Divorce: False case, showing disrespect to family members – Cruelty

IN THE HIGH COURT OF PUNJAB AND HARYANA AT CHANDIGARH

FAO No. 4097 of 2013

Date of Decision: 16.12.2014

Smt. Neelam….Appellant.
Versus
Ravinder Kumar…Respondent.

CORAM:- HON’BLE MR. JUSTICE AJAY KUMAR MITTAL.
HON’BLE MRS. JUSTICE SNEH PRASHAR.

PRESENT: Mr. Sandeep Lather, Advocate for the appellant.

Mr. Rajesh Sheoran, Advocate for the respondent.

AJAY KUMAR MITTAL, J.
1. Feeling aggrieved by the judgment and decree dated 1.6.2013 passed by the District Judge (Family Court), Bhiwani, whereby the petition filed by the respondent-husband under Section 13(1)(ia) and (ib) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (in short “the Act”) for dissolution of marriage by a decree of divorce was allowed, the appellant-wife has approached this Court by way of instant appeal.

2. A few facts necessary for adjudication of the present appeal as narrated therein may be noticed. The marriage between the parties was solemnized on 2.12.2007. No child was born out of the said wedlock. According to the averments made in the divorce petition, the temperament of the appellant was different towards the respondent and his family members and she could not adjust herself in the matrimonial rt Chandigarh home. She was under the influence of her parents to whom she used to visit without informing the respondent and his family members. On 13.2.2008, the brother of the appellant took her to the parental house without the wishes of the respondent and while leaving the matrimonial home, she took all her golden, silver ornaments and istridhan. In March, 2008, the respondent went to bring her back but she and her parents abused him and gave beatings. The panchayats were convened a number of times to return to her matrimonial home but she flatly refused. She also got lodged FIR No. 81 dated 24.5.2008, under Sections 406, 498-A of the Indian Penal Code against the respondent and his family members. However, they were acquitted vide judgment dated 12.1.2011. Accordingly, the respondent filed the petition under Section 13 of the Act for dissolution of marriage by a decree of divorce. The said petition was resisted by the appellant by filing a written statement. Besides raising various preliminary objections, it was pleaded that the behaviour of the respondent and his family members was rude and unfair towards the appellant. From the very first day of the marriage, they were not satisfied with the dowry and they started harassing and humiliating her. They also demanded ` 50,000/- from the appellant and on her refusal, she was beaten and was forced to call her parents. When the father and brother of the appellant came at her matrimonial home on 13.2.2008, the respondent and his family started quarrelling with them and she was turned from the matrimonial home along with her father and brother after snatching all her golden, silver ornaments and istridhan. Against the judgment of acquittal dated 12.1.2011, she filed a criminal revision which is pending in this Court. The other averments made in the petition were denied and a prayer for dismissal of the same rt Chandigarh was made. From the pleadings of the parties, the trial court framed the following issues:-

1. Whether the marriage of the petitioner-husband is liable to be dissolved with respondent-wife by way of decree of divorce on the grounds as alleged? OPP
2. Whether the petition is not maintainable in the present form? OPR
3. Whether the petitioner has locus standi to file the present petition? OPR
4. Whether the petitioner is estopped by his own act and conduct from filing the present petition?OPR
5. Relief.
3. In support of his case, the respondent besides examining himself as PW1, examined his father Rakesh Kumar as PW2 and Dalbir as PW3. On the other hand, to rebut the evidence of the respondent, the appellant examined herself as RW1 and her father Ram Kumar Mehra as RW2.

4. The trial court on appreciation of evidence led by the parties, decided issue No.1 in favour of the respondent holding that the appellant had treated the respondent with cruelty by showing disrespect towards him and his family members and by lodging false dowry case in which they have been acquitted. Further, the appellant deserted the respondent with an intention to bring cohabitation permanently to an end. Issues No.2 to 4 were decided against the appellant as not pressed. Accordingly, the trial court vide judgment and decree dated rt Chandigarh 1.6.2013 allowed the petition and dissolved the marriage between the parties by a decree of divorce on the grounds of cruelty and desertion. Hence, the present appeal.

5. Learned counsel for the appellant submitted that from the evidence on record, no ground of cruelty was made out. It was further submitted that the respondent made a false story to get a decree of divorce whereas the respondent and his family members treated the appellant with cruelty. According to the learned counsel, the allegations levelled by the respondent were general in nature and without any specific instances and there was no intention on the part of the appellant to bring cohabitation permanently to an end.

