Cruelty In Marriage


Compromises and adjustments are part of every relationship, but when the compromise exceed a person’s self-respect, then the bond weakens before even these two realises. Cruelty in marriage implies behaviour which causes physical or mental harm to the spouse, whether the act was committed by intentional.

Since time immemorial marriage has been the greatest and most significant of all the establishments in human society. It has always existed in one form or another in every culture, ensuring social sanction to a physical union between man and woman. In Hindu culture, marriage is considered a sacred union and also a significant social institution.

“All cruelty springs from weakness”


Before the 1955 era, it was difficult to get a divorce for a person practising Hindu religion as they considered marriage to be a pious knot. Therefore, we cannot find a provision for Divorce in uncodified Hindu Law whether it be Shastras, Puranas, Vedas or other partial books related to Hindu Religion. Though it was a tough task, considering various stigmas in social life related to this sacred bond, the parliament enacted laws regarding divorce and put one ground for the same as Cruelty by either of the spouses to another. In the current scenario, Cruelty is a well-established basis for divorce, and in fact, suitably sanctioned with punishment by the law under The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and the Indian Penal Code, 1860 respectively.

Cruelty and its forms

Cruelty refers to violent acts. However, a mere quarrel, petty outrageous behaviour or differences between the spouses does not come in the ambit of cruelty because this is something that is common on a day to day married life. Conducts that would amount to cruelty ought to be grave and severe in nature. Grave conducts or acts doesn’t always meanphysical violence. Though physical violence is an essential factor that constitutes cruelty, but apart from that, a continuous process of ill-treatment or mental torture to either of the spouse would also constitute the same. 

In a landmark judgement of Samar Ghosh v. Jaya Ghosh (2007)[1], the court considered the concept of “Cruelty” and referring to Oxford Dictionary definescrueltyas “the quality of being cruel; disposition of inflicting suffering; delight in or indifference to another’s pain; mercilessness; hard-heartedness.”

Physical Cruelty

A single assault by one spouse upon the other spouse can constitute physical cruelty. The assault must, however, be life-threatening or must be indicative ofintent to do serious bodily harm, or such a degree as to raise reasonable apprehension of great bodily harm in the future.“Bodily injury” is not required to find “physical cruelty” if the wrongful act involves actual violence directed by one spouse at the other.

Mental Cruelty

“Mental abuse is much more painful than physical abuse because the person is consumed by his/her own thoughts.”

Human mind is extremely complex and human behaviour is equally complicated. Similarly, human ingenuity has no bound.Therefore, to assimilate the entire human behaviour in one definition is almost impossible. But in a broader sense, mental cruelty is when any of the spouseshas been inflicted with any kind of mental stress or has to compromise mental peace for the other or has to constantly go through mental agony. Then under these circumstances we can say that the spousehas been suffering from mental cruelty by the other. What is cruelty in one case may not amount to cruelty in the other. The concept of cruelty differs from person to person depending upon his/her upbringing, level of sensitivity, educational, family and cultural background, financial position, social status, customs, traditions, religious beliefs, human values and their value system.

Apart from this, the concept of mental cruelty cannot remain static; it is bound to change with the passage of time, it may be due to the impact of modern culture through print and electronic media or their value systems. What may be mental cruelty now may not remain the same after a passage of time or vice versa. There can never be any strait-jacket formula or fixed parameters for determining mental cruelty in matrimonial matters. The only way could be examining each case individually. In Broja Kishore Ghosh v. Smt. Krishna Ghosh[2], the Calcutta High Court emphasised on the variable nature of the concept of cruelty. It stated— “What act would constitute mental cruelty depends upon the circumstances of each case, e.g., environment, status in society, education, cultural development, local customs, social condition, physical and mental conditions of the parties. Each case depends upon a variety of facts and circumstances.”

Cruelty under Section 498A Indian Penal Code 1860 (IPC)

Cruelty is the essence of Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. This provision has given a new dimension to the conceptof ‘Cruelty’ for the purpose of matrimonial relief. It is to be noted that it is not every type of cruelty that would attract this particular section.

Ingredients of cruelty as contemplated under Section 498A, IPC are of much higher and sterner degree than the ordinary concept of cruelty,which is applicable and available for the purpose of dissolution of marriage. Also, this provision entitles punishment for the cruel acts of husband and his relatives towards a woman, including imprisonment for a term which may extend to 3 (three) years anda fine as prescribed by the court.

