What is Mental Cruelty?


A person to live long needs to stay happy and healthy which requires a peaceful state of mind. In today’s times, peace of mind is considered no less than an achievement with increasing worries about education, career, family, etc. With increasing complexities of life, the levels of stress are also increasing. But what happens when people around you create such situations deliberately just to harass you?

It leads to mental cruelty which basically means disturbing the peaceful state of mind and causing mental agony.


In layman’s language, mental cruelty refers to a person’s acts which cause mental agony, pain and suffering to another person making it difficult for the latter to live in the company of the former. Instances of mental cruelty are demeaning or disrespecting someone constantly, levelling baseless allegations, accusing someone of a despicable act, assassinating someone’s character etc.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is the conduct of one spouse that renders the other’s life unendurable and that is a ground of divorce.

In India, mental cruelty has not been specifically defined under any legislation. The concept has evolved through judicial pronouncements only. Generally, mental cruelty is talked about and referred to in matrimonial cases as a ground of divorce. The Supreme Court, in S. Hanumantha Rao v. S. Ramani[1]described it as mental pain, agony or suffering caused by either spouse to such an extent that it severs the bond between the spouses and make it difficult for the suffering spouse to live with the other.

However, over the years, this form of cruelty has found its place in other legislations as well.

Mental Cruelty as a ground of Divorce:

When the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 was enacted, cruelty was not a ground for divorce. It was the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Act, 1976 that introduced cruelty as a ground for divorce. However, in 1975, the Supreme Court, in the landmark case of Dr. N. G. Dastane v. Mrs. S. Dastane[2], referring to the English law, discussed mental cruelty describing it as something which causes reasonable apprehension in the mind of one of the spouses that it will be harmful or injurious to live in the company of other spouse. Also, the Act doesn’t specifically mention mental cruelty. It is the judicial pronouncements which have laid it down as one of the grounds for divorce under the broader ground of cruelty.

The Karnataka High Court laid down the following principles with regard to mental cruelty[3]:

  • On consideration of the overall matrimonial life of the parties, acute mental pain, agony and suffering which makes it difficult for the parties to live together would come within the broad parameters of mental cruelty
  • On the comprehensive evaluation of the parties’ matrimonial life, it would be unreasonable to expect the wronged party to live with the other and put up with such conduct and attitude
  • A sustained behaviour and attitude of abuses and humiliation which is equivalent to torture and renders the life of the spouse miserable
  • Sustained unjustified behaviour and attitude of one spouse causing physical and mental pain to the other. The treatment complained of and the danger from that treatment must be grave and substantial
  • Continuous reprehensible conduct, neglect and indifference from the normal standard of conjugal kindness causing mental agony or deriving sadistic pleasures
  • Mere trivial differences, arguments, irritations which are a part and parcel of normal married life would not amount to mental cruelty
  • The married life must be reviewed as a whole considering numerous incidents over a period of time and not a few individual incidents in isolation

In V. Bhagat v. D. Bhagat (Mrs.)[4], the Supreme Court held that cruelty must be of such a nature that it makes it difficult for either of the spouses to live with the other. In this case, when a petitioner-husband filed a divorce petition on grounds of adultery, the respondent-wife accused him and his family of being lunatics or persons with mental imbalances which led to cross-examination of the petitioner in this regard. The petitioner amended the plaint for the ground of cruelty. The Supreme Court granted divorce on the ground of mental cruelty because of the allegations of the respondent-wife in the written statement as well as cross-examination even though the earlier ground of adultery was not proved.

The Supreme Court, in Parveen Mehta v. Inderjit Mehta[5], emphasised the fact that individual instances of misbehaviour, observed in isolation would not constitute mental cruelty. All the facts, circumstances and incidents must be taken into account and their cumulative effect must be considered to decide whether one of the spouses has been subjected to mental cruelty by the other. It also clarified that an increasingly stubborn attitude and inexplicable and unreasonable conduct on part of one party to the marriage can lead to mental cruelty to the other.

