Narayan Ganesh Dastane v. Sucheta Narayan Dastane(1975): Five Tests laid down by the Supreme Court to identify Cruelty.

CaseNarayan Ganesh Dastane v. Sucheta Narayan Dastane, AIR 1975 1534
CourtBefore the Supreme Court of India
BenchChandrachaud, Y.V.
Goswami, P.K.
Untwalia, N.L.
Author of the JudgmentChandrachaud, Y.V.
Decided On 19/03/1975
Counsel for petitionersV.M. Tarkunde
S. Bhandare
P.H. Parekh
Manju Jaitley
Counsel for RespondentV.S. Desai
S.B. Wad
Jayashree Wad
Author of the briefAiswarya Suresh
KeywordsS. 10(1)(b) and S. 23(1), Hindu Marriage Act;
Cruelty; Burden of proof in matrimonial cases; condonation of cruelty; conditional nature of condonation of cruelty; revival of cruelty; whether sexual intercourse amounts to condonation; S. 100 and S. 103, CPC; Power of High Court; Second appeal; Section 3, Evidence Act

Brief Facts:

The appellant is Narayan Ganesh Dastane, a well-educated and qualified man who worked on various projects on a national and international level. The Respondent is Sucheta who is a well-educated woman whose father works as an Under Secretary in the Ministry of the Government of India.

In April 1956, the Respondent’s parents arranged her marriage with the Appellant. The Respondent’s father sent letters to the Appellant before finalising the marriage informing him regarding an incident where the Respondent suffered from a bad attack of sunstroke which affected her mental condition for some time which she recovered from and cited cerebral malaria as another reason for the brief decline of her mental health. He further stated that she was treated and cured at the Yeravada Mental Hospital, and asked the Appellant to discuss the matter with the doctors at the aforementioned hospital, which the Appellant followed and upon the Doctor’s confirmation of the Respondent’s father’s statement, he did not make any further inquiries at the Yeravada Mental Hospital.

On March 1957, a daughter was born to the couple whom they named Shubha, and on March 21, 1959, a second daughter Vibha was born.

In January 1961, the Respondent went to attend the Appellant’s brother’s marriage to Poona. The Appellant got the Respondent examined by Dr. Seth, a psychiatrist at the Yeravada Hospital, around this time. The Respondent did not co-operate with the Appellant’s attempt to get her checked, and as per the Appellant’s claim, the Respondent promised to consult Dr. Seth but did not follow through as she believed that the Appellant was concocting a case of unsound mind against her. They lived together until February 1961, but the Respondent was three month’s pregnant when her relationship with her husband was strained.

During the Appellant’s stay in Delhi, he wrote to the Police asking for protection as he feared his life was in danger from the Respondent’s parents and relatives. They briefly interacted with each other which was another opportunity where the parties spewed more venom at each other, and the Respondent renewed his request for Police protection on a subsequent day.

The Respondent addressed a letter to the Appellant complaining against his conduct and asking for maintenance for herself and her daughters. The Respondent also wrote a letter to the Secretary, Ministry of Food and Agriculture, stating that the Appellant had deserted her, treated her with extreme cruelty, and asked the Government to separately provide for her maintenance. Her statement regarding the Appellant’s ill-treatment and desertion was recorded by an ASP. The recorded statements and cross-complaints amongst the parties was futile and did not bear any fruit.

On August 1961, a third daughter named Vibha was born to the family. The Appellant wrote to the Respondent’s father complaining of the Respondent’s conduct and expressed regret for not being extended a proper invitation for the naming ceremony of his own child.

On December 15, 1961, the Appellant informed the Respondent’s father that he has moved the Court for seeking separation from the Respondent.

On February 19, 1962, proceedings were instituted in the Trial Court where the Appellant asked for the annulment of his marriage under §12 (1)(c), Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (HMA) on the ground that his consent was obtained by fraud. The Appellant alleged that the Respondent was treated at Yeravada Mental Hospital for Schizophrenia and the Respondent’s father fraudulently represented the state of her mental health to him to obtain his consent. Alternatively, he asked for divorce under §13 (1)(iii), HMA, on the ground that the Respondent was of unsound mind. Alternatively, the Appellant asked for judicial separation under §10(1)(b) on the ground that the Respondent had treated him with a cruelty which created a reasonable apprehension in his mind that his life is under threat if he lives with her.

Trial Court

The Trial Court held the wife guilty of cruelty but rejected the contentions regarding fraud and unsoundness of mind, and subsequently passed a decree for judicial separation.

District Court

Both parties appealed to the District Court which dismissed the appellant’s appeal and allowed the respondent’s appeal.

Bombay High Court

The appellant filed a Second Appeal in the Bombay High Court, which was dismissed by a single judge bench, but granted a special leave to appeal to the appellant, strictly limited to the question of judicial separation on the ground of cruelty, not concerned with how the appellant’s consent to marriage was obtained or whether the respondent had been of unsound mind for the period preceding the presentation of the petition. The Bombay High Court’s decision on the questions regarding consent to marriage and Respondent’s unsound mind were to be treated as final.