In Shobha Rani v Madhukar Reddi[3], the Supreme Court held that repeated demands for dowry by the husband or his relatives was a form of cruelty. The courts have also given similar relief in other cases, including those of persistent drunkenness and repeatedly making unfounded allegations. Whereas, inPaparambakaRosamma v. State of Andhra Pradesh[4], it was held that the statement in the dying declaration of the victim-wife that she wanted to live separately but her husband was not prepared and on that score he had beaten her in the afternoon the previous day, coupled with the statement that her grandmother disliked her, are not sufficient to substantiate the prosecution case that the victim-wife was meted out with ill-treatment punishable under Section 498A IPC.

Cruelty as a ground for Judicial Separation & Divorce

The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 revolves around the concept of valid marriage betweenHindus, valid rites of Hindu marriage and the provisions for maintenance and divorce. Under this Act,Cruelty is a ground for claiming Judicial separation andDivorce, Section 10 and Section 13 respectively mentions the same. This relief is available to both the husband and wife who were married either before the Act came into operation or thereafter. The Act further provides that either party to a marriage, whether solemnised before or after the commencement of the Act, may present a petition for judicial separation or divorce on the ground that the other party has treated the petitioner with such 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. Under theAct, initially cruelty was not a ground for divorce but only for judicial separation. However, an amendment was made in 1976, where the Act incorporated cruelty as a ground for divorce under Section 13(1) (ib). Along with the change in law, the definition of cruelty under this act was also changed. Before the amendment, to constitute cruelty, the petitioner should have been treated with such cruelty to cause reasonable apprehension in his/her mind that to continue living with the respondent would be harmful or injurious to health. This was in accordance with the English law.

However, this was upheld by the Supreme Court in the leading case of Narayan Ganesh Dastane v. Sucheta Narayan Dastane[5] in 1975. It was held that whether a spouse has suffered cruelty or not is a subjective matter that courts should decide in a case-specific manner. This ground was made almost similar to the ground of cruelty under Section 10(1) for judicial separation, but one distinction was made, that wasthe words “persistently or repeatedly” were added. By this addition, establishing cruelty as a ground for divorce was made more stringent as compared to establishing the same for judicial separation. In another landmark judgement of Mayadevi v. Jagdish Prasad[6], divorce was granted to the husband on the ground of cruelty where his wife was cruel towards him and his children, used to quarrel a lot over monetary matters, demand unnecessary materialistic things from him, and eventually was convicted for the murder of her own children under Section 302, IPC. All the facts were taken as res gestae cruelty against the husband and therefore, the wife was held guilty.


Marriage is a sacred union and confers a lot of responsibilities on both the spouses towards each other. The relationshipshould be treated with love, respect and trust inter se. Cruelty in marriage should be addressed as it is high time for people to understand that humans are complex beings and are meant for regard rather than disregard.Whether physical abuse or mental cruelty, both impacts negatively a spouse’s thoughts and over his/her mind.

And then too if someone is suffering cruelty in a marriage, then he/she can openly reach out to courts rather than sitting at home and worsening the scenario, but, the case will be decided bymere facts of the same, court can extend or summarize the meaning of cruelty according to their own interpretation but within the boundary of the law and without being prejudiced.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. What is Cruelty in Marriage?

Cruelty in marriage basically implies behaviour which causes physical or mental harm to a spouse by another, whether the act was done intentionally or not.

  • What are the two types of Cruelty?

Cruelty can be both physical and mentaldepending upon the circumstances and many other factors such as education, social background, sensitivity of the individual victim, etc.

  • What is Physical Cruelty in Marriage?

Physical cruelty has been generally defined as actual personal violence, such as a course of physical treatment that endangers life, limb or health, and renders cohabitation unsafe for a spouse.

  • What is Mental Cruelty in Marriage?

If any of the spousesis inflicted with any kind of mental stress or has to compromise mental peace for the other or has to constantly go through mental agony, then that amounts to mental cruelty.

  • What is Cruelty under Section 498A IPC?

The expression “Cruelty” has been defined under Section 498A IPC as — “any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman” or “harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.”

  • Has Cruelty anywhere been defined under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955?

No, cruelty hasn’t been defined anywhere in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 but has been stated as a ground for Judicial Separation and Divorce under Section 10 and Section 13(1)(ib) of the Act respectively.


[1]Appeal (civil)151 of 2004

[2]A.I.R.1989 CALCUTTA 327

[3]AIR 1988 SC 121

[4]Criminal Appeal No. 1175 Of 1998


[6]AIR 2007 SC 1426

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