OMISSION AND INTENTION AMOUNTING TO CRUELTY
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Cruelty is conduct of an individual where he or she knowingly inflicts physical or mental harm over another individual or animal. In Moonshee Buzloor Ruheem v. Shumsoonissa Begum[i], the Privy Council held that ‘the test of cruelty is based on universal and humanitarian standards, that is to say, the conduct of either spouse which would cause such bodily or mental pain. However, the Indian law does not recognize various types of cruelty such as ‘Muslim’ cruelty, ‘Hindu’ cruelty, and so on. But while determining what constitutes cruelty, regard must be had to the circumstances of each particular case’ keeping always in view the physical and mental condition of the parties, their characters and social status.[ii]
Initially it was only actual physical harm caused to a person that was considered as cruelty, now however the concept of cruelty includes both mental and physical aspects. Further, according to the early conception, the intention to be cruel was also seen as an essential ingredient. This position has also changed. Thus the definition has been shaped and re-shaped to fit the needs of the society and to ensure maximum protection to the weak and the helpless. In the case of Samar Ghosh v. Jaya Ghosh[iii], the hon’ble Supreme Court of India widely and clearly laid down the principles stating that ‘mental cruelty’ also comes under the ambit of the definition of the ‘cruelty’ and mentioned sixteen (16) grounds which amounts to the act of mental cruelty, two of the relevant points for this case are "Acute mental pain, agony and suffering that would make possible for parties not to stay together and departure from the normal standard of conjugal kindness”.
In Gollins v. Gollins[iv], the intention to be cruel was also seen as part of cruelty. The facts of this case are- The husband was incorrigibly lazy and heavily in debt. Due to his complacency, the wife had to take care of all household matters. This caused her severe mental agony and anguish and to do all this while the husband sat around all day. It was held that though the husband was not intentionally cruel, his conduct did attribute to cruelty.
In the recent case of Mohd. Hoshan, A.P v. State of Andhra Pradesh[v], the court while deciding the matter regarding mental cruelty stated dealt with the issue, whether one spouse has been guilty of cruelty to other is essentially a question of fact. The impact of complaints, accusation and taunts on a person amounting to mental cruelty depends upon various factors like sensitivity of the individual victim concerned and the social background. The Hon’ble High court concluded that continuous taunting or teasing the spouse amounts to mental cruelty. In Dr. Abdur Rahim Undre v. Adma Abdur Rahim Undre[vi], with the similar facts, the court was of the opinion that pressure exerted by family members comes under the ambit of cruelty. The above discussed three cases gives rise to a question whether pressure exerted by the family members, where one of the spouse’ belonging to that family is aware of the situation, and decides not to interfere, can amount to cruelty? In such a case, intention in the form of omission has no legal recognition[vii] but this non recognition itself has various drawbacks. There are circumstances, where family members interfere with the private life of a couple and it creates a burden on the spouses’, which is problematic. There are several cases where incessant taunts and allegation by family members of one spouse over another leads to mental stress on the latter. In such a situation, silence of one spouse has a big role to play in the stress caused to the other person. The concept of sacramental union of spouses suggests that spouses have moral duties to take care of their partners.
The situation mentioned above clearly deduces that one spouse either the husband or the wife, whoever is aware about the pressure being exerted by the family members, can interfere and resolve the dispute by clarifying the misunderstandings. But in reality, family members are being used as weapons to inflict mental harm on the other spouse as the law does not recognize the intention behind cruelty.
However, intention plays a crucial role in law. Once an individual is in the position where he or she can control the situation or can prevent a dispute then that person has a duty to do the same. The test of intention has to be applied while deciding upon the question of cruelty so as to protect the right to privacy of spouses. An analysis of various personal law like Hindu law, Muslim law and their respective sources, it can be deduced that husband and wife have duties and responsibilities towards each other where they contribute in their betterment and live a happy life but the pressure put by their families and omission on the part of one person to do anything to stop it, is infringement of morality and is giving rise to abuse, which needs attention of the legislature. Any step towards this direction will work towards ameliorating the condition of our society and restoring the faith of people in the institution of marriage.
[i] (1867) 11 M.I.A. 551.
[ii] Rayden & Jackson on Divorce & Family Matters, p.80, Lexis Nexis Butterworth Nagpur 5th edn.
[iii] (2007) 4 SCC 511.
[iv] (1963) 2 All ER 966
[vi] 1982 SCC OnLine Bom 29
[vii] Trimbak Narayan Bhagwat v. Kumudini Trimbak Bhagwat
Author: Manish Kumar Dwivedi
College: NUSRL Ranchi
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