Madhya Pradesh High Court

Madhya Pradesh High Court: In a first appeal against the order of Family Court dismissing appellant/wife’s petition seeking dissolution of her marriage with the husband who is sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, a division bench comprising of Vivek Rusia* and Rajendra Kumar Vani, JJ., held that the husband’s conviction for murder and other criminal activities constitute mental cruelty towards the wife and the separation due to the husband’s imprisonment amounts to desertion. The Court dissolved the marriage between the appellant and respondent and directed to draw a decree accordingly.

Factual Matrix

In the instant matter, the appellant/wife and the respondent/husband were married on 21-11-2011 under Hindu customs in Gwalior. They have a daughter born on 30-07-2012. The appellant/wife alleged cruelty and aggressive behavior by the husband, including physical and mental torture. Two criminal cases were registered against the husband first under Sections 364A, 307, 147, 148, and 149 of the IPC and second under Sections 302, 307, and 323 of the IPC, and Sections 25 and 27 of the Arms Act, for the murder of his father. The husband was later convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment on 30-09-2019.

The wife sought divorce on grounds of cruelty and desertion. The Family Court, vide order dated 29-11-2023, dismissed her petition under Section 13(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act, seeking dissolution of her marriage with the husband. The wife filed the present first appeal under Section 19 of the Family Courts Act, 1984, challenging the judgment and decree dated 29-11-2023 passed by the Principal Judge, Family Court, Gwalior. The wife contended that the husband’s criminal activities and conviction for murder constitute mental cruelty, making it impossible for her to live with him. However, the husband denied the allegations of cruelty and asserted his love and affection for his wife and daughter, opposing the divorce.

Moot Point

Whether the husband’s conviction under Section 302 of the IPC and his life imprisonment amounts to “mental cruelty” to the wife, justifying the dissolution of the marriage?

Court’s Analysis

The Court referred to Sivasankaran v. Santhimeenal, (2022) 15 SCC 742, where the Supreme Court highlighted the importance of mental and physical safety in marital relationships, Savitri Pandey v. Prem Chandra Pandey, (2002) 2 SCC 73, where the Supreme Court defined desertion and upheld divorce on grounds of cruelty and desertion and Swati v. Arvind Mudgal, 2015 SCC OnLine Del 6930, where the Delhi High Court granted divorce based on the husband’s conviction under IPC provisions. The Court stated that cruelty is defined as conduct endangering the petitioner’s life or health and mental cruelty includes conduct causing fear and suffering, beyond ordinary wear and tear of marital life. The Court stated that desertion means intentional and permanent abandonment without consent or reasonable cause, considered as repudiation of marital obligations.

The Court stated that the Family Court has wrongly dismissed the case relying on the condition prior to the registration of a criminal case and conviction when a wife cannot live with her husband in future because of the uncertainty of releasing him on bail. The Court held that the husband’s conviction and life imprisonment for murder indicate mental cruelty, causing reasonable apprehension in the wife’s mind about her safety and that of her daughter. The Court further held that since the couple had not lived together since the husband’s arrest on 23-05-2017, the same amounts to situational desertion.

“…although under the Hindu Marriage Act, there is no such provision for the grant of divorce on account of conviction of wife or husband, as the case may be, for life imprisonment, there is the provision of grant of divorce on the ground of mental cruelty. Therefore, the conviction of the husband under Section 302 of IPC and sentence of life imprisonment amounts to mental cruelty towards the wife which entails her getting the divorce from her husband.”

Court’s Decision

The Court held that the respondent’s conviction for murder and life imprisonment constituted mental cruelty, warranting the dissolution of the marriage. The Court allowed the First Appeal and set aside the judgment and decree dated 29-11-2023 by the Family Court. The Court held that marriage between the appellant/wife and respondent/husband is dissolved, and a decree be drawn accordingly.

[Deepa Tomar v. Ajay, First Appeal No. 2409 of 2023, order dated 14-05-2024]

*Judgment by Justice Vivek Rusia

Advocates who appeared in this case:

Shri Suresh Agrawal, Counsel for the Appellant

Shri Rajmani Bansal, Counsel for the Respondent

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