Section 13 of The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, provides for dissolution of a Hindu marriage by a decree of divorce on 13 grounds. One of them is cruelty.

Section 27 of The Special Marriage Act, 1954, provides for 12 grounds for divorce. One of them is cruelty.

Section 2 of The Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939, provides for 8 grounds on which a woman married under the Muslim law is entitled to obtain a decree for dissolution of her Marriage. One of them is cruelty.

Section 32 of The Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936, provides for 11 grounds for divorce. One of them is cruelty.

Section 10 of The Indian Divorce Act, 1869, provides for 7 grounds of dissolution of marriage of Christians. One of them is adultery coupled with cruelty.

None of these Acts, however, define as to what cruelty is.

The idea, the meaning and the concept of cruelty changes from time to time, varies from place to place and differs from individual to individual. It is not the same for persons situated in different economic conditions and status.

Perhaps this is the reason why the Legislature has not, in any of the Acts, defined as to what cruelty is and has left it to the best judgement of the Judiciary to decide as to what amounts to cruelty to a particular person in a particular set of circumstances.

Various Judges have, in numerous judgements, defined as to what amounts to cruelty, but once again those definitions are not general but are related to the facts of those particular cases.

The question of cruelty is to be judged on the totality of the circumstances. In order to term a conduct as cruel it should be so grave and weighty that staying together becomes impossible. A conduct to be cruel must be more serious than the ordinary wear and tear of marriage.

You will be surprised to know that out of 100 cases of divorces, in 95 cases, the ground for divorce is cruelty and in the majority of them the cruel conduct complained of is physical violence. However, cases of mental cruelty are also not unknown to our Courts and, at times, complaints are made of a spouse afflicting cruelty upon another, without physical violence, just by his or her conduct of saying something or refraining from doing something.

By cruelty we normally think a conduct, a behaviour, an act of physical violence. The normal idea of cruelty in the common man’s mind is assaulting somebody. However cruelty as a ground for matrimonial relief is just not physical violence. Cruelty as a ground for divorce need not be physical only. It may be mental. And believe me, mental cruelty is of a worse kind than that of physical violence.

A wife’s conduct of :

- humiliating her husband in the presence of family members and friends,

- taunting her husband on his physical incapabilities,

- denying him access to physical relationship,

- neglect,

- coldness and insult,

- deliberately wearing clothes which her husband dislikes,

- purposely cooking food which her husband is not fond of,

- visiting her parent’s family off and on against her husband’s wishes,

- undergoing an abortion despite her husband asking her not to do so,

- threatening to commit suicide,

- refusing to do household work,

- keeping husband outside the door of house,

- complaining to husband’s employer,

- disobedience,

all these are not acts of physical violence but yet it has an effect on the husband’s mind and due to this, the husband’s health suffers and therefore these acts can be termed as cruel.

Similarly, a husband’s conduct of:

- humiliating his wife,

- calling her frigid or cold fish, making excessive sexual demands,

- comparing her with the maid servant,

- taunting her for not having any child or giving birth to female children,

- demanding dowry,

- asking her to bring money or articles from her parents,

- objecting to her visiting her parents, insulting her relatives when they visit her,

- deliberately removing all servants and making her do all household work,

- denying any medical treatment when she is ill

are also acts of mental cruelty by the husband upon the wife.

In one of the cases, the conduct of a wife abusing her husband and his family members, in her letters, in defamatory and derogatory language and accusing her husband of infidelity was considered as cruelty afflicted by her upon her husband.

In a decided case a Learned Judge of a High Court held that the accusation made by the husband in his written statement, opposing the petition of his wife and alleging there in, without proving the same, that his wife was leading an adulterous life, was cruelty afflicted by the husband upon the wife.

In order to find out whether a particular act is cruel or not, one has to look upon the effect which is caused by that act. If the effect is that by a particular act harm has been caused to the body or mind of the other, the said act is an act of cruelty.

Indian people of whatever race and religion they may be and to whichever class of society they may belong to are basically tolerant. Unless the treatment received by a person from his or her spouse is extremely grave and unbearable, it is not treated as a cruel conduct giving a ground for dissolution of marriage. Still we do not have cases of divorce on the ground of husband snoring at night or wife refusing to accompany husband to a party.