Cruelty as a Ground for Divorce

Published On: 26th February, 2024

Authored By: Rishabh Krishan
Amity University Jharkhand


Throughout the beginning of human history, marriage has been the most significant and best institution in human civilization. Every culture has always had it in some form, giving social standing to the relationship between a man and a woman and laying the foundation for the family, which is the basic structure of society. Respect, regard, love, and passion must be given in return, and there must be sufficient flexibility for mutually suitable changes with the spouse.

India, a nation of many different faiths and beliefs, has experienced a fundamental change in how religious practices are conducted. Hindu families along with the customs they follow were primarily founded on tradition from not extraordinarily long ago, when marriage was thought to be a necessary union between two people. Hindus saw it as more than just a commercial relationship; it was a religious union between two families. Scriptures also imply that they saw it as a perfectly organized union of seven births.[1]

What is Divorce?

The goal of marriage is to develop love and self-control among all members of the family, which keeps them united and keeps them from breaking. Since marriages are so important, each spouse attempts to work over their differences to preserve their union. However, when circumstances become uncontrollable, things change, and the final solution for these damaged couples is divorce.[2]

The legal breakdown of a marriage, or divorce, allows a person to leave their spouse and become free of their marital duties. The regular events in a married relationship give rise to uncertainty regarding the spouses’ capacity to live together. Simple arguments, minor disputes, and misunderstandings between couples are all regular events in a married relationship.

What is Cruelty?

Violent actions are considered cruelty. However, since these things happen regularly in marital life, a simple argument, small-time inappropriate behavior, or spouse dispute does not fall under cruelty. Behaviors that would qualify for cruelty need to be severe. Physical violence is not usually the definition of grave violence. Even while physical assault is an essential part of cruelty, continuous harassment or physical or mental torture of one spouse by the other would also qualify as cruelty.

The well-known English case of Russell versus Russell[3] attempted to define cruelty, stating that the term is defined as behavior that creates a reasonable fear of harming someone’s life or bodily or mental health.

The Supreme Court noted in the Shobha Rani versus Madhukar Reddi[4] case that “as cruelty is being used to describe human conduct or behavior, it is more difficult to define. It is the behavior that is related to matrimonial responsibilities and duties. It is a behavior practice on the part of one that causes harm to the other person.”

Cruelty as a Ground for Divorce

The day-to-day difficulties of married life confuse couples about how to live peacefully together. Even though there is not an accurate description of all the circumstances that may result in a cruelty charge, we may conclude some conditions from cases of domestic assault that we observe in our surroundings, such as:

  • Physical assault committed against the spouse.
  • Having extramarital experiences or committing adultery in public and keeping the spouse aware of it. Also, in situations where one spouse is unfairly accused of adultery.
  • The continuous expression of pain and anger and shouting or beating the partner.
  • By all means, restrict the spouse of an opportunity to be a self-sufficient individual and force them into a marriage in which they have no choice but to depend on each other to survive.
  • Keeping a sexually transmitted disease hidden from each other while they are already married.

Any of the mentioned behaviors or activities by either partner will be considered cruelty.[5]

Reason to use cruelty as divorce grounds

Cruelty is applied in judicial separation cases and was never taken seriously as grounds for divorce. In 1975, the Supreme Court accepted cruelty as a valid reason for divorce in the famous case of Narayan Ganesh Dastane versus Sucheta Narayan Dastane.[6]

The case resulted in a modification to the Act in 1976 that introduced cruelty as a basis for divorce and included the concept of cruelty in the Hindu Marriage Act, of 1955. However, the Court further ruled that the nature of the case should be the only factor to be considered when deciding cases regarding cruelty. After the law was amended, there was minor difference between the reasons for cruelty that led to judicial separation and the reasons for cruelty that led to divorce, with the addition of the phrase “persistently or repeatedly.”

A divorce decision may be given based on the legal presumption that the petitioner suffered inflicted cruelty following the sacrament of the marriage. That means that after marriage, either spouse may file for divorce if the other treats them cruelly.

The court frequently considers the accused person’s intention when determining whether a given act qualifies as cruelty. The intentional occurrence of a reaction that was decided to be cruel is what is meant to be “treated” by law. However, cruelty may not always arise from intention. The High Court of Bombay decided in the dispute of Bhagwat versus Bhagwat[7] that although the husband’s acts were cruel, he had no intention of being cruel to his wife. His condition was mental illness, which made it difficult for him to ignore a woman’s cruel pleading.

Types of cruelty:

  1. Physical Cruelty: This includes any physical harm, injuries to the body, or threats to the body or health that make the spouse scared. Given that physical cruelty is the most frequent cause of divorce, confirming it is quite an easy task.[8]
  2. Mental Cruelty: In comparison to physical cruelty, mental cruelty has a significant impact. For the spouse, establishing mental abuse is far more difficult than establishing physical cruelty. Apart from physical harm, mental cruelty refers to a spouse who is forced to suffer mental pain and sacrifice her mental wellness. There are no set standards that can be met for mental stress to be considered mental cruelty. The Supreme Court’s definition of mental cruelty in the case of Bhagat versus Bhagat[9] was described as “that behavior which causes on the other person such mental suffering and pain as makes it impossible for one party to maintain a relationship with the other.” Simply put uniquely, mental cruelty needs to be so serious that it is difficult for the parties engaged to live together.

