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MENTAL CRUELTY-GROUND FOR DIVORCE

INTRODUCTION

Marriage as an institution is considered sacred from time immemorial. Marriage is considered a sacrament by Hindus. In one of the passages of Manu Smriti, the following is written: “I hold your hand for Saubhagya (good luck) that you may grow old with your husband, you are given to me by the just, the creator, the wise and by the learned people[1].” This means this was considered a necessary institution in which a person needs to enter to get Moksha. Even in the holy text of Hindu Ramayan, the wife was considered the best friend of her husband. In ancient times marriage was considered indissoluble and ancient thinkers like Atri believed that under no circumstances a woman should be abandoned or divorced. With the codification of Hindu law under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 the provision for divorce was added.

GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE

There are three theories of divorce, the first one being the fault theory in which one of the spouses had committed any matrimonial offence against the other and the innocent spouse can seek a remedy. The second theory is the irretrievable breakdown of marriage which means when the institution has dissolved due to such an extent that divorce is the last resort available to the parties. The third theory is the mutual consent theory where marriage is dissolved by mutual consent of both parties. Cruelty is one of the fault grounds under the Hindu Marriage Act provided under sec 13 (1) (i-a) which is worded as the respondent, “after the solemnization of marriage, treated the petitioner with cruelty”[2]. There is no clear definition of cruelty given in any of the statutes and the legislators deliberately did not provide so because there are wide-ranging cases of cruelty and the situations and facts differ from case to case.

CHANGES IN THE CONCEPT OF CRUELTY

Earlier only physical cruelty was considered cruelty but over time mental cruelty is also included in its ambit. Under modern matrimonial law, the courts have given a wide-ranging meaning to mental cruelty. In a recent judgment, the Madras High Court held that “Removal of ‘thali’ (Mangalsutra) by an estranged wife would amount to subjecting the husband to mental cruelty of the highest order and granted the husband divorce”[3]. “As per the data from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare  10% of the women who were subjected to mental cruelty shared that they were subjected to humiliation by their husband in front of others and 8% said that their husband made them feel low about themselves”[4]. Justice YV Chandrachud while explaining mental cruelty mentioned, “The inquiry, therefore, 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. 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 dang[5].

JUDICIAL PRONOUNCEMENTS ON MENTAL CRUELTY

Now let’s look at certain verdicts given by the honorable courts which will help us in understanding the concept of mental cruelty effectively. The landmark case in this respect is that of Dastane vs Dastane[6], in this case, the wife used to make filthy and vile allegations against the husband, and his entire family. She used to make statements like,” I want ruination of whole dastane dynasty.” She used to call him a monster, threatening him that she will make him lose his job, etc. The court held that all this amounted to mental cruelty against the husband and granted him a divorce. The court in the case of Narendra v. K. Meena[7], (2016) 9 SCC 455, held that even one event of the attempt of suicide was sufficient for the appellant-husband to get a divorce, given its serious repercussions.

In the case of Vijay Kumar Ramachandra Bhate vs Neela Vijay Kumar Bhate [8],  the husband in his written statement mentioned that his wife was unchaste and had illicit relations with someone outside the wedlock, all these statements the court held amounted to mental cruelty.

Recently only in the case of Joydeep Majumdar vs Bharti Jaiswal Majumdar[9], the husband filed a case of mental cruelty to him by his wife when she made allegations of adultery and other defamatory statements to his officials in the army, which kept his career for the sake. The court held that this amounted to mental cruelty irrespective of the fact whether the same was proved or not. Even excessive drinking by the spouse even after constant remonstrances by the other amounted to cruelty.[10] “Wilful refusal to have sexual intercourse to frustrate the other spouse’s desire to have a child amounts to cruelty”[11].  However, it should be kept in mind that day-to-day ordinary quarrels in married life, minor misunderstandings, and raising the tone of voice do not amount to cruelty.[12]

MISUSE OF THE GROUND

What we generally presume is that wives are the ones who suffer from mental cruelty and the husband is the offender. But the recent trends of cases show that there are various instances of wives making false allegations against their husbands or even filing complaints for the same. All of these amount to mental cruelty to the husband, in India we have effective laws to protect the wife against the cruelty by the husband but vice versa isn’t that effective. We are living in a male-dominated society where we preach feminism and often we fail to comprehend the fact that even the wife can cause mental cruelty.

CONCLUSION

No one should be ever subjected to cruel behaviour by the other whether it’s the husband or the wife, as it is against the basic right of liberty and dignity. With time we have evolved the definition of cruelty and it is in the hands of the judiciary how it decides cases related to mental cruelty in the future.  In today’s world mental health is a serious issue, causing someone mental cruelty is more grave and serious as compared to physical cruelty because the physical pain is easily comprehendible but what a person is going through mentally, we never know!

Author(s) Name: Sonakshi Singla (Army Institute of Law, Mohali)

References:

[1] Paras Diwan, Family Law ( 2021Edition, Allahabad Law Agency) 191.

[2] Hindu Marriage Act, s 13 (1) (i-a).

[3]  Press Trust of India, ‘Removal of Mangalsutra by wife highest order of mental cruelty on husband, says court’( IndiaToday, 15 July 2022) <https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/mangalsutra-removal-cruelty-on-husband-madras-high-court-1975821-2022-07-15> accessed 11 August 2022.

[4] Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, National Family Health Survey ((NFHS-4) 2015-2016), <http://rchiips.org/NFHS/NFHS-4Reports/India.pdf.>

[5]‘Explained: How Indian courts have seen mental cruelty as grounds for divorce’ ( India Express,14 May 2020)

< https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-how-indian-courts-over-the-years-have-seen-mental-cruelty-as-grounds-for-divorce-6407154/> accessed 10 August 2022.

[6] N.G. Dastane (Dr) v. S. Dastane, (1975) 2 SCC 326.

[7] Narendra v. K. Meena, (2016) 9 SCC 455.

[8] Vijaykumar Ramchandra Bhate v. Neela Vijaykumar Bhate.  AIR 2003 SC 2462.

[9] Joydeep Majumdar v. Bharti Jaiswal Majumdar, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 146.

[10] Rita V. Brij, AIR 1984 Del 291.

[11] Jyosith v. Meera, AIR 1970 Cal 266.

[12] Indira v. Shelendra, AIR 1993 MP 59.