Guest post by Pallavi Mohan
Recently, the Punjab and Haryana High Court allowed the divorce petition of a man alleging cruelty and desertion by his wife. To know more about divorce under Hindu law, refer to our explainer here.
What is cruelty under Indian law?
Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code 1860 (IPC) punishes the husband or any relative of the husband who subjects a woman to cruelty. Here, cruelty includes:
- conduct likely to drive a woman to commit suicide, or cause the woman grave injury or endanger her life;
- harassment of a woman or any of her relatives to meet any unlawful demand for money, property, or any other valuable security.
This section was specially introduced in 1983 to check the menace of dowry-related and other marital violence against women. There is no similar provision in any statute that provides for cruelty against men by their wives.
However, Section 13(1)(ia) of the Hindu Marriage Act,1956 allows both the wife and the husband to seek a divorce by alleging that their spouse has subjected them to cruelty after marriage. Therefore, even though there is no specific punishment for cruelty against husbands (other than the general penal provisions related to battery and assault), the law recognises such cruelty as a ground for the husband to seek divorce.
How has the Supreme Court interpreted the term ‘cruelty’?
The Supreme Court has time and again acknowledged the fact that men are equally susceptible to cruelty in marital situations as women, and can seek a divorce on this basis. The Court has clarified that the test to decide whether a person’s behaviour amounts to cruelty, is not to see whether it seems cruel to a reasonable person or a person of normal sensibilities but to see what effect it would have on the aggrieved spouse who is before the court. This is so because what may be cruel to one person may not be cruel to another person. So, the person alleging the cruelty only has to prove that their spouse’s behaviour caused a reasonable apprehension in their mind that it will be harmful or injurious for them to continue living with their spouse.
What are some instances where the Supreme Court has found cruelty on the part of the wife?
Some instances where the court has found cruelty on the part of the wife are:
(a) verbal abuse and repeated threats to commit suicide (Narayan Ganesh Dastane v. Sucheta Narayan Dastane)
(b) making allegations of “mental problems and paranoid disorder” or lunacy/insanity against the husband and his family during legal proceedings (V. Bhagat v. D. Bhagat)
(c) depriving a husband and the children of food; (Mayadevi v. Jagdish Prasad)
(d) making a unilateral decision to not have a child, refusing to cook for him or cohabit with him, and humiliating him; (Samar Ghosh v. Jaya Ghosh)
(e) forcing the husband to separate from his dependent parents; (Narendra v. K. Meena)
(e) making defamatory complaints to superiors (Joydeep Majumdar v. Bharti Jaiswal Majumdar)