What Constitute Mental Cruelty?


What is mental cruelty?

Mental cruelty is basically the conduct that makes another person suffer (mentally) without any physical involvement or assault. Mental cruelty is an act of afflicting harm to the mental being of a natural body i.e., humans act of mental cruelty, much less, cruelty also has been identified by our legislature and has been penalized under the various provision of law as provided hereinafter. While mental cruelty has been recognized criminal act under the provision of the Indian Penal Act 1916, the term cruelty, which may consist of both mental and physical cruelty has been recognized under laws with not only protect humans but also animals.

The prevention of cruelty to animals Act 1960 is one such examples wherein we witnessed that cruelty against animals has been penalized. However, keeping in view the present subject matter which deals with and is limited to the aspect of ‘mental cruelty’, the discussion would eventually be confined to the contours of the terms of Mental Cruelty.

It would be relevant to mention that mental cruelty has not only been limited as a crime punishable under the law as per the provisions of Indian Penal Code, but the same also constitutes as one of the significant ground to annul the contract that is called marriage between two individuals. Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 recognizes mental cruelty as one of the grounds to grant divorce.

According to Merriam Webster, the conduct by one spouse that renders the other’s life miserable and unendurable and that is a ground for divorce. Any such behavior of a person which directly affects the mind of the other can be treated as mental cruelty. For example, if a husband abuses her wife or names her character bad then this constitutes the mental cruelty. Even if the wife abuses her husband or tortures his parents that can constitute the mental cruelty for husband. This mostly happens in a marriage where the conduct of one spouse endangers the mental health of the other making the relationship intolerable.

The next section of this article would deal with the aspect of cruelty and how the same has been defined under various provisions of law such as Indian Penal Code 1860, Hindu Marriage Act 1955, and Prevention of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005.

Legal provisions involved

As stated herein above, there are several legislations which identify the term cruelty and recognizes within it, the Act of mental cruelty. Chapter XX (a) of the Indian penal code 1860 contains the provision relating to cruelty by husbands or relatives of husband. Section 498(a), deals with the provision relating to the act of subjecting a woman to cruelty by her husband or relative of her husband. It provides that whoever being the husband or relative of husband of a woman subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation to Section 498(a) defines the term cruelty which is relevant for the purpose if the present article. It provides that any willful conduct of nature which is likely to drive the women to commit suicide or which may cause grave injury or danger to live, limb or health whether mental or physical or harassment with a view to coerce her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or in case of failure to meet such demand would amount to cruelty. Therefore a reading of aforesaid provision in its entirety reveals that mental cruelty has been duly recognized as a crime under Section 498(a) of IPC.

Furthermore, Section 304B of the IPC which deals with dowry death also recognizes the act of cruelty wherein if a woman dies within 7 years of her marriage and it is shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty by her husband or any relative of her husband in connection with demand for dowry shall be treated as dowry death.

Physical violence is not completely essential to constitute cruelty, consistent conduct of causing torture and unendurable mental pain can cause cruelty. The aspect of mental cruelty is also duly recognized under the Prevention of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005.

Section 3 of the Act defines domestic violence and Section 3(a) provides that any act, omission or commission or conduct which harms or injures the mental health, safety and well being of any women who is in a domestic relationship with any person would constitute domestic violence as per the act. Furthermore, cruelty is also ground for seeking divorce under the Hindu Marriage Act 1955, as per Section 13(1) (ia) any of the party i.e. husband and wife would be entitled to seek divorce on the ground that the person was treated with cruelty.


Every person has a Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Right to Life includes within itself the right to live peacefully. Any act which has the potential to disrupt, annoy, intimidate, threaten and harm the body or well being of any person or his surrounding may interfere with the right of that person to live peacefully. An appreciation of the legal provision under the legislation enacted by the parliament which are discussed herein before, show that there are variety of action which have been recognized to constitute mental cruelty any action whether physical, verbal or by sign or any act or thing done which creates an impression of threat, pressure, intimidation, for some illegal object or illegal demand may constitute mental cruelty.

However, keeping in view the development of law relating to the Act of mental cruelty and the number of judgments passed by our Indian Courts it is evident that the concept of the mental cruelty is evolving one.

This article has been written by  Aarti Tiwari, 3rd-year BALLB student of Ramaiah Institute of Legal Studies, Bangalore

Also Read – Domestic Violence versus Harassment – The Greater of The Two Evils

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