Landmark Judgements on Mental Cruelty (Part – 1)


Written By: Tanay Akash


“People speak sometimes about the “bestial” cruelty of man, but that is terribly unjust and offensive to beasts, no animal could ever be as cruel as a man, so artfully, so artistically cruel”. This quote  by Fyodor Dostoyevsky in true sense defines the condition of  mental status of human race which in extreme condition may cause the worst situations.

Cruelty simply means cruel behaviour or attitudes of pleasure seeking while making others to suffer and this can also be seen in the families. General conflicts in the ideas and interests are the part and parcel of any family but sometimes these conflicts gets turned into cruelty and this cruelty may happen by the side of male as well as female. This cruelty includes Physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological abuse to maintain power or to get controls over their better halves. It is always said that evil begins when you begin to treat people as things and to stop being treated as things. The personal laws (Hindu marriage Act, 1955 13(1) (a) and Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939 (sec 2)) provides the provisions for divorce in the matter of cruelty and even cruelty comprises the modern day cruelty based on mental harassment, emotional distress and psychological torture as mental cruelty.

There are a number of land mark judgements by the apex court and other courts in which the doctrine of mental cruelty was taken into consideration. In this series of two articles, it tries to cover the land mark judgements on mental cruelty. The landmark judgements on mental cruelty find its origin from the case of “Russell v Russell” in which for the first time, English court defined Cruelty and said that Cruelty means a conduct of such a character as to have caused danger to life, limb, health, bodily matter or as to give rise to a reasonable apprehension of danger. In India the landmark judgements on mental cruelty   includes………

(Shobha Rani v. Madhukar Reddi AIR 1988 SC 121)

This is one of the most landmark judgements on mental cruelty as in this case the main issue was “Whether the demand of dowry is cruelty”. The court held that Cruelty used in Sec 13(1) (a) is with reference to human conduct or behaviour in relation to or in respect of matrimonial duties or obligations. It is a course of conduct of one which is adversely affecting the other. Cruelty may be physical, mental, intentional or unintentional. If cruelty is physical it is a question of fact of degree and if it is mental the enquiry must begin as to the nature of cruel statement and then as to impact of such treatment on the mind of the spouse. Even the demand of dowry also amounts to cruelty.

(Bhagat v. Bhagat AIR 1994 SC 710)

This was the case in which the apex court defined the metal cruelty as there were no proper definitions present for mental cruelty at that time in any act. The court held that a conduct that causes such a mental pain and suffering that makes it impossible to live with that person is mental cruelty. Mental cruelty must be such that it cannot reasonably be expected to live together. This has to be judged on the circumstances of the case.

(Shakuntla Kumari v. Om Prakash AIR 1983 Del. 53)

In this landmark case the Apex court held that a normal and healthy relationship is one of the basic ingredients of a happy and harmonious marriage. If this is not possible due to ill health on the part of any of the partner, it may or may not amount to cruelty, depending upon the circumstances. But wilful denial of sexual relationship by a spouse when other spouse is anxious, amount to mental cruelty especially when the parties are young and newly married.

(Bhagwat v. Bhagwat 1976 Bom)

In this case, husband tried to strangulate wife’s “brother” and another time “younger son”. At both the occasion it was done in the feat of insanity. Wife filed a suit petition of divorce on ground of cruelty but husband contended that there was no physical cruelty, but the court held that even without intention, cruelty happens as per mental conditions.

(N. Sreepadchandra v. vasantha  1970 Mysore)

It is often said that is it possible to accuse a woman if she harms husband’s social status or gives him mental distress. Similar things happened in this case where wife hurled abuses at the husband and quarrelled over trivial matters so much so that he became a laughing stock in the locality. This was held to be mental cruelty.

Other landmark and recent judgements on the mental cruelty and the opinion of the Apex court over this serious issue with regard to the changing sphere of the mental cruelty segment will be given under the part 2 of this article.

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