Cruelty: A Cause of Divorce
The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 has reformed Hindu Law of Marriage. Earlier, the Hindu marriages was considered to be sacrament. The concept of marriage as a contract is an outcome of industrial revolution. Once, it is established that marriage is a Civil Contract, it is logical to recognize that it is dissoluble union. No doubt, the marriage is accepted as a civil contract but only to some extent. In our society even today in most of Hindu marriages, some sacred or religious ceremonies are still necessary. In brief it may be concluded that Hindu marriage has not remained a sacramental marriage and has also not become a contract, though it has semblance of both.
Under Hindu Marriage Act, divorce can be obtained by either party. This Act originally based divorce on the fault theory and enshrined some fault grounds under section 13 (i), on which either husband or wife could sue for divorce. Cruelty is one of those fault grounds. Law provides that in case one spouse is treated by his or her other marital partner with cruelty, the court can dissolve the marriage on the application made by the victim.
The legal concept of cruelty has varied from time to time, from place to place, from society to society and from individual to individual in its application according to social status of persons involved and their economic and social conditions. The question whether the act complained of was a cruel act is to be determined from whole facts and matrimonial relations between the parties. In this connection the culture, temperament, status in life, mental and physical condition, custom and manners of the parties and many other things are the factors which have to be considered while deciding the existence of matrimonial offence of cruelty. Whether the respondent has treated the petitioner with cruelty, can only be answered after all the facts and matrimonial relation of parties and interaction in the daily life as many may be disclosed by evidence, has been taken into account.
Cruelty as a matrimonial offence is not confined to physical violence but conceives of mental cruelty as well. Physical cruelty may consist of physical violence. It may be actual or threatened violence where as a germ of mental cruelty lies on the conduct of respondent, which would cause injury to the petitioner. Mental cruelty can cause more grievous injury and create in the mind of injured spouse, reasonable apprehension that it will be impossible or unsafe to live with the erring party. Mental cruelty has to be of such kind as to make the complaining spouse, continued associated with other spouse, unsafe for his or her mental and physical health .In other words, cruelty about which the Hindu marriage Act speaks is not restricted to acts of physical violence and it may extent to behavior which may cause pain and injury to the mind as well and so render the continuance in matrimonial home an agonizing ordeal.
The idea of cruelty has been so enlarged that matrimonial cruelty is now “the conduct of such type that complaining spouse cannot reasonably be expected to live with other spouse”. All that a spouse need to prove is that the offending spouse has treated him or her in such manner that it is harmful for him or her to live with other spouse. In case before Punjab and Haryana High court, the Court said that the cruelty implies and means harsh conduct of such intensity and persistence which would make it impossible for the spouse to operate the marriage.
There is a plethora of case law dealing with the subject of cruelty and each case has its own facts and circumstances. However some general principles has been laid down which may be referred to.
Physical beating, not giving sufficient money for running kitchen, consuming liquor at the expense of food for the family amounts to cruelty. (1982Hindu Law Reporter-75)
Husband’s taunting his wife about her poverty and demanding dowry and harassing for dowry also amounts to cruelty. (Air 1989 Delhi)
False allegations of unchastely and adultery against wife is also cruelty. Similarly wife making allegation that husband was a drunkard, womanize, a gambler and corrupt official and fails to prove it, also amounts to cruelty.
In another case before Bombay High Court husband was a doctor who came across a large number of female patients as well as lady doctors. His wife used to nag him at every opportunity about those ladies and passed very nasty remarks which caused mental pain to the husband .Court held it was mental cruelty.
Another settled law which is reaffirmed by Delhi High Court is that if either of the parties to the marriage being in a healthy physical capacity refuses to have sexual intercourse, the same would amount to cruelty. It must be recognized that nothing is more fatal to marriage than disappointment in sexual intercourse. A normal and healthy sexual relationship is one of there basic ingredients of a happy and harmonious marriage. If it is not possible due to ill health on the part of one of the spouse, it may or may not amount cruelty depending on the circumstances of the case. But willful denial of sexual relationship by spouse when the other is anxious for it would amount to mental cruelty, especially when the parties are young and newly married.
Drinking alcohol by itself may not be more than person’s weakness but as is held in a case before Kerala High Court, it becomes injurious to wife when the husband, enslaved by alcohol, ceases to be a partner in life. In this case the husband is always under the influence of liquor. Thus the distress, pain and suffering of the mind resulting from continuous drinking by the husband transforms his individual weakness into such injury to the mind of a wife whose susceptibilities, broken aspirations and other circumstances of her life , make matrimonial life impossible . The court held that in such circumstances drinking alcohol becomes matrimonial cruelty.
There are countless case laws dealing with the subject of cruelty which may be referred here but even then it is fact that no hard and fast rules can be laid down as to what act or conduct will amount to cruelty in any given case .What may amount to cruelty in one case may not amount to cruelty in another case.
Article as published in legal journal, Lawteller, March 1998. Since then Law as well situations may have been changed but still many issues are relevant.
This Article is written in Indian Context