Spouse’s silence may amount to cruelty, says apex court Silence is golden. But married couples shouldn’t take it literally. For, the Supreme Court has said silence of a partner could amount to cruelty, which, under the Hindu Marriage Act, is a ground for divorce.
Section 13 of the Act says a person can move a divorce petition if he or she has been treated with cruelty by the spouse or has been deserted for a continuous period of not less than two years.
Delivering its judgement in a matrimonial case, a bench comprising Justices P Sathasivam and Ashok Kumar Ganguly said: “At times, it (cruelty) may be just an attitude or an approach. Silence in some situations may amount to cruelty. Therefore, cruelty in matrimonial behaviour defies any definition and its categories can never be closed.”
That is why, the court said, the Act deliberately did not define ‘cruelty’. “In a matrimonial relationship, cruelty would obviously mean absence of mutual respect and understanding between spouses which embitters the relationship and often leads to various outbursts of behaviour which can be termed cruel,” it said.
Violence may be a predominant form of cruelty in the Indian context, but it could be as bad in other forms, even the indignant silence of a partner, said Justice Ganguly writing the judgment for the bench. This judgment came in a case where the husband after forcing the wife to live separately because of his illtreatment moved the court for divorce saying she had treated him with cruelty by deserting him. Strangely, the Mandi district magistrate granted divorce terming the desertion as cruelty on her part.
But the Himachal Pradesh High Court saw through the design by noticing that the couple’s daughter was unambiguous in her statement that her father used to beat her mother and that was the reason she left her matrimonial home. Dismissing husband Ravi Kumar’s appeal against the HC judgment, the bench said: “The child has clearly stated the cruelty of husband towards his wife. Therefore, there is sufficient reason for the wife to stay apart. Under such circumstances, one cannot say the wife is guilty of either cruelty or desertion.”
It said whether a husband or wife was cruel to the other partner had always to be ascertained and judged taking into account the facts and circumstances of a given case and not by any pre-determined formula.