Author: Shubhangi Saxena, 4th Year, School of Law, Jagran Lakecity University, Bhopal. The case comment has been written by the author while pursuing the internship programme with us.
Appellant: Narayan Ganesh Dastane
Respondent: Sucheta Narayan Dastane
Hon’ble Judges: Chandrachud, Y.V. , Goswami, P.K.,Untwalia, N.L.
Court: In the Supreme Court of India
Citation: AIR 1975 SC 1534
Decided on: 19.03.1975
The present Indian society considers any matrimonial dispute as a delicate relationship and disputes of judicial separation, divorce, cruelty etc. are still considered inappropriate and thus many social norms have to be followed by people. But with the changing era, the disputes have now become part and parcel of life. Nowadays, numerous matrimonial conflicts are reported in courts. And thus, confirming the present situation, many laws have been amended time and again. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 that governs Hindu customs and practices has included cruelty as a ground for divorce after the Amendment Act, 1976 and thus, the aggrieved party to the dispute has to prove the infliction of cruelty. It can be both physical and mental cruelty. The present case i.e. N.G. Dastane v. S. Dastane is a landmark judgment after which cruelty was added as a ground of divorce in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
Facts of the Case
In April 1956, the parents of the respondent in this case put a proposal for marriage with the appellant. But prior to their marriage, the respondent’s father informed the appellant through letters about the medical health of the respondent and apprised him about the attack of sunstroke that respondent had which had affected her mental condition which was now recovered. The appellant was also informed about the cerebral malaria of the respondent which was the main cause of her deteriorating mental health. The respondent’s father also informed him about the hospital where the respondent had been undergoing her treatments. Consequently, the appellant confirmed the doctor about the same and did not raise any further queries and consented for marriage.
The respondent was three months pregnant in February 1961, when the appellant asked for the police protection considering the respondent as a threat to his life. Later, the respondent asked for maintenance for herself and her 2 daughters from her husband and also addressed a letter to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture stating the cruel treatment and desertion by her husband and claimed maintenance separately from the government. The relation between the couple got so tense that the appellant moved to the court. Hence, the proceedings got instituted in trial court in February 1962, and appellant claimed for revocation of marriage under Section 12 (1) (c) of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 on the ground that his assent had been fraudulently obtained. He subsequently requested the court for divorce under Section 13 (1) (iii) of the said Act. Alternatively, he claimed for judicial separation under Section 10 (1) (b).
- The respondent got her treatment of Schizophrenia and her health was fraudulently stated before the appellant to obtain his consent.
- The respondent would lose her temper frequently and affront the appellant and his family.
- The respondent used to behave viciously with her husband and daughters at the workplace and at the residence.
- The respondent wrote letters to her family and husband informing them about her disturbed condition of mind.
- The letters were sent by her to her family due to the compulsion of the appellant.
- The appellant took advantage of his own wrong and did not comply with the conditions under Section 21(1) of Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 which mentions different dependents who can claim the maintenance.
- The appellant compelled her to behave in such manner by expecting rigid standards of behavior from her.
- The appellant had sexual relations with respondent while deserting her that led to the birth of their third baby and which amounted to condoning of cruelty.
The respondent i.e. Sucheta Dastane was held liable for cruelty by the Trial Court. Later, the husband was ordered to pay Rs.400 per month as interim maintenance and also to pay the arrears.The custody of children till the age of majority was granted to the wife considering their interest and well being.
Appeal was again filed by the Husband i.e. N.G. Dastane in Bombay High Court, though it was dismissed. However, he was granted special leave to appeal that would be filed only on strict grounds of judicial separation on the basis of cruelty. Since there was no reliable and authentic evidence as to the cruelty and behavior of the appellant, no conclusion could be drawn on the same. The Supreme Court observed that the former court should not apply the principle of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ since the matrimonial dispute could not be adjudged on such principle but probabilities since it was not a criminal dispute.
Eventually, the court held that since there was no valid justification on the part of appellant regarding their sexual life in spite of the acts of the respondent, since the same was apparent due to the birth of their third child that too after six months of their separation which indicated forgiveness and restoration. Also, it was evident that the wife was not willing to leave the house in which they lived. The court also observed that the conduct of respondent was mere reaction to the allegations of unsound mind by her husband and therefore, the ground of cruelty on her part post separation did not hold good.
Justice Chandrachud, Y.V. formulated a test in order to determine the gravity or cruelty which included the following testaments:
- The alleged acts that amount to cruelty should be proved as per the law of evidence.
- The petitioner should have an apprehension in mind with respect to the actual injury or harm from the conduct of another person.
- There should be a reasonable apprehension related to the condition of parties.
- The petitioner should not take the benefit of his position.
- There should be no coadunation of cruelty by the petitioner.
Hence, the court observed that these conditions were not fulfilled as there was no proper evidence on which, the question of cruelty could not be decided with any probability. Also, there was no actual apprehension in the appellant’s mind as to any harm from the other. Further, the alleged act of cruelty by the respondent was also condoned by the appellant who is evident from the fact that they had given birth to a third child post separation.
Therefore, the court held that the allegations of appellant were false and since the respondent was willing to stay with her husband after realizing her mistakes and that the appellant condoned her cruelty after which she did not act adversely and thus the respondent was not held liable for cruelty.
In this case, cruelty was recognized as a ground for divorce and the wife who suffers it shall be entitled to maintenance from her husband. The acts which cause even mental agony also constitute cruelty. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 did not mention cruelty as a ground for divorce but only for judicial separation. The same was followed in N.G. Dastane v. S. Dastane in 1975. Later, the Amendment Act of 1976 made cruelty as a ground for divorce. Prior to this, cruelty meant any kind of reasonable apprehension in the mind of either person so as to cause injury to his or her life. But the court after this case stated that it is a subjective matter whether any cruelty has been suffered by any party and this must be determined in s specific manner.
The ground of cruelty was similar to the ground that is mentioned in Section 10(1)(b) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 i.e. judicial separation through a point of difference among these is that words “ persistently or repeatedly” were added” and therefore this ground has been made more severe after the amendment. Although family disputes cannot be solved solely on the basis of allegations since it is not always possible to determine the guild of either party due to lack of authentic evidence, the courts are given wider power to interpret this question in a subjective manner that whether the act of the party constitutes cruelty or not. Therefore, relevant circumstances must also be considered by the courts and they must not rely only on a few incidents. Therefore in the present case also, there were no continuous acts of cruelty by wife and the fact of condonation of the same by the husband eventually led to the decision of the case wherein the respondent was not held liable for the fabricated allegations of the appellant.