Cruelty as a ground of divorce is incorporated in Section 13(1)(ia) of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. Cruelty was not a ground for divorce prior to the Amendment Act of 1976. It was merely a ground for judicial separation. The term ‘cruelty’ is not defined in the Act.  It was for the first time defined in the English case of Russel v. Russel, (1897) AC 395, where the court observed that to constitute cruelty, there must be danger to life or injury to health, bodily or mental or reasonable apprehension of it.

Under Hindu Marriage Act, it should be so serious and weighty that cohabitation becomes impossible. If the other party has treated the petitioner with cruelty, decree for divorce may be obtained. The concept of cruelty was considered in Dr. N.C. Dastane v. Mrs. S. Dastane, AIR 1975 SC 1534. In this case Supreme Court held that it is not necessary as under English law that cruelty must be of such a character as to cause danger to life, limb or health or as to give apprehensive of such danger. Such requirement is of high standard. Under Indian law it is a simple apprehension that it is harmful or injurious for one spouse to live with another.

In Naveen Kohli v. Neelu Kohli, AIR 2006 SC 1675, the court held that ‘cruelty’ under Section 13 must be such act or conduct due to which the petitioner spouse cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent. In Praveen Mehta v. Indrajeet Mehta, (2002) 5 SCC 706, Supreme Court held that cruelty means such behavior of one spouse towards another that it causes reasonable apprehension in the mind that it is not safe to continue matrimonial relationship.

In Manisha Tyagi v. Deepak Kumar, AIR 2010 SC 1042, it was held that cruelty need not essentially be a causation of physical danger to the petitioner rather any kind of conduct of the respondent which is below the accepted standards of reasonable conduct between the spouses and can be reasonable considered to be a conduct with which the petitioner cannot be expected to be put up with. It is to be of the type which would satisfy the court in believing that the relations of the parties had deteriorated to such an extent that it has become impossible for them to live together without any mental torture or distress.

Kinds of Cruelty : Cruelty may be classified as:-

  1. Physical Cruelty

2.    Mental Cruelty

1. ‘Physical Cruelty’ will be construed when bodily injury is inflicted or where there is a reasonable apprehension of danger to life, limb or health, bodily or mental.

2. ‘Mental Cruelty’ denotes a set of circumstances, which though fall short of actual physical violence, may yet be acts of cruelty. For example, malicious false accusation, rudeness, forcing wife to prostitution, subjecting the other partner to indignity etc. Mental cruelty is necessarily a matter of inference to be drawn from the facts and circumstances of the case. In Shobha Rani v. Madhukar Reddy, (1988) 1 SCC 105, Supreme Court held that in case of mental cruelty the inquiry must begin as to nature of cruel treatment and impact of such treatment on the mind of the spouse.

In Samar Ghosh v. Jaya Ghosh, 1007 (3) SCJ 253, Supreme Court held that in considering the question of cruelty the court should bear in mind the physical and mental conditions of the parties as well as their social status. In Suman Kapoor v. Sudhir Kapoor, AIR 2009 SC 589, Supreme Court held that mens rea is not an essential for cruelty and relief can be granted even if there is no deliberate or willful treatment. Thus, the concept of cruelty has varied from time to time and place to place and from individual to individual in its application according to status of the parties, their economic conditions and other factors. Each case is to be judged on its own facts and cruelty must be of the type that it has become impossible for spouses to live together without any mental torture or distress.

Author & Former Judge

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