6. On the other hand, learned counsel for the respondent besides supporting the judgment passed by the trial court submitted that the trial court vide judgment dated 12.1.2011, Ex.P1 acquitted the respondent and other relations in FIR No. 81 dated 24.5.2008, registered under Sections 406, 498-A of the Indian Penal Code, on the complaint of the appellant. The appeal filed by the State challenging the said judgment was dismissed by the appellate court on 4.4.2012. It was further submitted that revision bearing CRR No. 2715 of 2012 filed against the aforesaid judgment of acquittal by the complainant-wife was also dismissed by this Court vide order dated 12.3.2013.

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7. After hearing learned counsel for the parties, we do not find any merit in the contentions of learned counsel for the appellant.

8. The primary question that arises for consideration in this appeal is whether the acquittal of the husband and his family members of matrimonial offences under Sections 406, 498-A of the Indian Penal Code would be sufficient to hold that it has caused mental cruelty to the rt Chandigarh husband so as to entitle him to a decree of divorce under Section 13(1) (ia) of the Act.

9. Section 13(1)(ia) of the Act empowers the Court to dissolve the matrimonial ties between the parties by a decree of divorce on a petition by either spouse where the said spouse has been treated with cruelty after the solemnization of the marriage. Cruelty has not been defined in the Act but various pronouncements of the Apex Court and other High Courts have outlined the scope of the term ‘cruelty’. Cruelty is evident where one spouse treats the other and manifests such feelings towards him or her as to cause reasonable apprehension that it will be harmful or injurious to live with the other spouse. Cruelty may be physical or mental. Whether a spouse is inflicted with physical cruelty or not, it can be judged on the basis of direct evidence whereas mental cruelty is to be inferred on analyzing the factual matrix of each case and drawing conclusion thereon.

10. The Apex Court in Parveen Mehta v. Inderjit Mehta 2002 (3) RCR (Civil) 529 had very elaborately analyzed the expression ‘cruelty’ as a ground of divorce under the Act. The relevant portion thereof reads thus:-

“Under the statutory provision cruelty includes both physical and mental cruelty. The legal conception of cruelty and the kind of degree of cruelty necessary to amount to a matrimonial offence has not been defined under the Act. Probably, the Legislature has advisedly refrained from making any attempt at giving a comprehensive definition of the expression that may cover all cases, realising the danger in making such rt Chandigarh attempt. The accepted legal meaning in England as also in India of this expression, which is rather difficult to define, had been ‘conduct of such character as to have caused danger to life, limb or health (bodily or mental), or as to give rise to a reasonable apprehension of such danger.
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21. Cruelty for the purpose of Section 13(1)(ia) is to be taken as a behavior by one spouse towards the other which causes reasonable apprehension in the mind of the latter that it is not safe for him or her to continue the matrimonial relationship with the other.
Mental cruelty is a state of mind and feeling with one of the spouses due to the behaviour or behavioural pattern by the other. Unlike the case of physical cruelty the mental cruelty is difficult to establish by direct evidence. It is necessarily a matter of inference to be drawn from the facts and circumstances of the case. A feeling of anguish, disappointment and frustration in one spouse caused by the conduct of the other can only be appreciated on assessing the attending facts and circumstances in which the two partners of matrimonial life have been living. The inference has to be drawn from the attending facts and circumstances taken cumulatively. In case of mental cruelty it will not be a correct approach to take rt Chandigarh an instance of misbehaviour in isolation and then pose the question whether such behaviour is sufficient by itself to cause mental cruelty. The approach should be to take the cumulative effect of the facts and circumstances emerging from the evidence on record and then draw a fair inference whether the petitioner in the divorce petition has been subjected to mental cruelty due to conduct of the other.”

11. Further, setting out illustrative cases of mental cruelty, the Supreme Court in Samar Ghosh v. Jaya Ghosh, (2007) 4 SCC 511 had held as under:-

“No uniform standard can ever be laid down for guidance, yet we deem it appropriate to enumerate some instances of human behaviour which may be relevant in dealing with the cases of ‘mental cruelty’. The instances indicated in the succeeding paragraphs are only illustrative and not exhaustive.
(i) On consideration of complete matrimonial life of the parties, acute mental pain, agony and suffering as would not make possible for the parties to live with each other could come within the broad parameters of mental cruelty.
(ii) On comprehensive appraisal of the entire matrimonial life of the parties, it becomes abundantly clear that situation is such that the wronged party cannot reasonably be asked to put up with such conduct and continue to live with other party.
rt Chandigarh

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(iii) Mere coldness or lack of affection cannot amount to cruelty, frequent rudeness of language, petulance of manner, indifference and neglect may reach such a degree that it makes the married life for the other spouse absolutely intolerable.

