Matrimonial Dispute – Terms “Cruelty” and “Mental Cruelty”

The word “cruelty” has not been defined in the Hindu Marriage Act. The word appears to have been used in the section in context of human behavior in relation to or in respect of matrimonial obligations or duties. Cruelty can be termed as behavior or conduct of one spouse which adversely affects the other. Thus broadly speaking “cruelty” as a ground for the purpose of divorce under Section 13(1)(i-a) of the Hindu Marriage Act can be taken as a behavior of one spouse towards the other which causes reasonable apprehension in his or her mind that it is not safe to continue the matrimonial relationship. Cruelty can be physical or mental or even intentional or unintentional. The mental cruelty is difficult to establish by direct evidence. It is a matter of inference to be drawn from facts and circumstances of the case. A feeling of anguish and frustration in one spouse caused by the conduct of other can be appreciated on the assessment of facts and circumstances in which the two have been living. The inference has to be drawn from overall facts and circumstances considered cumulatively.
Mental cruelty and its effect cannot be stated with arithmetical accuracy. It varies from individual to individual, from society to society and also depends on the status of the persons. What would be mental cruelty in the life of two individuals belonging to a particular stratum of the society may not amount to mental cruelty in respect of another couple belonging to a different stratum of society. The agonized feeling or for that matter a sense of disappointment can take place by certain acts causing a grievous dent at the mental level. The inference has to be drawn from the attending circumstances. Puja Suri v. Bijoy Suri, 2016 (119) ALR 140.

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