Status as on- 05/05/2023

India, being a country of diverse faith & religions has seen a paradigm shift in the way religious customs were practiced. Not so long ago, Hindu families and their customs were mostly based on ancient traditions where marriage was considered as a compulsory affair between two individuals. For Hindus, it was a pious association of two families, more than just contractual relationships. Scriptures also suggest that they believed it to be a union of seven births planned by the almighty.

For centuries, Indian women had to face cruelty in various ways at every stage of their lives. In marital relationships, they suffered emotional and physical trauma, yet they were expected to remain loyal and obedient to their husbands. With the adoption of a rights-based constitution, attempts were made to change the low status of this woman. Many laws have been passed to protect women and their rights from harm, giving them the freedom and power to oppose the cruelty committed against them. Cruelty in marriage was not recognized as a reason for divorce until 1976, after which through the amendment of the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 it was included as a valid reason of divorce. The cruelty of a wife to her husband appeared a while ago and is just as important.x`

Of all marital crimes, cruelty is the most difficult to define. Parliamentarians and judges deliberately refrain from developing a definition of cruelty because there are no fixed and defined parameters for what constitutes cruelty. Skull v. Tripathi, the court found, “attempts to edit the complete list of cruelty can never be successful.” In addition, what is considered cruel in one case is entirely dependent on the facts and circumstances of one case and may not be the case in another. Lord Denning in the case of Sheldon v. Sheldon said,

“The categories of cruelty are not closed. Each case may be different. We deal with the conduct of human beings who are not generally similar. Among human beings, there is no limit to the kind of conduct which may constitute cruelty. New types of cruelty may crop up in any case depending upon the human behavior, capacity, or incapability to tolerate the conduct complained of Such is the wonderful realm of cruelty.”

In the case of Bhagwat v. Bhagwat, the Bombay High Court ruled that the husband did not intend to be cruel to his wife, but his actions were cruel. He suffered from schizophrenia, which was not a good defense against the cruel plea of a woman.

Recently, while hearing a matter on cruelty as a reason for divorce, the Supreme Court ruled that defendants’ actions must be significant in order to constitute cruelty. At the same time, it indicates whether a rational person is acceptable to live in such a situation. Marriage is a gentle and pious bond, so the judgment of cruelty must be based on the psychological changes in spouse’s behavior. Small quarrels and petty arguments are not enough to justify cruelty. The Supreme Court also said that forgiveness and coordination are needed to continue the marriage, and therefore slight spousal differences and controversies cannot be exaggerated enough to apply for divorce.

Marital cruelty can be physical, mental, emotional, or sexual. Because India is a patriarchal society, women have always been treated inferior to men. They are treated like their property and are intended to serve them throughout their lives. There is no one type of cruelty which makes it increasingly difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is. Mental cruelty involves causing agony and suffering to a partner in some way that makes it difficult for either person to live with. Physical cruelty includes beatings, slaps, and other forms of physical violence. Sexual cruelty, on the other hand, include forcing a partner to indulge in sexual intercourse or unnatural sex. Indian courts also recognize the denial of sexual intercourse in marriage as a component of mental cruelty.


Various personal laws in India have established cruelty as a reason for divorce. Section 2 (vii) of the Dissolution of the Muslim Marriage Act of 1939 states: “A woman married under Muslim law shall be entitled to obtain a decree for the dissolution of her marriage on the ground that the husband treats her with cruelty…” Under Section 32 (dd) of the 1936 Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, the word cruelty is the basis for the dissolution of marriage as under: “That the defendant has since the solemnization of marriage treated the plaintiff with cruelty or has behaved in such a way as to render it in the judgment of the Court improper to compel the plaintiff to live with the defendant.”

The Indian Divorce Act, under Section 10 provides “Any wife may present a petition to the District court or the High Court, praying that her marriage may be dissolved on the ground that, since the solemnization thereof (her husband) has been guilty of adultery coupled with such cruelty as without adultery would have entitled her to a divorce.”

Interpretation of the word “cruelty” can be found in Sec. 27 (d) of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 as: “The respondent has, since the solemnization of marriage, treated the petitioner with cruelty”.

Section 13(1) (ia) of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 provides. “The other party has, after the solemnization of marriage, treated the petitioner with cruelty.” Cruelty as a reason for divorce was introduced into this law by the 1976 amendment. Prior to that, it was not a valid reason for divorce, but for judicial separation only.

Apart from these personal laws, Indian criminal law also makes cruelty against women criminal offense under section 498A of the law. The section reads as: “Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.” The section mandates the offence as non-bailable, cognizable and non-compoundable. It includes not only physical cruelty, but also mental cruelty in the form of “torture and abnormal behavior”.

Parliament has passed the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (PWDVA) in order to protect the feminine gender from family violence and make their right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution more meaningful. The law provides for one year’s imprisonment and a maximum fine of Rs. 20,000 when wife is exposed to domestic violence.

However, Section 498A IPC provides relief only to women who have faced cruelty by their husband or their husband’s family. Husbands exposed to cruelty, especially mental cruelty, do not have remedies under this section.

Nevertheless, the law on a wife’s cruelty against her husband is not as clear as the other way around. It is difficult for women to accept that they are inflicting cruelty on her husband, as men continue to dominate women in our country. However, with increasing awareness of women, a wave of feminism, and increasing education and independence of women, women are beginning to abuse legal provisions for their husbands to meet their needs and demands. Indian courts have noted this several times and have allowed husbands to divorce because of the mental cruelty committed by the wife.

Disclaimer: The above article is based on the personal interpretation of the related orders and laws. The readers are expected to take expert opinions before relying upon the article. For more information, please contact us at



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