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Cruelty: A Comprehensive Analysis of Dastan v/s Dastan and the Evolution of Hindu Marriage Law (1955-Now)

The era of 1955 is the most crucial for the Hindu. Pre- era of 1955 was regarded as uncodified Hindu Law. It was the necessity of that era that led the Parliament to enact four Acts for the Hindu. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 is one of the main examples. Inter caste marriage, marriages with widow, re-marriages all are not taboo by the Act as all were in pre-era of 1955.

Even, marriage is considered as a pious and spiritual knot in Hindu law. It is based on Hindu Religion. Thus, there was no provision for divorce in uncodified Hindu law. The patriarchal society was ended by the Hindu Marriage Act. Now, both the spouse are entitled for divorce. However, cruelty has always been an emerging and alarming topic for the courts. The Supreme Court has recognized cruelty as the ground for divorce.

Divorce on grounds of cruelty has two forms one is the physical cruelty and another is the mental cruelty, the physical cruelty is easier to prove as direct evidence is easily available, witnesses, medical records, etc. But what about mental cruelty? How one can measure or see emotions like fear, depression, frustrations etc. which is caused by other spouse. The spouse seems to be physically well for the outside world but the reality is harsh.

In a layman language, the term violence can be defined as any bodily or emotional pain inflicted on a person. Violence by men against women is a longstanding and worldwide problem. Data reveals that position is daunting and disquieting in all the countries and not only in India. The issue lies in the mindset of people not treating women as equal.

The term cruelty is a wider term and more appropriate term to describe cases of violence against women in any domestic relationship by her husband or family members is domestic violence. Cruelty has always been assumed as matrimonial cruelty as it was defined like that under various women protection laws.

Under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 cruelty is a ground for divorce as well as judicial separation. However, the term 'cruelty' is not defined under Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. It is through decided cases that the term 'cruelty' has been understood as act of physical as well as mental cruelty.

Provisions for cruelty:
Cruelty as one of the grounds for Judicial Separation:

Section 10(1): Either party to a marriage, whether solemnized before or after the commencement of this Act, may present a petition to the district court praying for a decree for judicial separation on the ground that the other party has treated the petitioner with cruelty as to cause a reasonable apprehension in the mind of the petitioner that it will be harmful or injurious for the petitioner to live with the other party.

Cruelty as one of the grounds for Divorce:
Section 13(1)(i)(i)(a):
"Any marriage solemnized whether before or after the commencement of this Act, may, on a petition presented by either the husband or the wife, be dissolved by a decree of divorce on the ground that the other party has, after the solemnization of the marriage, treated the petitioner with cruelty."

Effect of condonation of cruelty:
Section 23(1)(b): "In any proceedings under this Act, whether defended or not, if the court is satisfied that the ground of the petition is the ground specified in clause (f) of sub-section (1) of section 10, or clause (i) of sub-section (1) of section 13, the petitioner has not in any manner been accessory to or connived at or condoned the act or acts complained of, or where the ground of petition is cruelty the petitioner has not in any manner condoned the cruelty, then, in such a case, but not otherwise, the court shall decree such relief accordingly."

The Appellant is Dr. Narayan Ganesh Dastane, passed his M.Sc. in Agriculture from the Poona University. He is well-educated and qualified man who worked on various projects on national and international level. The Respondent is Sucheta, passed her B.Sc. from the Delhi University. She has obtained Master's Degree in Social Work. She is well-educated woman whose father works as an Under Secretary in the Commerce of Ministry of the Government of India.

The Respondent's parents arranged her marriage with the Appellant in April, 1956. But before finalising the marriage proposal, the Respondent's father, B. R. Abhyankar, sent letters to the Appellant informing him regarding an incident occurred where the Respondent suffered from a 'bad attack of sunstroke' which affected her mental condition for sometime from which she recovered and mentioned 'cerebral malaria' as another reason for the brief decline of her mental health.

He further stated that after a course of treatment, she was cured at the Yeravada Mental Hospital, and asked the Appellant to discuss the matter, if necessary, with the doctors at the hospital, which the Appellant followed and upon the Doctor's confirmation of the Respondent's father's statement, he did not make any further inquiries at the Yeravada Mental Hospital.

The marriage ceremony was performed on May 13, 1956. On March, 1957, a daughter was born to the couple named Shubha, and on March 21, 1959, a second daughter was born named Vibha.

In January, 1961, the Respondent went to Poona to attend the Appellant's brother's marriage ceremony. The Appellant got the Respondent examined by Dr. Seth, a Psychiatrist at the Yeravada Hospital, fortnight after the marriage. As per Appellant's claim, she had promised to see Mr. Seth but she denies the fact that she had made that kind of promise. The Respondent believed that the Appellant was concocting a case of unsound mind against her. They lived together until February 1961, and on the day of parting, she was three months pregnant.

