Spouse Conduct can be Cruelty

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CIVIL APPEAL NO. 9036 OF 2014
(Arising out of S.L.P.(c) No.25056 of 2012)

VIDHYA VISWANATHAN … APPELLANT
VERSUS
KARTIK BALAKRISHNAN … RESPONDENT

J U D G M E N T
PRAFULLA C.PANT,J.

1. Leave granted.

2. This appeal is directed against the judgment and order dated 13.2.2012 passed in CMA No.2862 of 2011 by the High Court of Judicature at Madras whereby the said Court has allowed the appeal filed by the husband under Section 19 of Family Courts Act, 1986, and dissolved the marriage between the parties.

3. Brief facts of the case are that the appellant, Vidhya Viswanathan got married to the respondent, Karthik Balakrishnan on 6.4.2005 in Chennai following the Hindu rites. After the marriage, the couple went to London where the respondent (husband) was working, and they lived there for some eight months. In December, 2005, the appellant and the respondent came back to India. However, the appellant went back to England all alone, and his wife did not go there though her husband had purchased a return ticket for her. On 13.9.2008, the husband filed a petition under Section 13 (1) (ia) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 for dissolution of marriage. It is pleaded by the respondent (husband) that while the appellant was with him in London, she used to insult him. It is alleged by him that at times she used to get violent and hysterical. The husband further pleaded that even after his best efforts, the appellant did not allow him to consummate the marriage. It is further stated that in November, 2005 i.e. about seven months after the marriage the wife ( the present appellant) fell sick, and she was taken to a Medical Specialist who diagnosed that she was suffering from tuberculosis. According to the husband, he provided the best possible treatment to his wife. After the couple came back to India in December, 2005, the wife stayed back in Chennai and continued her treatment. It is alleged by the present respondent (husband) that his wife used to send him e-mails which were derogatory and in bad taste. It is also alleged by the respondent that his wife refused to join his company even after his best efforts. With the above pleadings, the present respondent filed a petition for divorce before the Family Court, Chennai on the ground of cruelty.

4. The appellant contested the divorce petition, and filed her written statement. She denied the allegations made against her. She stated that she went with her husband to London with great expectations. She alleged that her husband and his mother did not treat her well. She admitted that she came back with her husband to India in December, 2005. She further pleaded that though the respondent purchased the return ticket for her but he himself instructed not to return to England without his permission. It is also stated by her that marriage could not be consummated for the reason that her husband wanted to have children after one or two years of marriage. She did not deny having sent e-mails but stated that she only responded to the respondent as he wanted divorce decree based on her consent. She admitted that she received legal notice from her husband but stated that the allegations therein are false. She prayed for counter-claim directing the respondent to restore the conjugal rights between the parties.

5. On the basis of the pleadings of the parties, the trial court framed the following issues:
“ (1) Whether the petitioner/husband is entitled for divorce on the ground of cruelty ?

(2) Whether the respondent/ wife is entitled for conjugal rights as prayed for in the counter claim? ”

6. The parties led their oral and documentary evidence before the trial court. The First Additional Family Court at Chennai, after hearing the parties vide its judgment and order dated 11.8.2011, dismissed the petition for divorce, and allowed the counter-claim of the wife. Aggrieved by said judgment and order the husband (Karthik Balakrishnan) filed an appeal (CMA No.2862 of 2011 with M.P.No.1 of 2011) before the High Court. The High Court after hearing the parties allowed the appeal, and set aside the judgment and order dated 11.8.2011 passed by the trial court. The High Court allowed the divorce petition, and dissolved the marriage between the parties. Hence, this appeal with special leave petition before this Court.

7. We have heard learned counsel for the parties, and perused the papers on record.

8. Admittedly, the appellant got married to respondent on 6.4.2005. It is also admitted that there is no issue born out of the wedlock. This Court has now to examine whether the High Court has rightly come to the conclusion or not that the husband was treated with cruelty by the wife, if so, is he entitled to decree of divorce.

