Demanding Money is not Dowry but leads to divorce

Supreme Court of India

PETITIONER:SHOBHA RANI
Vs.
RESPONDENT:MADHUKAR REDDI

DATE OF JUDGMENT12/11/1987

SHETTY, K.J. (J)
RAY, B.C. (J)

CITATION:
1988 AIR 121 1988 SCR (1)1010
1988 SCC (1) 105 JT 1987 (4) 433
1987 SCALE (2)1008

ACT:Hindu Marriage Act, 1955: Section 13(1)(i−a)−‘Cruelty’− Demand for dowry−Whether cruelty−Whether wife entitled to decree for dissolution of marriage−‘Intention’−Whether necessary to constitute and prove cruelty in matrimonial cases.

Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961: ‘Dowry’−Demand of−Whether amounts to cruelty entitling wife to decree for dissolution of marriage.
Indian Penal Code, 1860: Section 498A−‘Cruelty’−What is−Demand for dowry−Whether amounts to cruelty−Whether wife entitled to decree for dissolution of marriage.

HEADNOTE:

The appellant−wife, a post−graduate in biological sciences, married the
respondent−husband, a medical doctor on December 19, 1982. Soon after, relations
between them became bitter. Ultimately, the appellant−wife moved the court for
divorce on the ground of cruelty. Her main complaint was about the dowry
demanded by the husband or his parents.

The trial court rejected the appellant’s case on the ground that there was
no satisfactory evidence that the demands were such as to border on harassment.
The High Court also rejected her case and held that the appellant appeared to be
hypersensitive and imagined too much and too unnatural things, that the demand
for money had to be viewed from a proper angle, and that there was nothing wrong
in the respondent, who was a doctor, asking his rich wife to spare some money.
Allowing the appeal by special leave,

HELD: 1.1 In order to curb the evil practice of dowry, the Parliament
enacted the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 prohibiting the giving or taking of
dowry. But, as the pernicious practice continued in some communities, the Dowry
Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 1984 was enac− 1011
ted with considerable changes in the parent Act. Likewise, the Indian Penal
Code, 1860 was amended by introducing an entirely new offence with regard to
criminal jurisdiction. Section 498A was introduced providing for punishment to
the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjecting her to
cruelty.
new dimension has been given to the concept of cruelty. Explanation to s.
498A of the Indian Penal Code provides that any wilful conduct which is of such
a nature as is likely to drive a woman to commit suicide or likely to cause
grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical of
the woman), and harassment of the woman with a view to coercing her or any
person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable
security would constitute cruelty. [1016E−F] 1.2 Cruelty simpliciter is a ground
for divorce under section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act. However, the word
‘cruelty’ has not been defined. Indeed, it could not have been defined. It has
been used in relation to or in respect of matrimonial duties and obligations. It
is a course of conduct of one which is adversely affecting the other. The
cruelty may be mental or physical, intentional or unintentional. If it is
physical, the Court will have no problem to determine it. It is a question of
fact and degree. If it is mental, the enquiry must begin as to the nature of
cruel treatment and the impact of such treatment in the mind of the spouse,
whether it caused reasonable apprehension that it would be harmful or injurious
to live with the other. Ultimately, it is a matter of inference to be drawn by
taking into account the nature of the conduct and its effect on the complaining
spouse. There may, however, be cases where the conduct complained of itself is
bad enough and per se unlawful or illegal. Then the impact or 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.

1.3 The matrimonial conduct which constitutes cruelty as a ground for
dissolution of marriage, if not admitted, requires to be proved on the
preponderance of probabilities as in civil cases and not beyond a reasonable
doubt as in criminal cases.
1.4 Evidence as to harassment to the wife to meet any unlawful demand for
money is necessary to constitute cruelty in criminal law. This is the
requirement of the offence of cruelty defined under s. 498A of the Indian Penal
Code. It is not so under s. 13(1)(i−a) of the Hindu
Marriage Act, 1955. The cruelty need not be only intentional, wilful or
deliberate. It is not necessary to prove the intention in matrimonial offence.
From the context and the set up in which the words ‘cruelty’ has been used in s.
13(1)(i−a), intention is not a necessary element in cruelty. That word has to be
understood in the ordinary sense of the term in matrimonial affairs. If the
intention to harm, harass or hurt could be inferred by the nature of the conduct
or brutal act complained or, cruelty could be easily established. But the
absence of intention should not make any difference in the case, if by ordinary
sense in human affairs, the act complained of could otherwise be regarded as
cruelty. The relief to the party cannot be denied on the ground that there has
been deliberate or wilful ill−treatment. 1.5 The matrimonial
duties and responsibilities are of varying degrees from house to house or person
to person. Therefore, when a spouse makes complaint about the treatment of
cruelty by the partner in life or relations, the Court should not search for