(iv) Mental cruelty is a state of mind. The feeling of deep anguish, disappointment, frustration in one spouse caused by the conduct of other for a long time may lead to mental cruelty.

(v) A sustained course of abusive and humiliating treatment calculated to torture, discommode or render miserable life of the spouse.

(vi) Sustained unjustifiable conduct and behaviour of one spouse actually affecting physical and mental health of the other spouse. The treatment complained of and the resultant danger or apprehension must be very grave, substantial and weighty.

(vii) Sustained reprehensible conduct, studied neglect, indifference or total departure from the normal standard of conjugal kindness causing injury to mental health or deriving sadistic pleasure can also amount to mental cruelty.

(viii) The conduct must be much more than jealousy, selfishness, possessiveness, which causes unhappiness and dissatisfaction and emotional upset may not be a ground for grant of divorce on the ground of mental cruelty.

rt Chandigarh

(ix) Mere trivial irritations, quarrels, normal wear and tear of the married life which happens in day to day life would not be adequate for grant of divorce on the ground of mental cruelty.

(x) The married life should be reviewed as a whole and a few isolated instances over a period of years will not amount to cruelty. The ill-conduct must be persistent for a fairly lengthy period, where the relationship has deteriorated to an extent that because of the acts and behaviour of a spouse, the wronged party finds it extremely difficult to live with the other party any longer, may amount to mental cruelty.

(xi) If a husband submits himself for an operation of sterilization without medical reasons and without the consent or knowledge of his wife and similarly if the wife undergoes vasectomy or abortion without medical reason or without the consent or knowledge of her husband, such an act of the spouse may lead to mental cruelty.

(xii) Unilateral decision of refusal to have intercourse for considerable period without there being any physical incapacity or valid reason may amount to mental cruelty.

(xiii) Unilateral decision of either husband or wife after marriage not to have child from the marriage may amount to cruelty.

rt Chandigarh

(xiv) Where there has been a long period of continuous separation, it may fairly be concluded that the matrimonial bond is beyond repair. The marriage becomes a fiction though supported by a legal tie. By refusing to sever that tie, the law in such cases, does not serve the sanctity of marriage; on the contrary, it shows scant regard for the feelings and emotions of the parties. In such like situations, it may lead to mental cruelty.”

12. In addition to the aforesaid, certain other illustrations were added by the Apex Court in K. Srinivas Rao v. D.A. Deepa (2013) 5 SCC 226 as under:-

“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.”
13. Elucidating ‘mental cruelty’ the Apex Court in K. Srinivas Rao’s case (supra) concluded that if a false criminal complaint is filed against the spouse and his/her relatives regarding matrimonial offences, it would be a case of mental cruelty. Following the aforesaid pronouncement, the Division Bench of this Court in Imlesh v. Amit, AIR 2014 Punjab and Haryana 89, observed as under:- rt Chandigarh “So far as the finding of the trial Court regarding cruelty on the basis of involvement in a false criminal case is concerned, it may be said that it in itself constitutes sufficient ground for granting divorce as it amounted to cruelty. Reference in this regard may be made to the case in K. Srinivas Rao v. D.A. Deepa (2013) 5 SCC 226: AIR 2013 SC 2176, where it was held by Hon’ble the Supreme Court that where indecent/ defamatory statements are made in the complaint/ criminal proceedings, the same singly and cumulatively amounted to mental cruelty warranting grant of divorce. If a false complaint is filed against the spouse or his/her relatives, it amounted to mental cruelty. In the said case also, wife had filed a case under Section 498-A IPC and the husband and his family members were acquitted and decree of divorce was granted to the husband on that ground, as it amounted to mental cruelty.”

