Cruelty as a ground for divorce has been a subject of substantial jurisprudential development in India. Over the years, the Supreme Court of India has played a pivotal role in shaping the contours of what constitutes cruelty in matrimonial disputes. Below is the Supreme Court’s view on cruelty.
Let’s delve into the key observations made by the Supreme Court of India on this matter:
1. Definition of Cruelty:
In the case of “Shobha Rani v. Madhukar Reddi”, the Court observed that cruelty can be both physical and mental. Physical violence is not a sole determinant; mental torture or abnormal behavior can also amount to cruelty.
2. Subjective Nature of Cruelty:
The Supreme Court, in the case of “V. Bhagat v. Mrs. D. Bhagat”, stated that mental cruelty in one marital relationship might not be the same in another. The social status, upbringing, societal values, customs, traditions, and many other factors play a role in determining whether a particular behavior can be termed as cruelty.
3. Continued Course of Conduct:
In “Naveen Kohli v. Neelu Kohli”, the Supreme Court observed that if a course of conduct and behavior by one spouse results in the loss of mental peace of the other, it can amount to cruelty and be a valid ground for divorce.
4. Adjustment in Marital Life:
The Court, in its various judgments, has noted that trivial irritations, quarrels, or disagreements should not be termed as cruelty. Both partners in a marital relationship need to adjust with each other to some extent.
5. No Necessity for Actual Harm:
In “Dr. N.G. Dastane v. Mrs. S. Dastane”, the Supreme Court highlighted that it is not necessary for cruelty to cause danger to life, limb, or health. It is enough if it makes living together mentally or emotionally incompatible.
6. False Allegations:
Making baseless and false allegations against the spouse or their family members can also constitute cruelty. This was observed by the Supreme Court in cases like “K. Srinivas v. K. Sunita”.
7. Intention Not Solely Relevant:
In “Ravi Kumar v. Julmidevi”, the Court observed that it’s not just the intention behind the act, but the act’s impact on the victim that determines cruelty. Even unintentional acts, if they cause pain and suffering, can amount to cruelty.
8. Economic Strain:
Economic struggles, not providing financial support, or creating conditions of financial hardships can also be considered forms of cruelty in certain circumstances.
The Supreme Court’s observations on cruelty over the years emphasize the dynamic and evolving nature of the term. While physical violence is explicitly understood as cruelty, a broad array of behaviors causing mental, emotional, or psychological pain have been included in this ambit. The Court, through its judgments, has striven to strike a balance between safeguarding the sanctity of marriage and recognizing genuine instances of cruelty.