9. On going through the evidence on record, we find that the husband (petitioner before the trial court), in his evidence has narrated in detail, the incidents of alleged cruelty suffered by him. The relevant paragraphs from the statement of the husband are being reproduced below:

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“ 7) …… the marriage was solemnized on
April 6th 2005, as stated above. But quite
surprisingly, the respondent was very moody
did not speak at all throughout the wedding
day. The respondent was not even interested
to pose for photographs, along with me. What
more worried me was that even for wedding
lunch, the respondent had to be convinced to
sit next to me to have lunch. Initially thought
that this was because she was put in a new
atmosphere. However, I could not realize that
the respondent was not interested either in my
self or the marriage itself.
xx xx xx xx
8) …… inspite of the above odd things, I was able to get a visa to UK for the respondent. I further submit that I had made extensive arrangements for the Honey moon to Scotland. Even during the Honeymoon, the respondent was very moody, emotionless and abnormally quiet. I was at loss to understand as to what was hovering around in her mind. However, I was very patiently waiting on the fond hope that things would become normal in due course. However, all my dreams to lead a very happy married life with the respondent were shattered by the intolerable behaviour of the respondent. I further submit that after returning from Scotland to London, I took the respondent to various places so as to make her to become a normal woman, but was taken aback by her sarcastic remarks about the London city itself. The respondent was very lethargic, disinterested and showering lack of interest in any of the events. Only thereafter, I stared thinking that the respondent was not interested in solemnizing the marriage itself.

xx xx xx xx

9) ……..between April, 2005 to December 2005, I could infer that the respondent was always moody, throwing tantrums, showing faces openly, showing anger and hatred insulting me when my self and the respondent were alone and in front others. The respondent reacted violently by getting aggressive and making sarcast remarks or locking herself in the room and stopped talking for days together without any reason. When I questioned about the same, the respondent used to get even more aggressive and shout hysterically and thereafter would start crying. This behaviour became more and more frequent over the time and made it impossible to handle the respondent during such violent outbursts of anger and hatred. The respondent was totally unapproachable and this left me with a deep sense of anguish and material agony. The attitude of the respondent was becoming worse day by day, resulted in pulling of the days with the respondent became a nightmare.

xx xx xx xx
10)…………..the respondent did not show any intention at all in consummating the marriage. The respondent evinced no interest in having physical contact with me. A times, I myself had tried to have sexual relationship with the respondent as a normal husband would do. However, since the respondent showed no intention, I convinced myself that she would mend her ways. However, there was no attitudinal changes in her life.

xx xx xx xx
13)………… the respondent deliberately used to wake me up rudely sometimes by even kicking me when I was asleep and used to ask me to talk to her saying that she was getting bored. Without minding the respondent’s abominable attitude, I would try to encourage the respondent as possible as I could. Further, the respondent used to bang her head against the walls of the bedroom for no reason and when I asked the reason the respondent would deliberately remain silent, having me spending sleepless nights. This has caused great mental agony and torture to me when there was no fault on me.

xx xx xx xx
17)………..during November 2005, the respondent fell sick with high fever. Despite the adamancy, not to take treatment, I took the respondent to a leading specialist who diagnosed that the respondent suffered from Tuberculosis and got-months antibiotic course started in London……..

xx xx xx xx

18)……….. In December 2005, I came down to Chennai with the respondent, took her to my family doctor, who referred the respondent to a top TB specialist. The doctor at Chennai also opined the same as that of the doctor in London and advised the respondent to continue with the antibiotic prescribed by the doctor in London.

xx xx xx xx
19)……………..I came back to London, after buying a return flight ticket to the respondent from Chennai to London for July 2006, presuming that the TB treatment at Chennai for the respondent would be completed by this time.

xx xx xx xx

20)…………even though, I was in London, I used to get in touch with the respondent and used to send emails on the fond hope that my unconditional love would make the respondent change her mind and behaviour and make her correct herself. However, the respondent continued to act irritationally and showed anger in all the telephone calls by slamming down the receiver”.

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P.W.1 Karthik Balakrishnan (husband) who made above statement, was subjected to lengthy cross-examination but nothing has come out which creates doubt in his testimony. 10. The appellant Vidhya Viswanathan had also filed her evidence before the trial court, in the form of affidavit, and she also got herself cross-examined as D.W.1. She denied the allegations made by her husband but in cross-examination she admits that the marriage was not consummated. The relevant portion from her cross-examination is being reproduced below:

“ …. .. It is wrong to state that
normally I used to hit the petitioner by my
legs and wake him up and that I used to throw
the objects on the petitioner and that through
this I had harassed the petitioner physically
and mentally. If it is asked that whether the
marriage was consummated, no it is not. The
petitioner said that we can beget the child
after one or two years. I and the petitioner
were close. As the petitioner joined the new
job he was under stress and tension. The
petitioner had thyroid infection frequently. The
petitioner said that the starting of the
matrimonial life shall be post-poned. It was not
taken as an issue. After 8 months of the
marriage, I became ill. Hence, I came to
Chennai. It is wrong to state that there is no
connection between thyroid infection, and the
physical relationship and that I am adducing
falsely.

