This post is written by Megha Jain, a first year student at Hidayatullah National Law University.
BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
DATE OF JUDGEMENT
8 March, 2017
APPELLANT – Suman Singh
RESPONDENT – Sanjay Singh
R.K. Agrawal, Abhay Manohar Sapre
Facts of the case
The marriage between the appellant (wife) and the respondent (husband) was solemnized on 26.02.1999 as per the Hindu rites. The respondent-husband was working under the government of NCT of Delhi and the appellant was a housewife. They had two daughters on 15.06.2002 and 10.02.2006 accordingly.
On 11.07.2010, the husband filed a petition for dissolution for their marriage under section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (hereinafter referred to as ‘The Act’) on the ground of ‘cruelty’ in the Family Courts, Rohini, Delhi. The respondent (husband), in his petition, pleaded 9 instances which, according to him, constituted ‘cruelty’ within the meaning of Section 13(1)(i-a)[i] of the Act entitling him to claim dissolution of marriage against the appellant. Those instances comprised of- the wife not paying respect to the husband’s elders and relatives, inappropriate behavior of the appellant-wife and her family towards the respondent, uninterested in doing household activities, and other allegations relating to wife’s behavior with the respondent and his family members.
The appellant filed her written statement and denied these allegations. The appellant also applied for restitution of conjugal rights (section 9[ii] of the Act) against the respondent in the same proceedings claiming that it was the husband who left the matrimonial bond without any reasonable cause. On date 14.12.2012, it was held by the Family Court that the grounds alleged by the respondent amounted to mental cruelty within the meaning of Section 13(1)(i-a) of the Act. Hence, dissolution of the marriage was approved and subsequently, the appeal of the wife was dismissed. The appellant then filed first appeals before the High Court. By impugned judgment, the High Court dismissed the appeals and affirmed the decree of the Trial Court.
The appellant-wife hence filed the appeals by special leave against the judgment of the High Court in the Supreme Court of India.
Issues of the case
Whether a case of cruelty under section 13 of the Act was set up in the instant case?
Whether the appellant was entitled to the restitution of conjugal rights as prayed?
From the Appellant side:
The Appellant denied the allegations placed by the respondent against her. The appellant had also contended that she was entitled to the restitution of conjugal rights (section 9 of the Act). She justified that the husband withdrew from their matrimonial bond without any reasonable cause.
From the Respondent side:
The respondent submitted that all the instances that had happened so far were enough to constitute cruelty. He also contended that the appellant had made allegation against him of his having an extra-matrimonial relation and it constituted as a ground of cruelty. Since both the spouses were living in separate homes for quite a long time, the respondent submitted that he was entitled to a divorce.
JUDGMENTS OF THE COURT:
The court referred Samar Ghosh vs. Jaya Ghosh case[iii] (see here) where mental cruelty was intensely examined. In the same case, the Supreme Court enumerated 16 category of cases which are considered relevant while examining the question as to whether the facts alleged and proved constitute mental cruelty. The facts of the instant case, according to the then present bench, did not satisfy the test laid down in the aforesaid case.
The court contended that most of the allegations made by the husband were stale and isolated. The instances collectively or individually were not able to form cruelty. It was noticed that the allegations pleaded were with no details such as when such incident occurred (year, month, date etc.), what was its background, who witnessed, what the appellant actually said etc. Some isolated incidents alleged to have occurred 8-10 years prior to filing of the date of petition could not furnish a subsisting cause of action to seek divorce after 10 years or so of occurrence of such incidents. Thus, no ground for divorce was proved or granted.
The court held that the appellant was entitled for a decree for restitution of conjugal rights against the respondent. After the Court held clear that the respondent failed to make out any case of cruelty against the appellant, it was clear that it was the respondent who withdrew from the company of the appellant without reasonable cause and not the vice versa. Thus, the appeal made by the wife was granted.
The appeals succeed and were allowed. The impugned judgment of the High Court was set aside. As a result, the petition filed by the respondent (husband) under Section 13(1) of the Act seeking dissolution of marriage was dismissed. As a consequence thereof, the marriage between the parties was held to exist whereas the petition filed by the appellant against the respondent under Section 9 of the Act seeking restitution of conjugal right is allowed. A decree for restitution of conjugal right is, accordingly, passed against the respondent.
The court also took a moment to share its views that, “The incidents alleged (for setting the ground of cruelty) should be of recurring nature or continuing one and they should be in near proximity with the filing of the petition.”
The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
[i] Cruelty which is a ground for dissolution of marriage may be defined as wilful and unjustifiable conduct of such character as to cause danger to life, limb or health, bodily or mental, or as to give rise to a reasonable apprehension of such a danger. The question of mental cruelty has to be considered in the light of the norms of marital ties of the particular society, to which the parties belong, their social values, status, environment in which they live. Cruelty need not be physical. If from the conduct of the spouse it is established or an inference can be legitimately drawn that the treatment of the spouse is such that it causes apprehension in the mind of the other spouse, about his or her mental welfare then this conduct amounts to cruelty.
[ii] When either the husband or the wife has, without reasonable excuse, withdrawn from the society of the other, the aggrieved party may apply, by petition to the district court, for restitution of conjugal rights and the court, on being satisfied of the truth of the statements made in such petition and that there is no legal ground why the application should not be granted, may decree restitution of conjugal rights accordingly. Where a question arises whether there has been reasonable excuse for withdrawal from the society, the burden of proving reasonable excuse shall be on the person who has withdrawn from the society.
[iii] (2007) 4 SCC 511.