standard in life. In matrimonial cases, the Court is not concerned with the ideals in family life. It has only to understand the spouses concerned as nature made them, and consider their particular grievance.
Sheldon v. Sheldon, [1966] 2 ALL E.R. 257, 259, Gollins v. Gollins, [1963]
2 All E.R. 966 1972 and Narayan Ganesh Dastane v. Sucheta Narayan Dastane,[1975] 3 SCR 967 1978, referred to.

JUDGMENT: CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Civil Appeal No. 3013 of 1987.
From the Judgment and Order dated 30.7.1986 of the Andhra Pradesh High
Court in A.A.O. No. 1491 of 1985. S. Madhusudan Rao, K.K. Gupta and Rakesh Kumar
Gupta for the Appellant.
K.V. Sreekumar and B. Parthasarthi for the Respondent. The Judgment of the
Court was delivered by JAGANNATHA SHETTY, J. We grant special leave and proceed
to dispose of the appeal.
Shobha Rani is the appellant. Her husband is Madhukar Reddi who is
respondent before us. The wife is post−graduate in biological

sciences. The husband is a medical doctor. They were happily married on December
19, 1982. But their happiness did not last longer. They started exchanging
letters with bitter feelings. Then they began to accuse each other. At one
stage, they thought of winding up by mutual consent. It was perhaps out of
disgust. it would have been better, if it had happened. But unfortunately, it
did not materialise. Ultimately they landed themselves in the Court. The wife
moved the Court for divorce on the ground of cruelty. Before referring to
further facts, let us consider the law. The cruelty simpliciter is now a ground
for divorce under Sec. 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act (Act 25 of 1955). Section 13
provides, so far as it is material: “13 Divorce (1) 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 …..
(i) …….
(i−a) has, after the solemnization of the marriage, treated the petitioner
with cruelty, or xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx
Section 13(1)(i−a) uses the words “treated the petitioner with cruelty”.
The word “cruelty” has not been defined. Indeed it could not have been defined.
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 of one which is adversely affecting the other. The
cruelty may be mental or physical, intentional or unintentional. If it is
physical the court will have no problem to determine it. It is a question of
fact and degree. If it is mental the problem presents difficulty. First, the
enquiry must begin as to the nature of the cruel treatment. Second, the impact
of such treatment in the mind of the spouse. Whether it caused reasonable
apprehension that it would be harmful or injurious to live with the other.
Ultimately, it is a matter of inference to be drawn by taking into account the
nature of the conduct and its effect on the complaining spouse. There may,
however, 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

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considered. In such cases, the cruelty will be established if the conduct itself
is proved or admitted. It will be necessary to bear in mind that there has been
marked change in the life around us. In matrimonial duties and responsibilities
in particular, we find a sea change. They are of varying degrees from house to
house or person to person. Therefore, when a spouse makes complaint about the
treatment of cruelty by the partner in life or relations, the Court should not
search for standard in life. A set of facts stigmatised as cruelty in one case
may not be so in another case. The cruelty alleged may largely depend upon the
type of life the parties are accustomed to or their economic and social
conditions. It may also depend upon their culture and human values to which they
attach importance. We, the judges and lawyers, therefore, should not import our
own notions of life. We may not go in parallel with them. There may be a
generation gap between us and the parties. It would be better if we keep aside
our customs and manners. It would be also better if we less depend upon
precedents. Because as Lord Denning said in Sheldon v. Sheldon, [1966] 2 All
E.R. 257 (259) “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 the human beings there is no limit to the kind of conduct which
may constitute cruelty. New type of cruelty may crop up in any case depending
upon the human behaviour, capacity or incapability to tolerate the conduct
complained of. Such is the wonderful/realm of cruelty.
These preliminary observations are intended to emphasize that the Court in
matrimonial cases is not concerned with ideals in family life. The Court has
only to understand the spouses concerned as nature made them, and consider their
particular grievance. As Lord Reid observed in Gollins v. Gollins, [1963] 2 All.
E.R. 966 (1972): “In matrimonial affairs we are not dealing with objective
standards, it is not a matrimonial offence to fall below the standard of the
reasonable man (or the reasonable woman). We are dealing with this man or this
woman.”
Chandrachud, J. (as he then was) in Narayan Ganesh Dastane v. Sucheta Narayan
Dastane, [1975] 3 SCR 967 (978) said: “The Court has to deal, not with an ideal
husband and an ideal wife (assuming any such exist) but with parti−
cular man and woman before it. The ideal couple or a near−ideal one will
probably have no occasion to go to a matrimonial court, for, even if they may
not be able to drown their differences, their ideal attitudes may help them
overlook or gloss over mutual faults and failures.”