xx xx xx xx
My passport is lying with me. It is correct to state that in the passport, a seal is made for visa. If it is asked when my U.K. visa would expire, it is for 5 years.

xx xx xx xx
Before my husband could file this case, I did not file any case for the restitution of conjugal rights. It is wrong to state that as I had no intention to live together, I did not file such a case. ”

11. The High Court while rejecting the explanation given by the wife as to why the marriage was not consummated observed as under:

“ 44. It has to be further pointed out
that while P.W.1 was cross examined by the
respondent, it has not been suggested to
P.W.1 that he suggested to the respondent
that they should have a child only after two
years. Thus it appears that this explanation of
the respondent for non consummation of the
marriage is only an afterthought. Even
assuming for a moment that the appellant
wanted to have a child only after two years
that does not mean that the appellant and the
respondent cannot and should not have
sexual intercourse. Admittedly, both of them
are well educated and there are so many
contraceptives available and they could have
used such contraceptives and avoided
pregnancy if they had wanted. Xx xx.”

12. Undoubtedly, not allowing a spouse for a long time, to have sexual intercourse by his or her partner, without sufficient reason, itself amounts mental cruelty to such spouse. A Bench of Three Judges of this Court in Samar Ghosh vs. Jaya Ghosh (2007) 4 SCC 511 has enumerated some of the illustrations of mental cruelty. Paragraph 101 of the said case is being reproduced below:

“101. 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. (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.

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(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. (ix) Mere trivial irritations, quarrels, normal wear and tear of the married life which happens in day-today 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 sterilisation 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.

xx xx xx xx

The above mentioned illustrations, No. (viii) and (xii) given in Samar Ghosh case (supra), support the view taken by the High Court in holding that in the present case the wife has treated her husband with mental cruelty.

13. In Vinita Saxena vs. Pankaj Pandit (2006) 3 SCC 778 regarding legal proposition on aspect of cruelty has made the following observations:

“31. It is settled by a catena of decisions
that mental cruelty can cause even more
serious injury than the physical harm and
create in the mind of the injured appellant
such apprehension as is contemplated in the
section. It is to be determined on whole facts
of the case and the matrimonial relations
between the spouses. To amount to cruelty,
there must be such wilful treatment of the
party which caused suffering in body or mind
either as an actual fact or by way of
apprehension in such a manner as to render
the continued living together of spouses
harmful or injurious having regard to the
circumstances of the case.

32. The word “cruelty” has not been
defined and it has been used in relation to
human conduct or human behaviour. It is the
conduct in relation to or in respect of
matrimonial duties and obligations. It is a
course of conduct and one which is adversely
affecting the other. The cruelty may be mental
or physical, intentional or unintentional. There
may be cases where the conduct complained
of itself is bad enough and per se unlawful or
illegal. Then the impact or the injurious effect
on the other spouse need not be enquired into
or considered. In such cases, the cruelty will
be established if the conduct itself is proved or
admitted.”

14. In view of the above principle of law laid down by this Court, and having considered the submissions of parties, and the evidence on record, we do not find any ground to interfere with the decree of divorce passed by the High Court on the ground of cruelty. However, we are conscious of the fact that the appellant, as stated by her, was doing a job before her marriage, and she (Vidhya Vishwanathan) has stated as D.W.1 that at present she is not doing any work. As such we think it just and proper to direct the respondent to pay to the appellant (wife) one time lump sum amount of alimony. We are of the view that in the facts and circumstances of the case keeping in mind the economic status of the parties, a direction to the respondent to pay Rs.40 lakhs (Rupees forty lakhs only) as one time alimony to the appellant, would meet the ends of justice, to

which learned counsel for the respondent during the arguments stated that the respondent is ready to pay the same. 15. Accordingly, we dispose of this appeal affirming the decree of divorce granted by the High Court dissolving the marriage between the parties namely Karthik Balakrishnan and Vidhya Vishwanathan, with further direction under Section 25 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 that the respondent shall pay to the appellant Rs.40 lakhs (Rupees forty lakhs only) as a lump sum amount of permanent alimony, within a period of three months from the date of this judgment. No order as to costs.

(SUDHANSU JYOTI MUKHOPADHAYA)

(PRAFULLA C. PANT)
NEW DELHI,
SEPTEMBER 22, 2014
-17-

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