Delhi High Court: In a case wherein an appeal was filed by the appellant under Section 19 of the Family Courts Act, 1984 against the judgment dated 28-01-2019 vide which the divorce petition under Section 13(1)(i-a) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (‘HMA’) on the ground of ‘cruelty’ filed by the respondent had been allowed, the Division Bench of Suresh Kumar Kait and Neena Bansal Krishna*, JJ., held that the attempt of the appellant to commit suicide by attempting to jump from the balcony squarely amounted to mental cruelty. The Court opined that false allegations of illicit relationship were the ultimate kind of cruelty as it reflected a complete breakdown of trust and faith amongst the spouses without which no matrimonial relationship can survive. Therefore, the Court held that the Judge, Family Court had rightly concluded that it was a case of immense mental cruelty, thus entitling the respondent to a decree of divorce under Section 13(1)(i-a) of the HMA.
In the present case, marriage between the appellant and the respondent was solemnized on 10-03-2009 as per the Hindu Rites and Ceremonies. The respondent claimed that he was subjected to various acts of cruelty. The appellant was proceeded ex-parte before the Judge, Family Courts on 13-03-2018. The parties were referred to counselling, but it did not yield any result. The Judge, Family Court observed that that the acts as narrated by the respondent amounted to ‘mental cruelty’ and granted the divorce vide the impugned Judgment dated 28-01-2019. Aggrieved by the decree of divorce, the present appeal had been filed by the appellant.
Analysis, Law, and Decision
The Court noted that Order V Rule 15 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 provided that where in any suit, the person was absent from his residence at the time when the service of summons was effected on him at his residence and there was no likelihood of his being found at the residence within the reasonable time, the service might be made on any adult member of the family. The Court further noted that the summons were received by the father of the appellant who directed that, they might be served upon the appellant at the given address. Therefore, the service through father was valid service. Thus, the Court opined that the assertion of the appellant that she was not served was erroneous. The Court further opined that there was no explanation for the appellant’s non-participation in the trial and she could not claim denial of the Principles of Natural Justice.
The Court relied on Shobha Rani v. Madhukar Reddi, (1988) 1 SCC 105 (‘Shobha Rani Case’), wherein the question of determination of mental cruelty was answered. The Supreme Court in Shobha Rani Case observed that “the enquiry of mental cruelty must begin with the nature of the cruel treatment and subsequently, the impact of such treatment on the spouse must be examined. It must be seen whether such actions caused reasonable apprehension that it would be harmful or injurious to live with the other spouse”.
The Court opined that the unrebutted testimony of the respondent had proved that the appellant used to pick quarrel on trivial issues and adopted adamant attitude even though the respondent tried to make her understand and reason with her. The appellant left the matrimonial home for fifteen days to one month at times without informing the respondent, and she did not permit the respondent to cohabit at times for one or two months. The Court further opined that the bedrock of any matrimonial relationship was the conjugal relationship of which co-habitation formed a very strong basis and any denial of cohabitation by other spouse amounted to severe cruelty.
The Court observed that regular quarrels might be trivial when considered individually; however, collectively, these quarrels could not only disrupt the mental peace but also become a source of mental agony. The Court further observed that the withdrawal of the appellant from the matrimonial relationship reflected that she had no intent to discharge her matrimonial obligations and continue in the conjugal relationship.
The Court noted that the appellant herself attempted to commit suicide by attempting to jump from the balcony, but she was saved by the respondent. Moreover, the appellant had tried to poison the respondent, and before this, when she was residing with the respondent’s parents, she tried to poison them, but the respondent and his parents saved themselves. Thus, the Court opined that these constant threats of suicide by the appellant or of poisoning the respondent and his parents might not have been successful, but there could not be a bigger mental torture than to be in a continuous fear or threat to security and life of the appellant and the respondent. The threat of suicide not only took a toll on the respondent but also impacted the conjugality of a matrimonial relationship.
The Court relied on Pankaj Mahajan v. Dimple, (2011) 12 SCC 1, wherein the repeated threats to commit suicide and the attempt to commit suicide was held to be an action amounting to cruelty. The Court also relied on Nagendra v. K. Meena, (2016) 9 SCC 455, wherein the Supreme court observed that the action of the wife such as locking herself in the bathroom and pouring kerosene to commit suicide amounted to mental cruelty. It was further observed by the Supreme Court that had she been successful in her attempt to commit suicide, it was the husband who would have been put in immense difficulty because of the law and had his life ruined. Therefore, such an act of mental cruelty could not be looked upon lightly by the courts and was sufficient to entitle the husband to a decree of divorce.
Thus, this Court held that the attempt of the appellant to commit suicide by attempting to jump from the balcony squarely amounted to mental cruelty.
The Court noted that the assertions by the appellant had been buttressed by the allegation of illicit relationship made by the respondent and observed that no evidence whatsoever had been led to establish that the respondent ever had any illicit relationship. The Court relied on Vijay Kumar Ramchandra Bhate v. Neela Vijaykumar Bhate, (2003) 6 SCC 334 (‘Vijay Kumar Case’), wherein assertions of illicit relationship made by a spouse had been held to be acts of cruelty. The Supreme Court in Vijay Kumar Case observed that “the accusations of unchastity and extra-marital relationships constituted grave assault on the character, honour and reputation and health of the accused and amounted to the worst form of cruelty. Such assertions, being of a quality which cause mental pain, agony, and suffering, were sufficient by itself to amount to the reformulated concept of cruelty in matrimonial law”.
Thus, this Court opined that false allegations of illicit relationship were the ultimate kind of cruelty as it reflected a complete breakdown of trust and faith amongst the spouses without which no matrimonial relationship can survive.
This Court held that the Judge, Family Court had rightly concluded that it was a case of immense mental cruelty, thus, entitling the respondent to a decree of divorce under Section 13(1)(i-a) of the HMA. Therefore, this Court found no reason to interfere with the impugned judgment as it was well reasoned and was based on cogent grounds.
[X v. Om Prakash Mandal, 2023 SCC OnLine Del 4933, decided on 16-08-2023]
*Judgment authored by: Neena Bansal Krishna
Advocates who appeared in this case :
For the Appellant: Sameer Nandwani, Advocate.