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Boost to cruelty divorce plea

New Delhi, April 16: The Supreme Court today held that “mental cruelty” to a wife was ground enough for divorce and such cruelty by the husband need not always result in deterioration of her health.

A division bench of Justices Doraiswamy Raju and D.M. Dharmadhikari rejected a provision in the existing divorce law that mental cruelty could be proved only if the health of the wife broke down.

It also held that cruelty need not be continuous and the legal test of “what constituted mental cruelty” need not depend on the “numerical count of such incidents nor depend only on the continuous course of such conduct but really go by the intensity, gravity and stigmatic impact of it”.

The judges were hearing a case in which a man was levelling allegations that his wife was having an illicit sexual relationship with their neighbour’s son.

“Levelling disgusting accusations of unchastity and indecent familiarity with a person outside wedlock and allegations of extra marital relationship is a grave assault on the character, honour, reputation, status as well as the health of the wife,” the judges said.

Such allegations were the “worst form of insult and cruelty in the reformulated concept of matrimonial law” and relief should be granted to the wife in such cases, the court said.

The judges said they were aware that the English divorce law insisted that cruelty should endanger life or limb or lead to other physical losses. But in the Indian context, it would be enough if the cruelty made the woman feel she could not live in harmony in her husband’s house any more.

“Mental cruelty under section 13(1)(i-a) of the Hindu Marriage Act can broadly be defined as a conduct which inflicts upon the other party such mental pain and suffering as would make it not possible for that party to live with the other,” the judges said.

“Tantrums, complaints and reproaches of ordinary nature” were different from “a conscious and deliberate statement” which could not “so lightly be ignored or brushed aside”, they said.

In the instant case, the husband made a written statement accusing his wife of having a sexual relationship with the neighbour’s son but later withdrew it. But the judges declined to accept the withdrawal of the statement.

The wife’s health had deteriorated but the judges held that cruelty need not always result in the wife’s “bad health”.

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