Garima Rathore was married to Randhir Rathore for five years. At the time of marriage both the families were aware that Garima had a borderline personality disorder, which was not insanity of any degree but rendered her personality extremely sensitive. She was being treated for the same although except her ultra- sensitive nature, she was perfectly normal. One evening Garima was chatting with her friends over the phone when her mother- in law shouted very loudly in a harsh voice and ordered her to report at the kitchen immediately. That night, her mother- in law also told Garima that she was no match to her son Randhir. Garima was very upset and when she told the same to Randhir, he told her that she should not spend a lot of time chatting over the phone. The next day, Randhir’s mother told her to go back to her house as she found her unbearable. She spoke ill of her parents and even told Garima that her parents should have gifted their ancestral house in Jaipur to Randhir. Unable to tolerate this, Garima went to her room and consumed some poison. Currently she is battling for her life in the ICU at a hospital. Are Randhir and his mother guilty of any offence under Indian Penal Code, 1860?
The main issue which is involved in the present case is whether Randhir and his mother be held liable for the offence of cruelty under section 498A of Indian Penal Code, 1860?
Section 498A of Indian Penal Code, 1860, deals with the provisions regarding “Cruelty”. According to this section if husband or his relative commits a cruelty upon the wife of husband, they shall be held liable under section 498A of Indian Penal Code, 1860. According to this section, cruelty should be in a nature which provoke the woman to commit suicide or cause grave injury or put the life of woman into danger or it should coerce the woman or her relative to meet the unlawful demands of husband or his relative.
The term ‘Cruelty’ has not been defined anywhere in the law. Actually, it is very difficult to define the term Cruelty and give a precise definition to it because the act of cruelty depends upon the human behaviour and one act of a person may be a cruelty for one person and it may not be a cruelty for another person and whether an act of a person amounts to cruelty or not depends upon the facts of each case. That is why, we cannot define it in an air tight container by assigning a precise definition to it.
But in general, every act of one spouse against the another which creates an impression in the mind of latter spouse that now it becomes impossible to live with the former spouse and that act affects his /her fundamental rights, that act can be considered as ‘Cruelty’.
In the leading case of Dastane vs. Dastane (SC 1534), the Supreme Court defined the term cruelty and said “generally it happens that a spouse who does not care for the feelings and happiness of another spouse does a number of acts meant to injure the other spouse. It is a communicative effect which makes the behaviour cruel”.
The Constitution of India provides a very basic fundamental right that is right to live a dignified life and every act that affects this right, that act can be considered as Cruelty. The term Cruelty does not include physical cruelty only but it also includes ‘Mental cruelty’. Physical cruelty affects the body of a spouse but mental cruelty affects the mind of a spouse and its basic development.
It is very easy to prove the physical cruelty but it is very difficult to prove the mental cruelty by direct evidences because it is a state of mind and feelings of one spouse which are changed due to the behaviour of another spouse.
In the leading case of Parveen Mehta vs. Inderjit Mehta (SC 2002), the Supreme Court held that, ‘Mental cruelty is necessarily a matter of inference to be drawn from the facts and circumstances of each case.
In general, it can be said that Cruelty upon a person affects his/her fundamental right provided under Article 21 of Indian Constitution i.e., right to live a dignified life because if one spouse commits an act of cruelty upon another spouse then the latter spouse feels the essence of loss of basic dignity. So, it can be said that any act which put the life of an aggrieved spouse into danger and that spouse feels that it is unsafe to cohabit with the wrongdoer and that act affects the dignity of an aggrieved spouse, that act may amount to cruelty.
In the present case, it is clear from the facts that the family of Randhir knew about the ultra- sensitive nature of Garima and they knew that any extreme situation could affect the mental stability of Garima. But even after being aware about this fact, mother- in law of Garima shouted at Garima and used bad words against her as well as against her parents and demanded the ancestral house of her parents.
Moreover, Randhir also took the side of his mother and did not pay heed towards the complaint of Garima. Such acts of Randhir and his mother falls under section 498A of Indian Penal Code, 1860, and because of such cruel acts Garima consumed poison. That is why, Randhir and his mother should be held liable for having committed the offence of “Cruelty” under section 498A of Indian Penal Code, 1860.