Kerala High Court: The Division Bench of A. Muhamed Mustaque and Kauser Edappagath, JJ., held that false allegation of impotency amounts to mental cruelty, hence, is a valid ground for dissolution of marriage.
The appellant and the respondent were husband and wife, both doctors by profession. Both of them had initiated legal proceedings against each other – the husband, for divorce and the wife, for restitution of conjugal rights. After trial, the Court below, by the impugned common order, dismissed the original petition filed by the appellant and allowed the original petition by the respondent granting her a decree for restitution of conjugal rights.
The appellant had sought for decree of nullity on the ground that his consent to the marriage was obtained by fraud perpetrated by the respondent in suppressing material facts regarding her mental condition. He had also prayed that the marriage be dissolved on the grounds of incurable unsound mind and cruelty on the part of the respondent.
Whether suppression of any information amount to fraud?
Though it was alleged by the appellant, and practically admitted by the respondent, that two psychiatrists had treated the respondent, no steps were taken by the appellant to examine them or to produce the treatment records. The essential ingredient to be proved for securing an order of dissolution of marriage under Section 10 (1) (iii) of the Act, 1869 is that the respondent had been incurably of unsound mind for a continuous period of not less than two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition; but there was no convincing evidence on record to prove that the respondent had been suffering from any mental disease of incurable nature. Therefore, opining that the proviso to Section 19 of the Act gets attracted only when the consent was obtained through force or by playing fraud, the Bench explained,
“The word ‘suppression’ does not occur in Section 19 of the Act. The Parliament has employed the words ‘force’ and ‘fraud’. Before a party gives consent for the marriage with the other, there is bound to be exchange of information. This Section cannot be treated as a provision placing burden upon a spouse to the marriage, to reveal the entire information about him or her to the other.”
Hence, the Bench reached to the findings that the allegation was about suppression and failure to inform a particular fact cannot be treated as fraud, unless the person failing to mention it was under legal obligation to state it. Thus, the non disclosure by the wife before marriage that she was suffering from delusion disorder was not a suppression of material fact. Hence, it could not amount to fraud in obtaining his consent for the marriage.
Considering the case of the appellant, the Bench opined that there was nothing to disbelieve the evidence given by the appellant that throughout the period they lived together, the respondent hs perpetrated various acts, ranging from several mental agony by behaving in an immature, irrational and bizarre manner, being drowsy, lethargic and unhygienic always, showing abnormal postures with her hands, talking uninhibitedly, often screaming that some gang was going to attack her, staring at people, having a phobia for darkness, having bad mouth odour, abdicating all shared household duties etc., making his life a living hell. The Bench stated that to constitute cruelty, the conduct complained of need not necessarily be so grave and severe so as to make cohabitation virtually unendurable or of such character as to cause danger to life, limb or health. It must be something more serious than “ordinary wear and tear of the married life”. It is sufficient if the conduct and behaviour of one spouse towards the other is of such a nature that it causes reasonable apprehension in the mind of the latter that it is not safe for him or her to continue the marital tie. The Bench further stated,
“Malevolent intention is not essential to cruelty. There may be instances of cruelty by unintentional but inexcusable conduct of the party. The absence of intention should not make any difference in the case, if by ordinary sense in human affairs; the act complained of could otherwise be regarded as cruelty.”
It had been held by the Supreme Court in Samar Ghosh (supra) that intention is not a necessary element in cruelty and that the relief to the party cannot be denied on the ground that there has been no deliberate or wilful ill treatment.
False Allegation of Impotency
Yet another facet of mental cruelty on the part of the respondent canvassed by the appellant was the false accusation made by the respondent against the appellant about his sexual capacity, that the appellant was suffering from erectile dysfunction and was incapable of performing sexual activities. In K. Srinivas Rao v. D. A. Deepa, (2013) 5 SCC 226, it was held that making unfounded indecent defamatory allegations against the spouse or his or her relatives in the pleadings amount to causing mental cruelty to the other spouse.
The respondent had imputed that the appellant was suffering from erectile dysfunction, and thus, he was incapable of performing sexual activities, but at the same breath, she had admitted that she had a satisfactory sexual relationship with the appellant after July, 2010. Therefore, opining that the respondent had miserably failed to substantiate the imputation made by her, the Bench said remarked,
“Casting aspersions of impotency or erectile dysfunction by one spouse against other in the counter statement in a matrimonial proceeding will undoubtedly constitute cruelty.”
Hence, it was found that the respondent making unnecessary accusations against the appellant amounted to mental Cruelty. Accordingly, the Bench held that the appellant had made out a case for granting a decree for dissolution of marriage on the ground of cruelty under Section 10(1)(x) of the Act. The prayer for restitution of conjugal rights by the respondent was rejected, the impugned orders were partly set aside and the marriage between the appellant and the respondent was dissolved.[xx v. xx, 2021 SCC OnLine Ker 2327 , decided on 31-05-2021]
Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.
Appearance before the Court by:
For the Appellant: Adv. P.Gopakumaran Nair, Adv. B.Bindu and Adv. N.K.Subramanian
For the Respondent: Adv. K.N.Abhilash and Adv. Sunil Nair Palakkat