kerala high court

Kerala High Court: In an appeal challenging the Family Court’s refusal to grant dissolution of marriage for the appellant on the grounds of cruelty and desertion, the Division Bench of Anil K. Narendran and G. Girish*, JJ. upheld the same highlighting the husband’s failure to prove cruelty on part of his wife, and also, eyed at instances of cruelty depicted through evidence by wife.

The couple married in 1994 and were blessed with a male child in 1997. As alleged by the husband, shortly after marriage, the wife started abusing and insulting him without any reason, insisted on abandoning his parents and shifting residence to an independent house. It was further alleged that the wife was not ready to perform marital obligations as a dutiful wife and created unhealthy scenes resulting in the intervention of neighbours and friends. Also, she didn’t prepare food, do household activities and behave with the appellant’s parents in an indifferent manner. Such a behavior continued even after the couple moved to a rented house with their son. Since she did not mend her ways, the husband came back to his parental house

The husband also filed a police complaint for her cruel behavior on 4-10-2002 when the wife allegedly left the house with her father and brothers-in-law. For complaint by wife alleging matrimonial cruelty, a crime was registered under Sections 498-A and 323 of Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC’). The husband therefore approached the Family Court with a petition under Sections 10 and 18 of Divorce Act, 1869 seeking dissolution of marriage on the grounds of cruelty, desertion, and non-fulfilment of marital obligations. The husband was stated to have been taking care of their son since the wife abandoned her duty.

On the other hand, the wife alleged being subjected to ‘unbearable cruelty of physical and mental tortures’ by the husband and his parents, who used to harass, insult and abuse her demanding dowry. She further alleged that the husband was an alcoholic, in contact with people with a bad reputation and used to quarrel with neighbours without any reason. She even alleged that she had to undergo abortion for her second pregnancy at the insistence of husband and his parents. Further, frequently shifting residences was due to her husband’s quarrelsome nature, and that he used to create scenes at his brother’s houses by verbally abusing them. She even alleged of being made to starve without food and water.

It was alleged that the wife preferred police complaint for her inability to bear physical and mental tortures by her husband and his parents, while the husband preferred the said complaint against the wife as a counterblast to her complaint, and that the husband was also preventing her from meeting or interacting with their child, refusing access in spite of intervention by mediators. The wife was not ready to severe matrimonial tie due to her belief that “there shall not be any such separation of the bond which God had created.”

Failure of counselling sessions led the Family Court to proceed with the matter, evaluated the evidence and concluded with the husband’s failure to prove about being subjected to cruelty, thereby dismissing the petition.

Court’s Analysis

The Court noted that apart from general allegations of rude behavior and refusal to maintain cordial relations with the husband and his parents, there were no specific instances of cruelty by wife. The husband could not bring anything apart from his testimony to substantiate the allegations levelled, and he could not bring anyone on record among the people who intervened to advise the wife to maintain a peaceful life, while the evidence by wife’s father and brothers-in-law hinted towards the cruelty meted out by the husband by way of severe physical and mental tortures. The Court was of the view that the evidence adduced disclosed husband perpetuated cruelty upon his wife making it impossible to remain in his company.

The Court explained that “In matrimonial issues, conduct of such type which would endanger the life of the partner amounts to cruelty. Cruelty consists of acts which are dangerous to life, limb or health. Cruelty may be physical or mental. Mental cruelty is the conduct of the spouse which causes mental suffering or fear in continuing the marital life with one’s partner. Cruelty, however, has to be distinguished from ordinary wear and tear of family life.” The Court noted that the instant allegations surround wife’s incompatibility to lead a cordial family life, which could not be classified as cruelty of a grade to warrant dissolution of marital tie. It further commented that “the degree of tolerance will vary from one couple to another and the court will have to take into account the background, level of education and also the status of the parties in order to determine whether the cruelty alleged is sufficient to justify dissolution of marriage at the instance of the party who is said to have suffered.”

The Court relied on Samar Ghosh v. Jaya Ghosh, (2007) 4 SCC 511 wherein it was held that no uniform standard could be laid down for guidance on ascertaining whether a particular conduct of a party towards his spouse would amount to cruelty, but the Court enumerated some instances of human behavior which may prove relevant in dealing with cases of mental cruelty. It further cited A. Jayachandra v. Aneel Kaur, (2005) 2 SCC 22 wherein it was clarified that mere annoyance or irritation may not constitute cruelty, but a spontaneous change in human behavior restricting the partner to live with the spouse under constant fear of endangering life or bodily injuries, further citing Gurbux Singh v. Harminder Kaur, (2010) 14 SCC 301 and Joydeep Majumdar v. Bharti Jaiswal Majumdar, (2021) 3 SCC 742 to support its stance.

In the instant matter, the wife had studied only till 10th standard, had made efforts to live with her husband for almost 8 years, and was taken to parental home after being ruthlessly thrashed out by the husband at nighttime on 1-10-2002, which led her to lodge police complaint alleging matrimonial cruelty. The Court found that the evidence adduced by the wife did not suffer from any inconsistency or material defects. The Court noted that although the husband and his parents were acquitted in Section 498A case, neither the wife nor her parents or relatives were examined as witnesses, and acquittal took place due to prosecution’s inability to prove the case, and the wife sought criminal revision in the same. The Court was of the view that neither institution of criminal prosecution under Section 498A, nor his acquittal in the said case would help the husband in establishing cruelty.

The Court further rejected the argument of wife not taking care of her child, stating that an under-educated woman like her could not be “expected to take responsibility of maintaining and meeting expenses of a child, in addition to her task of finding means to fetch a livelihood for herself” and also took note of proceedings seeking maintenance from her husband. It expressed that “the evidence adduced before the Family Court, by the respondent, about the cruelty attributed to the appellant, would outweigh and supersede the evidence of cruelty relied on by the appellant. No wife could be expected to tolerate the acts of cruelty of the nature borne out of the evidence adduced by the respondent in this case against the appellant, and sacrifice her physical and mental health and personal safety for the sadistic pleasure of her life-partner.”

Thus, the Court found the husband disentitled and disqualified for relief of dissolution of marriage on grounds of cruelty and desertion and upheld the Family Court’s decision.

[X v. Y, 2024 SCC OnLine Ker 740, decided on 7-02-2024]

Judgment by: Justice G. Girish

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Advocate Jimmy George, Advocate M.R. Suresh

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