Provisions for Law:

According to section 13(1)(a) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, “Any marriage official, the fact that before or after the enactment of the provisions of this Act, might, on a petition filed by either the male partner or the female partner, dissolve by an order of separation because the opposing party has, afterward the ceremony of the marriage ceremony, treated the person who filed the petition with cruelty.” This provides a legal basis for divorce based on cruelty. According to this clause, if one spouse is subjected to physical or mental assault or harassment of any kind from the other spouse, that partner may file for divorce under cruelty and the other party may file in court.

Additional Legal Provisions:

The Indian Penal Code, 1860’is Section 498A covers cruelty performed against a woman by her husband or his family members. It states that a husband or a relative who commits acts of cruelty against a woman faces a minimum punishment of three years in jail, with the possibility of an addition, and compensation.

When a woman is subjected to physical or mental assault by her spouse or his family, it is considered cruelty. As stated under Explanation (a) of Section 498A, “wilful conduct” refers to an intentional act. On the other hand, indirect and direct proof is necessary to establish an intentional act.[10]

Can a man file for divorce?

In the landmark case of Mayadevi versus Jagdish Prasad[11], decided in February of 2007, the Indian Supreme Court decided that people equally may file for divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty suffered by one spouse against the other. In this particular case, the respondent filed for divorce following a pattern of cruelty from his spouse, who also claimed that she had failed to feed him as well as their children and placed the burden on the husband and his relatives.

Therefore, if a guy suffers any form of cruelty, he also has the right to divorce.

Can a husband force his wife to participate in sex against her wishes, which qualifies as cruelty?

In the latest decision in the case of  Ritu Gupta versus Sanjeev Gupta[12], the Allahabad High Court observed that forced sexual relations, regardless of whether natural or unnatural, constitute brutal cruelty towards a wife and are against the law. This case began as a challenge against the district court’s decision to approve the wife’s divorce demand, which she made based on the husband’s forced, inhumane sex. In this particular case, the Indian Penal Code’s sections 498-A, 323, along 377 along with sections 3 and 4 under the Act on the Prohibition of Dowry were applied to the husband’s prosecution and convicted,  the offense. The husband, unsatisfied with the District Court’s judgment, submitted an appeal before the High Court after the court earlier accepted her request for relief and granted the divorce.

After examining the wife’s application, the High Court stated that her husband participated in sexual misconduct and unnatural sex on many occasions, forcing her to have intercourse like an animal and going against the natural order. As a result, the divisional bench of the court supported the district court’s decision and granted the husband’s divorce based on cruelty.


No one is allowed to suffer torturing or inhumane, cruel, or humiliating treatment.

The fundamental rights to liberty and dignity are violated when one partner acts with cruelty against the other. The right to a decent life is protected by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and functions as the country’s fundamental law. When the same is violated, the victim experiences suffering and pain on both a mental and physical level.

In addition to a variety of other factors like social background and education, cruelty may occur in multiple forms, including mental and physical assault. Protecting the woman’s respect in her marriage is the primary goal that connects all of the activities. The level of cruelty is determined by the wife’s regular interactions with her partner and his family as well as their marital relationships.


[1] Aditi Raj and Himanshu ‘Cruelty as a Ground for Divorce: Analysing The Sphere of Mental Cruelty’ ( Family Law, 29 August 2022) <> accessed 26 January 2024

[2] Saamya ‘Cruelty As Ground Of Divorce Under Hindu Marriage Act, 1955’ ( Hindu Marriage Act) < > accessed 26 January 2024 

[3] Russel v. Russel, (1997 )A.C. 303

[4] Shobha Rani vs. Madhukar Reddi ( 1987) MANU/SC/0419

[5] Rutuparna Sahu ‘Cruelty as a Ground for Divorce’ (24 February 2020) < > accessed 26 January 2024

[6] Narayan Ganesh Dastane vs Sucheta Narayan Dastane,  (1975) AIR 1534

[7] Trimbak Narayan Bhagwat vs Kumudini Trimbak Bhagwat 1967 AIR BOM 80

[8] Yanamala Lokeswari ‘ Cruelty as Ground for Divorce’ < > accessed 27 January 2024

[9] V. Bhagat vs. D. Bhagat (1994) 1 SCC 337

[10] Manav Sharma ‘Analysis of Provisions Related to Cruelty in Marriage’ ( 25 September 2021)  < > accessed 28 January 2024

[11] Smt. Mayadevi vs Jagdish Prasad (2007) AIR SC 1426

[12] Sanjeev Gupta vs Ritu Gupta (2019) SCC Online All 2255

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