14. Similar view was reiterated by the Supreme Court in K. Srinivas v. K. Sunita Civil Appeal No. 1213 of 2006 decided on 19.11.2014 with the following observations:-

“4. In the case in hand, learned counsel for the Respondent-Wife has vehemently contended that it is not possible to label the wife’s criminal complaint detailed above as a false or a vindictive action. In other words, the acquittal of the Appellant and his family members in the criminal complaint does not by rt Chandigarh itself, automatically and justifiably, lead to the conclusion that the complaint was false; that only one complaint was preferred by the Respondent-Wife, whereas, in contradistinction, in K.Srinivas Rao a series of complaints by the wife had been preferred. The argument was premised on the averment that the investigation may have been faulty or the prosecution may have been so careless as to lead to the acquittal, but the acquittal would not always indicate that the Complainant had intentionally filed a false case. What should be kept in perspective, it is reasonably argued, that the Complainant is not the controlling conductor in this Orchestra, but only one of the musicians who must deliver her rendition as and when and how she is called upon to do. Secondly, according to the learned counsel, the position would have been appreciably different if a specific finding regarding the falsity of the criminal complaint was returned, or if the Complainant or a witness on her behalf had committed perjury or had recorded a contradictory or incredible testimony. Learned counsel for the Respondent-Wife states that neither possibility has manifested itself here and, therefore, it would be unfair to the Respondent-Wife to conclude that she had exhibited such cruelty towards the Appellant and her in-laws that would justify the dissolution of her marriage.
rt Chandigarh

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5. The Respondent-Wife has admitted in her cross-examination that she did not mention all the incidents on which her Complaint is predicated, in her statement under Section 161 of the Cr.P.C. It is not her case that she had actually narrated all these facts to the Investigating Officer, but that he had neglected to mention them. This, it seems to us, is clearly indicative of the fact that the criminal complaint was a contrived afterthought. We affirm the view of the High Court that the criminal complaint was “ill advised”. Adding thereto is the factor that the High Court had been informed of the acquittal of the Appellant- Husband and members of his family. In these circumstances, the High Court ought to have concluded that the Respondent-Wife knowingly and intentionally filed a false complaint, calculated to embarrass and incarcerate the Appellant and seven members of his family and that such conduct unquestionably constitutes cruelty as postulated in Section 13(1)(ia) of the Hindu Marriage Act.

6. Another argument which has been articulated on behalf of the learned counsel for the Respondent is that the filing of the criminal complaint has not been pleaded in the petition itself. As we see it, the criminal complaint was filed by the wife after filing of the husband’s divorce petition, and being subsequent events could have been looked into by the Court. In rt Chandigarh any event, both the parties were fully aware of this facet of cruelty which was allegedly suffered by the husband. When evidence was lead, as also when arguments were addressed, objection had not been raised on behalf of the Respondent-Wife that this aspect of cruelty was beyond the pleadings. We are, therefore, not impressed by this argument raised on her behalf.

7. In these circumstances, we find that the Appeal is well founded and deserves to be allowed. We unequivocally find that the Respondent-Wife had filed a false criminal complaint, and even one such complaint is sufficient to constitute matrimonial cruelty.”

15. Examining the factual matrix in the present case, the respondent and his family members were acquitted vide judgment dated 12.1.2011, Ex.P1 in the dowry case got registered vide FIR No. 81 dated 24.5.2008, under Sections 498-A, 406 of the Indian Penal Code. Against the judgment of acquittal, the appeal filed by the State was dismissed by the appellate court vide judgment dated 4.4.2012 and the revision bearing CRR No. 2715 of 2012 filed by the appellant-wife against the aforesaid judgment was also dismissed by this Court on 12.3.2013. A criminal case was lodged against the husband and his family members wherein they were arrested but the final outcome resulted in their acquittal. In such circumstances, it would cause a reasonable apprehension in the mind of the husband that it was not safe for him to live with the wife. Besides, refusing to attend household rt Chandigarh chores and showing disrespect to the respondent and his family members amounted to cruelty towards the respondent. Further, the appellant deserted the respondent with an intention to bring cohabitation permanently to an end. Thus, the irresistible conclusion would be that the appellant-wife had treated the husband-respondent with cruelty.

16. In view of the above, learned counsel for the appellant was unable to demonstrate that there was any error or perversity in the findings recorded by the trial court which may warrant interference by this Court. Accordingly, finding no merit in the appeal, the same is hereby dismissed. No costs.

(AJAY KUMAR MITTAL)
(SNEH PRASHAR)
JUDGE

December 16, 2014

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