Physical, Mental or Sentimental: Cruelty is a Crime


No reasonable man of ordinary society would deny that cruelty is a crime. However, that is mostly for cases involving physical abuse. There still needs to be raised a lot of awareness among people with respect to emotional and mental cruelty.

In a Chandigarh High Court Judgement called, Anita Devi v. Pradyuman Prasad Yadav, the wife, in retaliation to the divorce case filed by the husband, filed a criminal case and husband was successfully able to prove, cruelty on her part. However, one might need the best divorce lawyer in Chandigarh, to win such complicated cases, because the Indian judiciary does have a tendency to incline their judgments in favour of the wife.

Another big misconception that surrounds cruelty in India is that it is only wives who are often at the receiving end of the husband’s cruel nature.

This blog seeks to contradict these misconceptions by highlighting certain cases in which the court was satisfied with mental and emotional cruelty being committed on the husband, by the wife.

In the case of Suman Kumar v. Sudhir Kumar, the court gave an elaborate judgment on how the actions of the wife amounted to utter cruelty being suffered by the husband. The wife, in this particular case, the wife got her pregnancy terminated twice without even informing the husband, let alone getting his consent. According to the husband, and also as the court later went on to conclude as well, the wife was very career driven and didn’t want to have a child as she thought it would hinder her professional success. Therefore, she got two of her consecutive pregnancies terminated, and all this by intending to keep the husband in the dark about all this.

The court, in its ratio, observed as under:

“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. The feeling of deep anguish, disappointment, frustration in one spouse caused by the conduct of others for a long time may lead to mental cruelty. A sustained course of abusive and humiliating treatment calculated to torture, discommode or render miserable life of the spouse. 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. 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. Unilateral decision of refusal to have intercourse for a considerable period without there being any physical incapacity or valid reason may amount to mental cruelty.”

From the above paragraph, it has been made very clear by the Supreme Court that cruelty is not always physical. It may be mental, or even sentimental. The above example of a husband not being given the chance to decide either in favour of or against the birth of his offspring amounts to immense emotional and sentimental cruelty. This is not the only case.

Section 13 (i) (a) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, provides for divorce to a couple on the grounds of cruelty. By way of judicial interpretation, the word’s scope has been expanded to a great extent to include all kinds of cruelty, physical, mental and sentimental. Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1960 also criminalizes all kinds of cruel acts directed towards the wife by, either the husband or his relatives, in respect of demands for dowry.

But, there exist a substantial amount of differences between the above-mentioned two provisions. Under Section 13 (i) (a), the only consequence is a civil divorce and no penal charges are attracted because personal laws are civil in nature. Whereas, allegations under Section 498-A invite penal consequences.

Whereas Section 13 (i) (a) is gender neutral in that both the spouses can avail of the provision in order to seek a divorce, Section 498-A can only be availed of by the wife.

A third and probably the most important difference between the two provisions is that, under Section 13 (i) (a), the cruelty need not be committed in furtherance of any mala fide motive, whereas under Section 498-A, the cruel acts must have been tailored in respect of the demand for dowry. The only commonality between the two provisions is probably that both deal with cruelty among a married couple.

With regard to mental cruelty, there exist many questions and doubts about how can one party prove mental cruelty in a court. However, the problem appears to be bigger than it is. Even though mental suffering has no tangible expression, nonetheless, the mental torture will necessarily be the result of an actual noticeable, tangible action on behalf of the other spouse. Even though the effect is an internal state of mind of the aggrieved spouse, the cause definitely has external aspects, in that, it is likely to be an action, or words of the guilty spouse. The court is only concerned with the proof of the cause, and the effect will be assumed by it if the act is of such a grave nature and severity, that any reasonable man can be presumed to be affected by it. The only pre-condition is that the action must be continually occurring for a minimum period of time, with a certain level of consistency; lest the court will not consider minor acts of deviance isolated in time, to be amounting to cruelty.

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