Rani Vs. Madhukar Reddi  INSC 331 (12 November 1987)
K.J. (J) SHETTY, K.J. (J) RAY, B.C. (J)
1988 AIR 121 1988 SCR (1)1010 1988 SCC (1) 105 JT 1987 (4) 433 1987 SCALE
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
Prohibition Act, 1961: `Dowry'-Demand of-Whether amounts to cruelty entitling
wife to decree for dissolution of marriage.
Penal Code, 1860: Section 498A-`Cruelty'-What is-Demand for dowry-Whether
amounts to cruelty-Whether wife entitled to decree for dissolution of marriage.
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.
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.
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
the appeal by special leave, ^
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.
498A was introduced providing for punishment to the husband or the relative of
the husband of a woman, subjecting her to cruelty. [1015F-H] new dimension has
been given to the concept of cruelty.
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]
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. [1013E-H; 1014A]
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. [1016G]
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 1012 Marriage Act, 1955. The cruelty need not
be only intentional, willful 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. [1020F-H; 1021A-C]
The matrimonial duties and responsibilities are of varying degrees from house
to house or person to person.
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,  2 ALL E.R. 257, 259, Gollins v. Gollins,  2
All E.R. 966 1972 and Narayan Ganesh Dastane v. Sucheta Narayan Dastane, 
3 SCR 967 1978, referred to.
Appellate Jurisdiction: Civil Appeal No. 3013 of 1987.
the Judgment and Order dated 30.7.1986 of the Andhra Pradesh High Court in
A.A.O. No. 1491 of 1985.
Madhusudan Rao, K.K. Gupta and Rakesh Kumar Gupta for the Appellant. K.V.
Sreekumar and B. Parthasarthi for the Respondent.
Judgment of the Court was delivered by JAGANNATHA SHETTY, J. We grant special
leave and proceed to dispose of the appeal.
Rani is the appellant. Her husband is Madhukar Reddi who is respondent before
us. The wife is post-graduate in biological 1013 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 materialize.
they landed themselves in the Court. The wife moved the Court for divorce on
the ground of cruelty.
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
13 provides, so far as it is material:
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 .....
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.
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 1014 considered. In such cases, the
cruelty will be established if the conduct itself is proved or admitted.
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
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,  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.
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.
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, 
2 All. E.R. 966 (1972):
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,  3 SCR 967 (978) said:
Court has to deal, not with an ideal husband and an ideal wife (assuming any
such exist) but with particular 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
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.
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:
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.
the purposes of this section "cruelty" means:
Any willful 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 willful 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.
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
section 10 of the Act which enumerates the 1017 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:
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:
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.
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
xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx 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 satisfactory evidence
that the demands were such as to border on harassment. The trial court said:
one would not justify demands for money, it has to be viewed in this
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:
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.
is evident from her complaint of food and the habit of drinking." xxxxxx
xxxxxx xxxxxx "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 1019 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:
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 mother- 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.
contents of Ex. Al should not be read in isolation.
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:
"In the background of these, the worst form of ill treatment 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.
would be better to understand that money that stand in our client's name are
somewhere 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 solemnization 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, willful or deliberate? Is it necessary
to prove the intention in matrimonial offence? we think not.
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 1021
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,  2 All E.R. 966 at 976 where Lord Evershed said:
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.............
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.
in our opinion, amounts to cruely entitling the wife to get a decree for
dissolution of marriage.
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.