friends,
* Taunting her husband on his physical incapabilities,
* Neglect,
* Coldness and insult,
* Deliberately wearing clothes which her husband dislikes,
* Purposely cooking food which her husband is not fond of,
* Visiting her parent’s family off and on against her husband’s wishes,
* Undergoing an abortion despite her husband asking her not to do so,
* Threatening to commit suicide,
* Refusing to do household work,
* Keeping husband outside the door of house,
* Complaining to husband’s employer,
* Disobedience,
* Deliberately breaking his things just to irritate him.
* Humiliating the husband in the presence of family members and friends.
* Denying the husband access to physical relationships.
* Wife making scandalous allegations against the husband.
* Wife leaving husband’s home, leaving behind a child.
* Not cooking or serving on Time.
* Deny access to Children.
* Deny access to husband family or stop husband to meet them.
* Calling names.
* Train Children against Father.
* Sending Insulting Emails / SMS.
* Demanding Divorce or threatening to leave.
* Quarrelsome wife beating the husband and thereby causing mental agony and cruelty to her husband.
Ref: SC: Verbal abuse ground for Divorce
All Above Points taken from various HC/SC Judgments.

All these are not acts of physical violence but yet it has an effect on the husband’s mind and due to this, the husband’s health suffers and therefore these acts can be termed as cruel.

Some of the acts which amount to cruelty towards the wife by husband are:-

* Humiliating and ill-treating the wife.
* Calling her frigid or cold fish, making excessive sexual demands,
* Comparing her with the maid servant,
* Taunting her for not having any child or giving birth to female children,
* Asking her to bring money or articles from her parents,
* Objecting to her visiting her parents, insulting her relatives when they visit her,
* Denying any medical treatment when she is ill
* Drunkenness.
* Turning the wife out from the house.
* Impotency of the husband.
* Having a love affair after marriage.
* Demanding dowry. To find out whether a particular act is cruel or not, one has to look upon the effect which is caused by that act.

If the effect is that by a particular act harm has been caused to the body or mind of the other, the said act is an act of cruelty. Mental cruelty has to be considered in the light of the social status of parties, their education, physical and mental condition, customs, and traditions. Cruelty can be established easily if the conduct proved or admitted is bad enough and per se unlawful or illegal. To constitute cruelty the conduct explained of should be ‘grave and weighty’, where it can be concluded that the petitioner, spouse cannot be reasonably expected to something more serious than ‘ordinary wear and tear’ of life. It is true that the legal concept of cruelty creates confusion in the minds of judges because of lack of definition of the term. Therefore, it is important to put some criteria or standard of norms to consider a conduct as cruel and to provide the remedy for divorce on the basis of it. In order to find out the element of cruelty the Court should not only weigh the defendant’s conduct but at the same time must weigh it from the victim’s point of view. Physical pain caused, can amount to cruelty when it is of such nature that it would be injurious and harmful for the petitioner to live with his/her spouse.

Mental pain can amount to cruelty, when it is of such nature that no reasonable person of that class could tolerate. Any conduct which is ‘grave and weighty‘ that would cause any type of pain on the complainant can amount to cruelty.

In one of the cases, the conduct of a wife abusing her husband and his family members, in her letters, in defamatory and derogatory language and accusing her husband of infidelity was considered as cruelty afflicted by her upon her husband.

In a decided case a Learned Judge of a High Court held that the accusation made by the husband in his written statement, opposing the petition of his wife and alleging there in, without proving the same, that his wife was leading an adulterous life, was cruelty afflicted by the husband upon the wife.

In order to find out whether a particular act is cruel or not, one has to look upon the effect which is caused by that act. If the effect is that by a particular act harm has been caused to the body or mind of the other, the said act is an act of cruelty.

Indian people of whatever race and religion they may be and to whichever class of society they may belong to are basically tolerant. Unless the treatment received by a person from his or her spouse is extremely grave and unbearable, it is not treated as a cruel conduct giving a ground for dissolution of marriage. Still we do not have cases of divorce on the ground of husband snoring at night or wife refusing to accompany husband to a party.

If the frequency of a trivial act is accelerated to several times it may constitute cruelty. [AIR 2006 (October) Journal 153]. In P. B. Biksdhapathi v. State of A.P.,
it is said that ‘drinking and late coming habits of the husband coupled with beating and demanding dowry amount to cruelty‘. But if a husband which merely drinks as a matter of routine and comes home late does not amount to cruelty (Jagdish Chander v. State of Haryana).
In Nikunja Das v Smt. Ranju Pathak (AIR 2006 Gau 175) the High Court of Gauhati held, the following acts of wife do not amount to cruelty towards her husband:
1. Within one month of the marriage the opposite party discloses her mind that she is not willing to live in a joint family. 2. During the visit of the husband’s brother the wife insulted him and misbehaved with him.
3. The wife had invited some friends of the husband for partition of the family property.
4. The wife after having altercations with the appellant forcibly left her husband’s shelter in spite of objections by the husband. In Sushil Kumar Sharma v. Union of India and Others, it is said that the object of the provisions 498A is the prevention of the dowry menace. Merely because the provision is constitutional and intra vires, it does not give a licence to unscrupulous person to wreck personal vendetta or unleash harassment.

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