[highlight] By Sudhanshu Pathania, Student, The Law School, University of Jammu[/highlight]

The sources of Hindu Marriage act are the Vedas and they state that one a couple is tied in this holy institute of marriage, they can’t separate. However in the act, there is a decree for divorce in its section 13. In here the grounds for divorce vary from adultery to cruelty and even renouncement from the world by entering into a religious order is one of them.

family-violenceUnder the Hindu Marriage act,1955 as enacted originally, though cruelty was one of the grounds for obtaining judicial separation, yet it was not a ground for obtaining divorce. After its amendment, cruelty was made a ground for both divorce and judicial separation.

In the clause 13(1)(a) of Hindu marriage act, only cruelty is mentioned and not specified whether it is mental or physical cruelty. The courts have interpreted it in a broader prospective and said that it includes both physical and mental and we are dealing with the latter here.

It is not possible to define mental cruelty exhaustively. Prior to the amendment, the Supreme Court examined this concept in the landmark case named Dastane v. Dastane[1]. Here in it was observed that the conduct of the respondent should be such to cause reasonable apprehension in the mind of the petitioner to live with the respondent. It was also pointed out that unlike in England, here it is not necessary to prove that the respondent has treated the petitioner with cruelty and reasonable apprehension in the mind of the plaintiff shall suffice.

After the amendment, the courts were flooded with applications of divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty and the courts were to do the tedious task of defining cruelty.

As observed from Lord Pearce[2]:

It is impossible to give a comprehensive definition of cruelty, but when reprehensible conduct or departure from the normal standards of conjugal kindness causes injury to health or an apprehension of it, it is, I think, cruelty if a reasonable person, after taking due account of the temperament and all the other particular circumstances would consider that the conduct complained of is such that this spouse should not be called on to endure it.”


The Supreme Court in Samar Ghosh v. Jaya Ghosh[3] tried to enumerate instances that constituted mental cruelty. These instances were only illustrated and not exhaustive.

They said: 

(i) On consideration of complete matrimonial life of the parties, acute mental pain, agony and suffering as would not make possible for the parties to live with each other could come within the broad parameters of mental cruelty. 

(ii) On comprehensive appraisal of the entire matrimonial life of the parties, it becomes abundantly clear that situation is such that the wronged party cannot reasonably be asked to put up with such conduct and continue to live with other party. 

(iii) Mere coldness or lack of affection cannot amount to cruelty, frequent rudeness of language, petulance of manner, indifference and neglect may reach such a degree that it makes the married life for the other spouse absolutely intolerable. 

(iv) Mental cruelty is a state of mind. The feeling of deep anguish, disappointment, frustration in one spouse caused by the conduct of other for a long time may lead to mental cruelty. 

(v) A sustained course of abusive and humiliating treatment calculated to torture, discommode or render miserable life of the spouse. 

(vi) Sustained unjustifiable conduct and behaviour of one spouse actually affecting physical and mental health of the other spouse. The treatment complained of and the resultant danger or apprehension must be very grave, substantial and weighty. 

(vii) Sustained reprehensible conduct, studied neglect, indifference or total departure from the normal standard of conjugal kindness causing injury to mental health or deriving sadistic pleasure can also amount to mental cruelty. 

(viii) The conduct must be much more than jealousy, selfishness, possessiveness, which causes unhappiness and dissatisfaction and emotional upset may not be a ground for grant of divorce on the ground of mental cruelty. 

Also Read:  Case Summary: V. Bhagat vs. D. Bhagat

(ix) Mere trivial irritations, quarrels, normal wear and tear of the married life which happens in day to day life would not be adequate for grant of divorce on the ground of mental cruelty. 

(x) The married life should be reviewed as a whole and a few isolated instances over a period of years will not amount to cruelty. The ill-conduct must be persistent for a fairly lengthy period, where the relationship has deteriorated to an extent that because of the acts and behaviour of a spouse, the wronged party finds it extremely difficult to live with the other party any longer, may amount to mental cruelty. 

(xi) If a husband submits himself for an operation of sterilization without medical reasons and without the consent or knowledge of his wife and similarly if the wife undergoes vasectomy or abortion without medical reason or without the consent or knowledge of her husband, such an act of the spouse may lead to mental cruelty. 

(xii) Unilateral decision of refusal to have intercourse for considerable period without there being any physical incapacity or valid reason may amount to mental cruelty.

 (xiii) Unilateral decision of either husband or wife after marriage not to have child from the marriage may amount to cruelty. 

(xiv) Where there has been a long period of continuous separation, it may fairly be concluded that the matrimonial bond is beyond repair. The marriage becomes a fiction though supported by a legal tie. By refusing to sever that tie, the law in such cases, does not serve the sanctity of marriage; on the contrary, it shows scant regard for the feelings and emotions of the parties. In such like situations, it may lead to mental cruelty.

 As they are only for illustrative purposes only, hence the courts have to interpret whether there has been any mental cruelty or it is mere wear and tear of marital life. Only grave and weighty acts on the part of the respondent constitute mental cruelty.

 Following are some conducts which have been held to constitute mental cruelty. Demand for dowry by the husband and his family is mental cruelty. Wife abusing her husband and using foul language is mental cruelty. Not visiting husband who was seriously ill constituted mental cruelty. Abstaining from making any sexual relation without any probable cause constitutes cruelty.


In a case, the wife cooked food only for herself but not for her husband and the apex court held it to constitute mental cruelty on the husband[4].


In two cases, serious allegations and counter allegations without proof thereof have been held to have constituted cruelty, as it was found that the marriage after such allegations could not in any circumstance be continued any further[5] [6].


Thus Lord Denning has very well said in Sheldon v. Sheldon[highlight]the categories of cruelty are not closed’. Each case may be different. We deal with the conduct of human beings who are not generally similar. Among the human beings there is no limit to the kind of conduct which may constitute cruelty. New type of cruelty may crop up in any case depending upon the human behaviour, capacity or incapability to tolerate the conduct complained of. Such is the wonderful (sic) realm of cruelty’[/highlight]

[1] AIR 1975 SC 1534

[2] 695; All ER p. 992

[3] 2007(4 )SCC511

[4] supra

[5] Smt. Chanderkala Trivedi v. Dr. S.P. Trivedi, JT 1993 (4) SC 644

[6] V. Bhagat v. Mrs.D. Bhagat, AIR 1994 SC 710

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