Cruelty is also a valid ground for divorce under Section 27 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954. In Sukhendu Das v. Rita Mukherjee[6], while allowing the appeal under Article 142 of the Constitution of India, the Supreme Court held that since the parties have been living separately since last 17 years, there is no chance of them living together. The respondent had not appeared before the High Court after filing the written statement and even did not respond to the High Court’s request for personal appearance. Thus, the respondent’s refusal to participate in the divorce proceedings and forcing the appellant to stay in a dead marriage is nothing less than mental cruelty.

Mental Cruelty under Section 498A of Indian Penal Code, 1860:

Chapter XXA was added to the Indian Penal Code, 1860 by the Amendment Act of 1983. The amendment added Section 498A which punishes the husband and/or relatives of husband of a woman for subjecting her to cruelty, both physical and mental. The provision provides for punishment with an imprisonment for a term up to 3 years as well as fine. The provision explains cruelty as any wilful conduct which likely drives a woman to commit suicide or cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health, or harassment of a woman to coerce her or her relatives to meet unlawful demands for dowry. The motive of the legislation was to provide protection and relief to women who are harassed by their husband and in-laws, mainly for dowry. However, over the years, news has been making rounds to either make the provision gender neutral or remove it altogether due to the increasing misuse of the same. Unfortunately, there are women who have been misusing this provision to harass their in-laws. Also, the fact that it is a cognizable and non-bailable offence, it is easy for some women to blackmail their in-laws. That is why, the Supreme Court clarified that to ensure that accusations under this provision should be investigated properly by the Police Officers before making any arrest[7].

Mental Cruelty under Prevention of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005:

Under the Prevention of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 which was enacted with the aim of protecting women from increasing incidents of domestic violence, domestic violence includes mental cruelty as defined in Section 3 of the Act. Usually when a husband is guilty under this legislation, he is also held guilty under Section 498A of IPC, 1860. The Supreme Court, in Rupali Devi v. State of U. P. &Ors.[8]emphasised this point stating that definition of domestic violence as given under the 2005 Act discusses harm or injury caused to life, limb or health of the wife, whether physical or mental and thus signifies a close connection with Explanation (a) and (b) to Section 498A of IPC, 1860 which define cruelty.

In VajreshVenkatrayAnvekar v. State of Karnataka[9], a woman committed suicide by consuming cyanide as her husband, along with his family used to torture her. The appellant-husband was found guilty of subjecting his wife to physical and mental cruelty because of continued harassment in the form of torture and beating, and thus for domestic violence.

Mental Cruelty under Indian Evidence Act, 1872:

Under the Indian Evidence Act, Section 113A was added by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 1983, which provides that in case a woman commits suicide within 7 years of her marriage and was subjected to cruelty before committing suicide, then it is presumed considering all the circumstances of the case that the husband and his family abetted the suicide. In the aforementioned Supreme Court case, the apex court presumed that the appellant-husband, along with his family abetted the suicide of the wife which the appellant-husband ultimately failed to rebut and thus his conviction was confirmed[10].


Mental cruelty, in today’s times has become a major reason for divorce petitions in India. Even though dowry is a punishable offence under Indian Penal Code, 1860 as well as Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, it is still demanded in various corners of the country and still married women are harassed and tortured for it. Husbands and their family think of women as an object who could be played with and treated as they want. Women are considered no less than chattels and torturing them mentally just to derive sadistic pleasure is considered normal.


[1]S. Hanumantha Rao v. S. Ramani, (1999) 3 SCC 620

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

[3]A. Anil Kumar v. Vanishri. A, ILR 2009 Kar 3028

[4]V. Bhagat v. D. Bhagat (Mrs.), (1994) 1 SCC 337

[5]Parveen Mehta v. Inderjit Mehta, (2002) 5 SCC 706

[6]Sukhendu Das v. Rita Mukherjee, (2017) 9 SCC 632

[7]Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar &Anr., (2014) 8 SCC 273

[8]Rupali Devi v. State of U. P. &Ors., (2019) 5 SCC 384

[9]VajreshVenkatrayAnvekar v. State of Karnataka, (2013) 3 SCC462

[10]VajreshVenkatrayAnvekar v. State of Karnataka, (2013) 3 SCC462

This article is authored by Jhanvi Gupta, Third-Year, LL.B, student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

Also Read – What happens if Section 498A of IPC is proved false?

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