The Author of this blog is Ms. Aayushi Swaroop of National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi, India


“The foundation of a sound marriage is laid on the pillars of tolerance, adjustment, and respect for each other. The tolerance to each other faults is acceptable only to a certain extent and when it goes beyond tolerable limits, marital discord takes place. In such circumstances, the germs of cruelty are born which infects the matrimonial alliance, and in such environment, both the spouses find it difficult to live under one roof of the matrimonial home.”[1]


Marriage is considered to be one of the most important and perhaps the greatest of all institutions in human society. People marry to prove their sense of commitment and to find security.

Mental cruelty although it has been identified under Section 13(1) (i-a)[2] of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 as a ground for divorce, has not been assigned one single definition. The reason being, the human mind is very complex, and human behavior, even more complicated. And since human ingenuity has no bound, it is not possible to assimilate the entire human behavior in one definition. Therefore, the concept of mental cruelty is not static; it is bound to change over time, depending on the impact of modern culture.[3]

From the various case laws, it has been derived that mental cruelty is assessed based on intensity, gravity, and the stigmatic impact of the cruel treatment. And its impact is such that even if meted out once, it could tarnish the lives of the concerned people to a great extent.[4]

The cruel treatment by one’s spouse is found to have a devastating impact on the mental health of a person. Sometimes it is so severe that it leads people into depression for several months. And so, it is the pressing need of the time to give mental cruelty the due recognition as a marriage pandemic and introduce specific and stringent punishment for the same under the law.

What is mental cruelty?

From the precedents, the law construes that cruelty as a concept defies definition.[5] The acts or conduct of cruelty are too varied to have one precise definition. Mental cruelty, therefore, has no parameters; it is subjective and relative; what was not cruelty until a few decades back is construed as cruelty today, what is not cruelty may be so construed a couple of years hence; likewise, it would differ from place to place, from person to person and would also vary depending upon social and cultural backgrounds of the parties.[6]

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 broadened the concept of mental cruelty. According to which it includes verbal and emotional abuse - insults, ridicule, humiliation, and name-calling, especially an inability to bear a child. It also brings within its ambit repeated threats to cause physical pain to any person in whom the aggrieved person is interested.[7]

Psychology describes mental cruelty as psychological aggression resulting in verbal, dominant, or jealous behavior which can turn out to be a traumatic experience for the victim.[8] To assess if it has affected the mental state of a person, the inquiry is made into the nature of the cruel treatment and the impact it had on the mind of the spouse. Expert says that frequent rudeness of language, petulance of manner, indifference, and neglect of higher degree can make the married life for the other spouse intolerable.

Cases of mental cruelty

Cruelty may be subtle or brutal; mental or physical; by words or gestures. It can be violence, some attitude, or mere silence.[9]

Mental cruelty can be construed from the chain of events. For example, in a particular case, the wife was found taking absolute delight in causing misery to her husband and his family. Her tantrums included tearing her mangal sutra, locking her husband, thrashing her child mercilessly even when he had a high fever, rubbing chili powder on the tongue of the child, and switching on and off the light by sitting beside her sleeping husband. It can be prima facie deduced that the series of events would have caused mental agony to the husband and his family.[10] The Court thus upheld the petition for divorce on the ground of mental cruelty.

The Law Commission has proposed that persistent and oppressive demands for dowry if proved to have affected the wife's mental health, would amount to mental cruelty.[11]

Also, cases of adultery fall within the ambit of mental cruelty. In the case where the husband levied grave allegations of adultery on his wife, the Court upheld the petition for divorce on the ground of mental cruelty.[12]

In some cases, even silence could amount to mental cruelty. For instance, if a person refuses to speak to the spouse: albeit he/she is not abusive or violent, but if this leads the other person into depression, or ill-mental health, not being acknowledged, then it would amount to mental cruelty.[13]

Ramifications of mental cruelty

Mental cruelty refers to the unwarranted conducts such as hurling abuses, humiliating treatment, or using language so derogatory in nature that it causes a serious dent to the self-respect of any dignified human being. It pushes a person into deep anguish, frustration and causes mental pain and suffering, leading them into severe depression. In certain cases, it can lead a person to commit suicide.

In a study on the psychological perspective of cruel treatment, it has been found that mental cruelty can result in long term physical damage like headaches, musculoskeletal pain, sexual difficulties, neurological difficulties, etc. Its long term psychological effects include difficulty while concentrating, insomnia, memory loss, anxiety disorder, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.[14] The study also observed that psychological trauma causes severe and long-lasting damage to any physical injury.[15]

Of all the negative psychological effects of mental cruelty, the most prominent one is cognitive impairment. People become sleep deprived and face problems like a decrease in short-term memory, speech impairment, inflexible thinking, etc.[16]

In other research on marriage and mental health, it is affirmed that marital disharmony causes mental health disorders like schizophrenia, major depression disorder which can be seen even in the children of the parties separating, anti-social personality disorder, etc. Also, victims are more prone to become alcoholics in such situations.[17]

Marriage for most people is a one-time event in life, which is glorified and sanctified by the involved parties. It is also the ultimate fulfillment for most people. If it gets broken and results in disorders like schizophrenia, the lives of the concerned people are shattered beyond repair. 


From the consequences that follow the act of mental cruelty, it can be derived that, it is necessary to punish cruel conduct on the part of the person who drives another person of the family into mental pain and suffering, in some cases going to the extent of committing suicide.

For the abovementioned purpose, the Indian Penal Code, 1860 should incorporate punishment for mental cruelty. The Family Court Act, 1984 was enacted with the object to promote conciliation in disputes concerning marriage. Therefore, in compliance with the same, the Family Courts can utilize the services of medical, psychological, and welfare experts for conciliation unless the breakdown is such that the parties can no more live together. Also, Art. 44[18] of the Indian Constitution, which calls for uniform civil code in the country, shall be implemented to secularize and homogenize family laws on the matter of grave acts like mental cruelty.


Matrimonial matters are matters of delicate human and emotional relationships. Mutual trust, regard, respect, and love.  And a reasonable adjustment with the spouse is pivotal for its continuance.[19] Therefore, it is paramount to give the impacts of vile acts like mental cruelty in marriages a recognition under the law. It is substantial to incorporate specific laws on doubtful points to accelerate justice. To include stringent punishment for the same is equally important as it ensures that no person committing such grave acts could escape the repercussions which follow. It would also ensure protection for the innocents.

[1] Shri Ravinder Pratap Singh v Hema, 2015 SCC OnLine Del 9884

[2] Section 13-Divorce- sub-clause (i-a):  after the solemnization of the marriage, treated the petitioner with cruelty.

[3] Samar Ghosh v. Jaya Ghosh, (2007) 4 SCC 511.

[4] V. Bhagat v. D. Bhagat, 1991 SCC OnLine Del 461.

[5] Dr. Paras Diwan, Modern Hindu Law, 148 (24th ed. 2019).

[6] Kumud Desai, Indian Law of Marriage & Divorce, 174-175 (10th ed. 2017).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ravi Kumar v. Julmidevi, (2010) 4 SCC 476.

 [10] Dr. N.G. Dastane v. S. Dastane, (1975) 2 SCC 326.

[11] Law Commission of India 91st Report.

[12] Smt. Pushpa Rani v. Krishan Lal, 1981 SCC OnLine Del 124

[13] Supra 7.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] S. Nambi, Marriage, mental health and Indian legislation, Indian Journal of Psychiatry, (2005).

[18] Section 44. Uniform civil code for the citizens- The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.

[19]Chetan Dass v. Kamla Devi, (2001) 4 SCC 250.