What is mental cruelty?
Section 13(i) (a) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, has comprehensively characterized and defined the term cruelty. While Parliament did insert the term ‘cruelty’ in the Act, it did not supply an exhaustive definition. As a result, the term has since been understood according to its interpretation by the judiciary over the years – during which time the courts have evolved grounds for providing relief in cases of both physical and mental cruelty.
Mental cruelty has been discussed in various precedents; it is said that when either party causes mental torment, psychological brutality, misery of enduring of such an extent, that it cuts off the bond between the spouse and husband and because of which it gets impossible and unimaginable for the victim or the person who has endured such torture to live with the other party.
It has been regarded that the subject of mental cruelty must always be considered in the light of the standards of conjugal ties of the specific culture to which the parties belong, their social qualities, status and condition in which they live.
What constitutes mental cruelty?
The actions of the concerned party ought to be grave and magnanimous and it must be considerably more brutal than what is experienced or faced ordinarily course of life.
Mental cruelty can differ in various marital cases so it is difficult to have a uniform standard to pass by. A few illustrations of what characterizes mental cruelty as depicted by the Supreme Court of India (SC) has been enlisted below:
- The thought of complete marital existence of the parties, gives intense mental torment, distress and enduring as would not make it feasible for the parties to live with one another, could be considered mental cruelty;
- On a thorough evaluation of the whole wedding life of the parties in question, it turns out to be highly certain that the circumstance is such that the wronged party can’t sensibly be approached to endure to put up with such conduct and continue to live with other party;
- Insignificant frigidity or absence of fondness can’t add up to cruelty however, discourteousness language, irritation, apathy and disregard may reach at such an extent, that it makes the wedded life for the other mate completely unfortunate and as a result amount to cruelty;
- Mental cruelty is a perspective – The sentiment of profound anguish, dissatisfaction, disappointment in one life partner brought about by the direct of the other over a significant stretch of time may prompt mental cruelty;
- An unwavering course of harsh and mortifying treatment determined to torment, disturb or render hopeless the life of one life partner;
- Continued unmerited conduct of one companion really influencing physical and mental strength of the other life partner – The treatment grumbled of and the resultant threat must be exceptionally grave, considerable and profound;
- Considerable disregard or detachment from the typical standard of marital generosity l causing injury to mental health or deriving sadistic pleasure can likewise add up to mental cruelty;
- The actions must be substantially more than desire, self-centeredness, possessiveness, which causes misery and disappointment. Emotional upset may not be a substantial ground for giving a divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty;
- Negligible insignificant aggravations, squabbles, normal ups and downs of the wedded life which occurs in everyday life is additionally not sufficient for giving a divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty;
- One-sided choice of refusal to engage in sexual relations for long time without there being any physical insufficiency or legitimate explanation may add up to mental cruelty;
- Unilateral decisions made by either husband or wife after marriage to not have child from the marriage may amount to cruelty;
- Where there has been a long period of continuous separation, it may fairly be concluded that the matrimonial bond is beyond repair– In such situations, it may lead to mental cruelty.
How to prove mental cruelty in a court?
Proving a case of mental cruelty depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case. However following ways, one can prove mental cruelty in a court:
The oral submissions or written testimony is adequate ground for establishing mental cruelty. Strengthening oral and/or written pieces of evidence is of paramount importance.
Evidences exhibiting denial of physical relationship, verbal and physical maltreatment, egotistical conduct, arrogant behavior, an incompatible or ever-increasing difference of opinion aggravating the domestic relationship can help the case.
Sound and video proof are the best proof and it is extensively conceded by the court. One can likewise reinforce their case with witness’ declarations.
The Supreme Court had examined the concept of legal cruelty in Dastane v Dastane (1975). In that case, the court held that the wife threatening she would end her life, and verbally abusing the husband and his father, among other acts, amounted to mental cruelty, and granted divorce to the husband.
Justice YV Chandrachud had then observed, “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 danger.”
In subsequent years, the courts have held a number of acts as amounting to mental cruelty. In Shobha Rani v Madhukar Reddi (1988), the Supreme Court held that repeated demands for dowry by the husband or his relatives was a form of cruelty.
The courts have also given similar relief in other cases, including those of persistent drunkenness and repeatedly making unfounded allegations. The recent Bombay High Court verdict is in line with the latter example. The judgement reads,
“If one spouse establishes extramarital affair with another lady/man, it is considered as an act damaging the foundation of the marriage. And if one of the spouses makes such allegations and he/she fails to prove it, it is considered as an act causing mental pain to other spouse and considered as an instance of cruelty.”
This Article Written Preksha Manot, Student of Amity University, Kolkata
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