With these principles in mind, we may now unfold the story with which the
wife came to the Court seeking dissolution of her marriage. She made several
grievances. We may ignore all but one. The one and the only one with which we
are concerned is her complaint about the dowry demand by the husband or his
parents. The dowry is a deep rooted evil in the society. It started as customary
presents with love and affection. In olden days, it was customary to give some
presents to the bride and bridegroom and his family at the time of marriage. The
parents of the bride or their relations out of affection and good intention used
to provide the couple something to fall back upon in case of need. The system
started at a time when girls were generally not very much educated and even if
they were educated they were unwilling to take up gainful employment. There was
also less opportunity for them either to supplement the family income or to
become financially independent. There was yet another reason for such customary
gifts. The daughter then was not entitled to a share in the joint family
properties when she had a brother. Hence the father out of affection or other
consideration used to give some cash or kind to the daughter at the time of
marriage. The right of the father to give a small portion of even the family
property as a gift to the daughter at the time of her marriage was recognised.
But unfortunately over the years new practice developed. The boy or his family

members started demanding cash or kind from the brides parents. They started
demanding dowry as a matter of right. The demand more often extended even after
the marriage. There were instance of harassment of the wife, if the demand was
not complied with. In order to curb this evil practice, the Parliament enacted
the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (Act No. 28 of 1961). The Act prohibited the
giving or taking of dowry. But in spite of this enactment, the pernicious
practice continued in some communities. The Joint Committee of Parliament
appointed to examine the working of the Dowry Prohibition Act remarked “the evil
sought to be done away with by the Act, on the other hand, increased by leaps
and bounds and has now assumed grotesque and alarming proportions.” Again the
Parliament intervened. The Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 1984 was enacted
with considerable changes in the parent Act. Likewise the Indian Penal Code was
amended by introducing of an entirely new offence hitherto unknown to criminal
jurisprudence. Section 498 A has been introduced in the following terms: “498 A. Husband or
relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty; whoever, being the
husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to
cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three
years and shall also be liable to fine.
Explanation−For the purposes of this section “cruelty” means:
(a) Any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive
the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or
health (whether mental or physical) of the woman or
(b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to
coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any
property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person
related to her to meet such demand.”
A new dimension has been given to the concept of cruelty. Explanation to
Sec. 498 A provides that any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is
likely to drive a woman to commit suicide would constitute cruelty. Such wilful
conduct which is likely to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health
(whether mental or physical of the woman) would also amount to cruelty.
Harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or
any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or
valuable security would also constitute cruelty.
We are, however, not concerned with criminal offence either under the Dowry
Prohibition Act or under the Indian Penal Code. We are concerned with a
matrimonial conduct which constitutes cruelty as a ground for dissolution of
marriage. Such cruelty if not admitted requires to be proved on the
preponderance of probabilities as in civil cases and not beyond a reasonable
doubt as in criminal cases. This Court has not accepted the test of proof beyond
a reasonable doubt. As said by Chandrachud, J. in Dastane case (Ibid at p. 976):
“Neither section 10 of the Act which enumerates the

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grounds on which a petition for judicial separation may be presented nor
section 23 which governs the jurisdiction of the Court to pass a decree in any
proceedings under the Act requires that the petitioner must prove his case
beyond a reasonable doubt. Section 23 confers on the court the power to pass a
decree if it is “satisfied” on matters mentioned in clauses (a) to (e) of the
section. Considering that proceedings under the Act are essentially of a civil
nature, the word “satisfied” must mean “satisfied” on a preponderance of
“probabilities” and not “satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt”. Section 23 does
not alter the standard of proof in civil cases.”