During the Appellant's stay in Delhi, he wrote a letter to the Police asking for protection as he feared his life was in danger from the Respondent's parents and relatives. On the 19th, they briefly interacted with each other which were another opportunity where the parties spewed more venom at each other, and on a subsequent day, Respondent renewed his request for Police protection.

On March 23, 1961, the Respondent addressed a letter to the Appellant complaining against his conduct and asking for maintenance of herself and the daughters. The Respondent also wrote a application to the Secretary, Ministry of Food and Agriculture of India, stating that the Appellant had deserted her and treated her with extreme cruelty, and asking the Government to make separate provision for her maintenance. Respondent's statement regarding the Appellant's ill-treatment and desertion was recorded by an Assistant Superintendant of Police. The cross-complaints and recorded statements amongst the parties were futile and did not bear any fruit.

On August 1961, a third daughter named Pratibha was born to the family. The Appellant wrote a letter to the father of Respondent complaining about the Respondent's conduct and expressed regret for not being given a proper invitation for the naming ceremony of his own child.

On December 15, 1961, the Appellant informed the Respondent's father that he had decided to move to the Court for seeking separation from the Respondent.

On February 19, 1962, proceedings were instituted in the Trial Court where the Appellant asked for the annulment of his marriage under Section 12 (1)(c) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 on the ground that his consent for the marriage was obtained by fraud.

The Appellant alleged that the Respondent was treated at Yeravada Hospital for Schizophrenia and the Respondent's father fraudulently depicted the state of her mental health to him to obtain his consent to the marriage. Alternatively, he asked for divorce under Section13 (1)(iii), Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, on the ground that the Respondent was of unsound mind.

Alternatively, the Appellant asked for judicial separation under Section 10(1)(b) on the ground that the Respondent had treated him with cruelty which created a reasonable apprehension in his mind that it would be harmful and injurious for him to live with her.

Allegations of Husband (Dr.Dastane)

"The respondent used to describe the mother of appellant as a boorish woman;
On the day of 'Paksha' (the day oil which oblations are offered to ancestors) she used to abuse the appellant's ancestors;
She beat her daughter Shubha while she was running on a high temperature of 104 degrees;
One night she started behaving as if she was 'possessed'. She tore off the Mangal-Sutra once and said that she will not put it on again; and
She used to switch on the light at midnight and sit by the bedside of husband nagging him through the night, as a result he literally prostrated himself before her on many occasions."

Allegations of Wife (Sucheta)

"Special instructions given by my husband.
On rising up in the morning, to look after the minor;
Not to fill milk vessel or container or tea cup to the brim;
Not to serve meals in brass plates cups and vessels;
After serving the first course during meals, not to constantly and continuously ask 'what do you want?' but to inform at the beginning of the meals how much and which are the courses.
Not to do any work with one hand.
To regularly apply to her 'Kajal' and give him tomato juice.
Not to talk."

  1. Whether the Burden of Proof of cruelty lies on the Petitioner or not?
  2. Whether the facts have to be established beyond a reasonable doubt in matrimonial matters?
  3. Whether the act of sexual intercourse amounts to condonation of cruelty?

The Supreme Court of India held that the appellant's contention regarding his wife being of unsound mind was fabricated by him. The contention regarding the respondent inflicting cruelty on the appellant has been proven to exist within the meaning of Section 10(1)(b) of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, but the appellant's act of engaging in sexual intercourse with the respondent leads to 'condonation of cruelty' in the eyes of law. The respondent was willing to return to the household shared by both parties as she realised her mistakes.

The appellant condoned the respondent after which she did not act in the manner as she did before the condonation. Hence, the respondent will not be held liable for cruelty and the divorce petition will not be granted.

Concept Highlighted
The tests laid down in determining whether a given conduct leads to legal cruelty is as follows:
  1. The alleged acts constituting cruelty should be proved according to the Law of Evidence;
  2. There should be an apprehension in the petitioner's mind of real harm or injury from such conduct;
  3. The apprehension should be reasonable having regard to the condition of the parties;
  4. The petitioner should not have taken advantage of his position;
  5. The petitioner should not have condoned the acts of cruelty.
The appellant proved the acts constituting the charge of cruelty in accordance with the Law of Evidence � the facts were set up and proved by a preponderance of probabilities. All the acts alleged and inferred to be conducted by the respondent did create a rational apprehension in the appellant's mind.

The court determined that the demands of appellant of certain conduct from the respondent did not call for an attack of self-defence, and the plea in the written statement submitted by the respondent is a denial of conduct alleged and not of provocation.

As regard to the question of condonation (forgiveness of the matrimonial offence and the restoration of an offending spouse to the same position as he or she occupied before the offence was committed), both restoration and forgiveness have to occur by the appellant.

The evidence of condonation consists in the fact that the spouses led a normal sexual life despite the respondent's acts of cruelty. The intent to restore and forgive the offending spouse to the original status may be reasonably inferred as the parties lead a life of intimacy which represents a normal matrimonial relationship, uninfluenced by the respondent's conduct.

Written By:
  1. Saiyam Dua
  2. Vanshika Sharma

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