The Uttrakhand High Court has on 29th August 2020 passed a landmark judgment in a case maintaining that Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act prescribes a provision for divorce and recognizes cruelty but doesn’t limit to just physical cruelty on the part of the spouse as a ground for divorce. Thus, cruelty shall include physical as well as mental cruelty as a ground of divorce.

The Uttarakhand HC has held that a wife causing mental cruelty to her husband is a valid ground for dissolution of marriage, making mental cruelty no less ground for marriage than physical cruelty. The decision came from Justice Ravi Vijay Kumar Mali math and Justice Narayan Singh Dhanik who heard an appeal filed by the wife against the decree of divorce passed by the lower court in grounds of cruelty by the wife against her husband.

FACTS OF THE CASE –

The marital dispute includes Rajesh Gaur and Anita Gaur who got married on 12th May 1999 according to Hindu customs and ceremonies and had two children and were living happily.

According to the husband, the trouble in their paradise came suddenly about five years ago when he noted a sudden change in the behavior of his wife and several valuable articles went on missing from the house. Not only this, but he also started receiving threats on the telephone of people asking him either to return the money else he would be kidnapped.

The husband purported that his wife admitted that she had borrowed money from people at an interest @10 percent per month, with which she purchased ornaments and clothes on credit. Due to such repeated threats, he decided to go back to Dehradun taking his wife and submitted his request to the concerned Gram Panchayat where his wife admitted her mistakes in writing. On the basis of such admission, the husband filed a suit to the lower court with the intention to obtain a decree for divorce from his wife under Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act.

However, when the husband moved to the Court for divorce the wife denied all the allegations made by the husband against her and instead purported that she was being abused and harassed in the marital relationship and even lodged a case of Bigamy under section 494 of the IPC and lodged a complaint in the Women cell. The lower Court passed a judgment in favor of the husband and passed a decree of divorce on the basis of the evidence presented by the husband and holding the fact that the acts alleged by the husband against his wife are eligible enough to be counted under the category of cruelty.

Thereafter, the wife filed an appeal to the High Court against the judgment of divorce where the HC affirmed the judgment of the lower court and dismissed the wife’s appeal against the decree. The High Court maintained that in the present case, there was a failure on the part of the wife to prove the allegations made by her towards her husband.

The Court concluded that all the acts and conduct, on part of the wife would constitute cruelty. The cruelty on part of the wife was not a solitary instance of cruelty and she indulged in repeated acts of cruelty and misbehavior with her husband. Relying on the basis of the fact that though Cruelty is a ground for divorce the Act doesn’t specifically provide for any one type of cruelty, thus it includes physical as well as mental cruelty.

Taking a cue from one of the precedents of the Supreme Court judgment in Praveen Mehta v. Inderjit Mehta, where the SC held that there is no exact way to establish mental cruelty by direct evidence, but only a matter of interpretation to be observed from the facts and circumstances of the case.

Likewise, in Raj Talreja v. Kavita Talreja, where the Court had held that it is impossible to establish with exactitude.

What does the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 say about “Cruelty” as a Ground for Divorce?

Under Section 13 of Act 1955, the grounds for divorce include-

 1. Intentional sexual intercourse with any person other than his or her spouse;

2. Cruelty;

3. Desertion for a constant period two years preceding immediately from the suit presentation;

4. Ceasing to be a Hindu by conversion to another religion”; and

5. Incurably of unsound mind;

Mental Cruelty as a part of Cruelty-

Before the year 1976, the Hindu Marriage Act did not have ‘cruelty’ accepted as a ground for divorce, and only later in 1976 when “Cruelty” was accepted as a ground for seeking both divorces as well as judicial separation. Thus, when ‘cruelty’ was inserted in the Act, there was no exhaustive definition.

Nevertheless, it could be reasonably understood that it is the responsibility of the judiciary to make logical interpretation for providing relief in cases of both physical and mental cruelty in the rule of law.

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