Let us now turn to the evidence in this case. It consists of that of wife
as P.W. 1 as against the evidence of husband as R.W. 1. The parties have also
produced the letters exchanged between them. There appears to be no doubt that
the husband or his parents were demanding dowry from the appellant. The husband
in his letter Ex. Al dated August 28, 1983 wrote to the wife:
“Now regarding Dowry point, I still feel that there is nothing wrong in
my parents asking for few thousand rupees. It is quite a common thing for which
my parents are being blamed, as harassment.”

The wife in her evidence before the Court has stated: “My Mother−in−law
always used to make demand for money from my parents. I used to tell my parents
about what was happening to me in that house. I used to keep silent when my
mother−in−law made demands for money. The respondent also sometimes used to make
demands for money. I used to tell him as to why should I ask money from my
parents, and I also used to tell him that I would not ask my parents. But he
used to reply that such things were only there in olden times and not now and
that therefore, I should ask money from my parents. There were fixed deposits
receipts in my name in the Bank upto one and a half to two lakhs. Besides this
there was house plot in my name at Jubilee Hills. I was afraid of telling my
husband and my parents in law that I would not ask my parents for money.

This I was afraid because I had an apprehension that something would be done
to me either physically or mentally if I told them so. I entertained this
apprehension because this went on regularly every day, that is their demands for
money.

I was afraid to go back again to the respondent’s house because I felt that
the pestering for money will go on like this. I, therefore, developed aversion
for going back to the respondent. For that reason, I joined as a school
teacher.” The trial court or the High Court did not state that there was no
demand for money. The case of the wife was, however, rejected on the ground that
there was no satisfactoy evidence that the demands were such as to border on
harassment. The trial court said:
“Though one would not justify demands for money, it has to be viewed in
this perspective. The respondent is a young up coming doctor. There is nothing
strange in his asking his wife to give him money when he is in need of it. There
is no satisfactory evidence that the demands were such as to border on
harassment.”
In regard to the admission by the husband in his letter dated August 28,
1983 as to the dowry demanded by his parents, the trial court observed:
“The letter should be read as a whole. The respondent has an explanation
to make and has made one in the cross−examination. He is trying to confess. It
is clear from the attitude of the petitioner that she is prone to exaggerate
things. That is evident from her complaint of food and the habit of drinking.”

“Either because of her over sensitivity or because of her habit of
exaggeration, she has made a mountain of mole−hill. Further, for the reasons
best known to her, the petitioner

has not examined her father. There is no explanation why he has not been
examined in support of her contention that the respondent and his parents were
harassing her for money.” The High Court also went on the same lines. The High
Court said that the wife appears to be hypersensitive and she imagines too much
and too unnatural things. The High Court then observed:
“Though one would not justify demands for money it has to be viewed in
the circumstances from a proper angle. The respondent is a doctor, if he asks
his rich wife to spare some money, there is nothing wrong or unusual.”
This is not a case where the husband requested his wife to give some money
for his personal expenses. The High Court appears to have misunderstood the
case. It has evidently proceeded on a wrong basis. It proceeded on the ground
that the husband wanted some money from his wife for his personal expenses. If
the demand was only of such nature we would have thrown this appeal away. The
wife must extend all help to husband and so too the husband to wife. They are
partners in life. They must equally share happiness and sorrow. They must help
each other. One cannot take pleasure at the cost of the other. But the case on
hand is not of a failure on that front. It has been admitted by the husband
himself in his letter dated August 28, 1983 addressed to the wife that his
parents demanded dowry. But he wrote to the wife that there was nothing wrong in
that demand of his parents. This is indeed curious. He would not have stated so
unless he was party to the demand. The wife has stated in her evidence that
there were repeated demands for money from her monther− in−law. Her evidence
cannot be brushed aside on the ground that she has not examined her father. It
was not the case of the wife that the dowry was demanded directly from her
father. The evidence of the father was therefore not material. It is also not
proper to discredit the wife as hypersensitive or prone to exaggeration. That
would be judging the wife by our style of manners and our standard of life. That
we cannot apply. We must try to understand her feelings and then search for the
nugget of truth in the entire evidence.
The contents of Ex. Al should not be read in isolation. It must be viewed
against the background of accusations in the letter dated December 26, 1983
written by advocate for the wife to his counter−part. The relevant portion of
the letter reads:

