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Index - Matrimonial Law
Parveen Mehta v. Inderjit Mehta (SC) 
(2002) 5 SCC 706 : (AIR 2002 SC 2582) 


Meaning and import of the expression 'cruelty' as a matrimonial offence. Test of cruelty in matrimonial offences.



Under the statutory provision cruelty includes both physical and mental cruelty. The legal conception of cruelty and the kind of degree of cruelty necessary to amount to a matrimonial offence has not been defined under the Act. Probably, the Legislature has advisedly refrained from making any attempt at giving a comprehensive definition of the expression that may cover all cases, realising the danger in making such attempt. The accepted legal meaning in England as also in India of this expression, which is rather difficult to define, had been 'conduct of such character as to have caused danger to life, limb or health (bodily or mental), or as to give rise to a reasonable apprehension of such danger' (Russel v. Russel [(1897) AC 395 and Mulla Hindu Law, 17th Edition, Volume II page 87]. The provision in clause (ia) of Section 13(1), which was introduced by the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Act 68 of 1976, simply states that 'treated the petitioner with cruelty'. The object, it would seem, was to give a definition exclusive or inclusive, which will amply meet every particular act or conduct and not fail in some circumstances. By the amendment the Legislature must, therefore, be understood to have left to the courts to determine on the facts and circumstances of each case whether the conduct amounts to cruelty. This is just as well since actions of men are so diverse and infinite that it is almost impossible to expect a general definition which could be exhaustive and not fail in some cases. It seems permissible, therefore, to enter a caveat against any judicial attempt in that direction (Mulla Hindu Law, 17th Edition, Volume II, page 87).

Clause (ia) of sub-Section (1) of Section 13 of the Act is comprehensive enough to include cases of physical as also mental cruelty. It was formerly thought that actual physical harm or reasonable apprehension of it was the prime ingredient of this matrimonial offence. That doctrine is now repudiated and the modern view has been that mental cruelty can cause even more grievous injury and create in the mind of the injured spouse reasonable apprehension that it will be harmful or unsafe to live with the other party. The principle that cruelty may be inferred from the whole facts and matrimonial relations of the parties and interaction in their daily life disclosed by the evidence is of greater cogency in cases falling under the head of mental cruelty. Thus mental cruelty has to be established from the facts (Mulla Hindu Law, 17th Edition, Volume II, page 91).









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