Cruelty as per section – 13(1)(ia) of the Hindu Marriage Act-1955 is as follows; “Any marriage solemnized, whether before or after the commencement of this Act, may, on a petition presented by either the husband or the wife, be dissolved by a decree of divorce on the ground that the other party has, after the solemnization of the marriage, treated the petitioner with cruelty”.

Every matrimonial conduct, which may annoy the other, does not amount to cruelty. Trivial quarrels between spouses, which may take place in day-to-day married life, may also not amount to cruelty. Cruelty in matrimonial life may be of tenuous variety, which can be subtle or vicious. It may comprise of words, gestures or violent measures.

Judicial Position:

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in Pankaj Mahajan vs Dimple @ Kajal,  (2011) 12 SCC 1, stated that:

“23) It is well settled that giving repeated threats to commit suicide amounts to cruelty. When such a thing is repeated in the form of sign or gesture, no spouse can live peacefully…”

In K. Srinivas Rao vs D.A. Deepa, CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1794 OF 2013 (Arising out of Special Leave Petition (Civil) No. 4782 of 2007, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India stated that:

“16. Thus, to the instances illustrative of mental cruelty noted in Samar Ghosh v. Jaya Ghosh, 2007 (4) SCC 511, we could add a few more. Making unfounded indecent defamatory allegations against the spouse or his or her relatives in the pleadings, filing of complaints or issuing notices or news items which may have adverse impact on the business prospect or the job of the spouse and filing repeated false complaints and cases in the court against the spouse would, in the facts of a case, amount to causing mental cruelty to the other spouse.”

In Ravi Kumar v. Julmidevi, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India stated that:

“19. It may be true that there is no definition of cruelty under the said Act. Actually, such a definition is not possible. In a matrimonial relationship, cruelty would obviously mean the absence of mutual respect and understanding between the spouses which embitters the relationship and often leads to various outbursts of behaviour which can be termed as cruelty. Sometimes cruelty in a matrimonial relationship may take the form of violence; sometime it may take a different form. At times, it may be just an attitude or an approach. Silence in some situations may amount to cruelty.

  1. Therefore, cruelty in matrimonial behaviour defies any definition, and its categories can never be closed. Whether the husband is cruel to his wife or the wife is cruel to her husband has to be ascertained and judged by taking into account the entire facts and circumstances of the given case and not by any predetermined rigid formula. Cruelty in matrimonial cases can be of infinite variety—it may be subtle or even brutal and may be by gestures and words. That possibly explains why Lord Denning in Sheldon v. Sheldon, (1966) 2 WLR 993 held that categories of cruelty in matrimonial cases are never closed.”

In Sirajmohmedkhan Janmohamadkhan versus Hafizunnisa Yasinkhan & Anr, the Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that:

“It is well recognized that sex is the foundation of marriage and without a vigorous and harmonious sexual activity, it would be impossible for any marriage to continue for long.  Abstinence from intercourse affecting the ill health of the wife can be held to be cruelty.”  

Therefore, the conduct complained of should be “grave and weighty” to conclude that the spouse cannot be practically expected to live with the other spouse.