In terms of the legal domain, “cruelty” is essentially defined as any behaviour which causes physical or mental harm to another, especially a spouse, whether intentionally or not. Divorce in general means the breakage or dissolution of marriage with the help of law, so that one can leave his or her spouse and become free from marital duties with some exceptions. In order to constitute cruelty , the actions must be of that sort which are grave in nature and become conclusive of the opinion that the spouse holding the position of the petitioner in the case can, under no circumstances can be expected to live with the other spouse.

Proof of Cruelty:

In order to prove any sort of cruelty , the circumstances as well as the background of both the parties to the suit is considered with a thorough examination of their statuses regarding education , physical and mental conditions, their perspectives regarding various customs as well traditions of whichever tradition they follow. It is difficult to lay down a precise definition or to give exhaustive description of the circumstances, which would constitute cruelty. It must be of the type as to satisfy the conscience of the Court that the relationship between the parties had deteriorated to such extent due to the conduct of the other spouse that it would be impossible for them to live together without mental agony, torture or distress, to entitle the complaining spouse to secure divorce.

It is not always essential for cruelty to be in a physical form, it can also exist in a mental form by way of the use of abusive language , or through some actions that cause mental torture or agony to one of the spouses thereby causing a constant disturbance to the mental peace.

Incorporation of Cruelty as a ground for divorce:  

Prior to the 1976 amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 cruelty was not a ground for claiming divorce under the Hindu Marriage Act. It was only a ground for claiming judicial separation under Section 10 of the Act.

Here the aggrieved party or the petitioner has to prove that the cruelty is so grave or so unbearable that it is getting difficult to carry forward with his or her spouse (the defender). But this is upheld by the Supreme Court in a landmark case of Narayan Ganesh Dastane Vs. Sucheta Narayan Dastane in 1975.  

By 1976 Amendment, the Cruelty has been made ground for divorce. The words, which have been incorporated, are “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”.

Legal Provisions regarding cruelty :

Divorce on the basis of cruelty has been instilled under Section 13(1)(i)(a) as “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”.  

Cruelty In Eyes Of The Court:

There exists various grounds for claim on basis of cruelty and types of cruelty, which are identified by the courts in their various judgments, and the courts provide a legal backup for the sufferer in this sense. They have given following explanation within the scope of cruelty under section 13(1)(i)(a);

· It is sufficient that if the cruelty is of such type that it becomes impossible for spouses to live together,

· The levelling of false allegation by one spouse about the other having alleged illicit relations with different persons outside wedlock amounted to mental cruelty,

· A husband cannot ask his wife that he does not like her company, but she can or should stay with other members of the family in matrimonial home. Such an attitude is cruelty in itself on the part of the husband,

· Social torture by anyone of the spouses to the other, found to be as the mental torture and cruelty.

· If the intention to harm, harass or hurt could be inferred by the nature of the conduct or brutal act complained of, cruelty can be easily established. But the absence of intention should not make any difference in the case. The cruel treatment may also result from the cultural conflict between the parties.

· A party can cause mental cruelty when the other spouse levels an allegation that the petitioner is a mental patient, or that he requires expert psychological treatment to restore his mental health.

Other Legal Provisions for Cruelty :

Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code describes the offence of cruelty against a wife by her husband and/or in-laws.

Ingredients of Section 498 A:

The woman must be legally married to her husband.

The woman must have been subjected to some sort of cruelty or marital abuse.

Such cruelty must be done by her husband himself or the relatives of the husband and here the terms relative only includes the husband’s parents, brothers and sisters and nobody other than them, not even any close friend or any distant relatives.

However, if the husband commits such cruelty he shall be liable for imprisonment which may extend to three years with fine.

Explanation to Section 498A under the Indian Penal Code :

The expression “cruelty” has been defined in a wider perspective under this section, that is:

The commencement of any wilful conduct of such a nature which would likely drive the wife to commit suicide or would cause her grave injuries or danger by inflicting physical or mental harm to life, limb or health of the wife.

Harassing the wife where such harassment is done with a view to coerce her or her relations to meet any unlawful demands for any property or valuable security or is done in the result of her or any of her relation’s failure in meeting such demand.

Other Grounds For Divorce:

Apart from the cruelty there are several other bases for divorce on which one can claim divorce and some of those are as follows;




Entering new religion

Unsoundness of mind etc.

There are certain grounds, which are provided by law specially to the women:

1. Husband having more than one wife living

2. Marriage before attainment of fifteen years

3. Consent obtained by force etc.

So on these above grounds men and women can claim for decree of divorce in front of the law.


On basis of these various points we can say how in history there was no such law, which governs the matter of divorce in Hindu society but with the implementation of the Hindu Marriage Act-1955, this vacuum has been filled with proper directions and the law very well handling these matters with the help of the courts.

There are many grounds for the divorce provided by law and cruelty is one of paramount importance.

Under the Hindu Marriage Act we can find that the cruelty cannot be restricted to physical harm but it has the meaning beyond that. As in the case of Naveen Kohli the court said physical violence is not absolutely essential to constitute cruelty, a consistent course of conduct inflicting immeasurable mental agony and torture may constitute cruelty likewise in Yudhishthira Singh it was held that a husband cannot ask his wife that he does not like her company, but she can or should stay with other members of the family in matrimonial home, such an attitude is cruelty in itself on the part of the husband. It means the way for deciding the matter of cruelty the court can apply their own discretionary power.

Advocate N.K. Verma - Banking & DRT Advocate in Chandigarh, Punjab, Haryana, High Court | Best Banking & DRT Lawyers | DRT Advocates Chandigarh |