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“In the background of these, the worst form of ill trestment that is
meted out to our client was constant harassment for monies. It may be brought to
your notice that prior to marriage on demand by your client’s father a sum of
Rs. 17,000 was given and also a Scooter thereafter. It may be brought to your
notice that one other main reason for your client to dowry deaths which are very
frequently seen now−a−days in papers. It may be pointed out that your clients
philosophy is that since our client’s are financially sound, there is no wrong
for your client’s parent to ask for few more thousands. It may be pointed out
and brought to your notice that it appears your client’s sole object of marriage
was to get the monies standing in the name of our client transferred to his
name. It would be better to understand that money that stand in our client’s
name are somwhere about two lakhs. It is not out of place to mention that your
client’s behaviour and treatment with our client could only be said to be a
pointer for seeking these monies alone and marriage was a device………..”
The cumulative effect of all the circumstances and the evidence of parties
lead to the conclusion that the demand of dowry went on with the support of the
husband. The High Court while dealing with this part of the case has observed
that there is no evidence to show that the demands were such as to cause
harassment to the wife. The High Court appears to have misconstrued the scope of
cruelty in matrimonial affairs. The evidence as to harassment to the wife to

meet any unlawful demand for money is necessary to constitute cruelty in
criminal law. It is the requirement of the offence of ‘cruelty’ defined under
sec. 498A of the Indian Penal Code. Sec. 13(1)(i−a) of the Hindu Marriage Act
provides that the party has after solemanization of the marriage treated the
petitioner with cruelty. What do these words mean? What should be the nature of
cruelty? Should it be only intentional, wilful or deliberate? Is it necessary to
prove the intention in matrimonial offence? we think not. We have earlier said
that cruelty may be of any kind and any variety. It may be different in
different cases. It is in relation to the conduct of parties to a marriage. That
conduct which is complained of as cruelty by one spouse may not be so for the
other spouse. There may be instance of cruelty by the unintentional but
inexcusable conduct of any party. The cruel treatment may also result by the
cultural conflict of the spouses. In such cases, even if the act of cruelty is
established, the intention to commit cannot be
established. The aggrieved party may not get relief. We do not think that that
was the intention with which the Parliament enacted sec. 13(1)(i−a) of the Hindu
Marriage Act. The context and the set up in which the word ’cruelty’ has been
used in the section, seems to us, that intention is not a necessary element in
cruelty. That word has to be understood in the ordinary sense of the term in
matrimonial affairs. If the intention to harm, harass or hurt could be inferred
by the nature of the conduct or brutal act complained of, cruelty could be
easily established. But the absence of intention should not make any difference
in the case, if by ordinary sense in human affairs, the act complained of could
otherwise be regarded as cruelty. The relief to the party cannot be denied on
the ground that there has been no deliberate or wilful ill−treatment. The same
is also the line of reasoning adopted by the House of Lords in Gollins v.
Gollins, [1963] 2 All E.R. 966 at 976 where Lord Evershed said:

“I am unable to accept the premise that “cruelty” in matrimonial
proceedings requires or involves of necessity the element of malignity− though I
do not of course doubt that if malignity be in fact established it would be
highly relevant to a charge of cruelty. In my opinion, however, the question
whether one party to a marriage has been guilty of cruelty to the other or has
treated the other with cruelty does not, according to the ordinary sense of the
language used by Parliament, involve the presence of malignity (or its
equivalent); and if this view be right it follows, as I venture to think, that
the presence of intention to injure on the part of the spouse charged or (which
is, as I think, the same thing) proof that the conduct of the party charged was
“aimed at” the other spouse is not an essential requisite for cruelty. The
question in all such cases is, to my mind, whether the acts or conduct of the
party charged were “cruel” according to the ordinary sense of that word, rather
than whether the party charged was himself or herself a cruel man or woman………….

Bearing in mind the proper approach to matrimonial offence, we are
satisfied that the facts and circumstances brought out by the appellant in this
case do justify an inference that there was demand for dowry. The demand for
dowry is prohibited under law. That by itself is bad enough. That, in our
opinion, amounts to cruely entitling the wife to get a decree for dissolution of
marriage. 1022

In the result, we allow the appeal and in reversal of the judgments of the
courts below, we grant a decree for dissolution of the marriage. In the
circumstances of the case, however, we make no order as to costs. N.P.V. Appeal allowed.

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