Section 100 of the Code of Civil Procedure was looked into and the Court stated that the jurisdiction of the High Court in Second Appeal is restricted to questions of law or to substantial errors or defects in the procedure which would have produced an error in the decision of the case based on merits. The High Court concluded that both the Trial Court and the District Court failed to apply the correct principles of law for the determination of cruelty, and considered the evidence for itself. This is an exception to the law of §100, CPC. Under §103, CPC, the High Court can determine issues of fact if the evidence on record is sufficient but if the Court takes this duty upon itself, it is subject to the same restraining conditions which the power of any court of facts is subject to. While appreciating evidence, an inference may be drawn but the Court has to remind itself of the fine line that distinguishes an inference from guess work.

Issues Before the Supreme Court

  1. Whether the Burden of Proof of cruelty lies on the Petitioner or not?
  2. Whether the facts have to be established beyond reasonable doubt in matrimonial matters?
  3. Whether the act of sexual intercourse amounts to condonation of cruelty?

Appellant’s Arguments

  • The Respondent was treated at Yeravada Mental Hospital for Schizophrenia and the Respondent’s father fraudulently represented the state of her mental health to him to obtain his consent.
  • The Respondent would lose her temper and would insult the Appellant, his parents, and his entire family for which she would later apologise, but it was a common occurrence.
  • The Respondent treated the husband and the daughters born to the parties cruelly and would do various acts to distress the Appellant at both his place of work and at his residence.
  • The Respondent addressed various letters to her family and her husband indicating her unstable state of mind and hurling abuses at the Appellant and his family, his worth, his integrity, etc.

 Respondent’s Arguments

  • The various letters containing admissions were written by her under coercion proceeded from the Appellant himself.
  • The Appellant is taking advantage of his own wrong and does not fulfil the conditions as under §23(1). The Appellant demanded of his wife an impossibly rigid standard of behaviour and thereby provoked her to act in the way that she did. He should not be allowed to take advantage of his own wrongs.
  • The Appellant engaged in sexual relations with the Respondent which resulted in her 3-month pregnancy at the time of her leaving their broken home, which amounts to condonation of cruelty.

The conclusion was drawn that the High Court erroneously looked into the evidence and guessed circumstances as opposed to drawing inference. The usual process is to remand the matter to the High Court which considered evidence but to avoid further delay of the process, the Supreme Court itself went into the evidence.

The burden of proof rests on a petitioner in a matrimonial matter, as it is easier to prove a positive statement (by affirmation of a fact) than by a negative statement (by denial of a fact). The Petitioner bears the responsibility to prove that the Respondent treated him with cruelty within the meaning of §10 (1)(b), HMA. The High Court held that the Petitioner must prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt, which was wrong as the rule governing civil proceedings is that an established fact is to be proved by ‘preponderance of probabilities’. As per §3, Evidence Act, a fact is said to be proved when the Court believes it to exist or is highly probable that a reasonable man ought to believe that it exists. There are two steps to the process:

  1. To fix the probabilities (by eliminating the impossible events)
  2. To weigh the probabilities (by eliminating the improbable events)

The Court then undertakes the task of making the choice amidst the wide range of probabilities, and the decision determines where the preponderance of probabilities lie. The Supreme Court concluded that in the present matter, the Appellant has to prove his matter by the standard established for civil proceedings, where he is not expected to prove his case beyond reasonable doubt. This confusion highlights the stark difference that exists between the social philosophy and the law of the land pertaining to a marital offender, where the wronging party is not considered to be a defaulter, but an offender.

For the question of cruelty, §10(1)(b) was interpreted which addressed the question – whether the conduct charged as cruelty is enough to cause a reasonable apprehension in the mind of the petitioner. The question determines whether the act of cohabiting with the Respondent would prove to be harmful or injurious to the Appellant’s life, limb or health or as to give rise to a reasonable apprehension of danger. The standard used to determine whether the Respondent’s act amounts to cruelty is not judged on the basis of a reasonable man or a man of normal sensibilities, but whether the act affected the aggrieved spouse.

Ratio (Authored by Chandrachaud, Y.V.)

The tests laid down in determining whether a given conduct amounts to legal cruelty is as follows:

  1. The alleged acts constituting cruelty should be proved according to the law of evidence;
  2. There should be an apprehension in the Petitioner’s mind of real injury or harm from such conduct;
  3. The apprehension should be reasonable having regard to the condition of the parties;
  4. The Petitioner should not have taken advantage of his position;
  5. The Petitioner should not have condoned the acts of cruelty.

The Appellant proved the acts constituting the charge of cruelty as per the law of evidence – the facts were established and proved by a preponderance of probabilities. All the acts alleged and inferred to be conducted by the Respondent did create a reasonable apprehension in the Appellant’s mind. The Court determined that the Appellant’s demands of certain conduct from the Respondent did not call for an attack of self-defense, and the plea in the written statement submitted by the Respondent is a denial of conduct alleged and not of provocation. As for the question of condonation (forgiveness of the matrimonial offence and the restoration of an offending spouse to the same position as he or she occupied before the offence was committed), both forgiveness and restoration have to occur by the Appellant. The evidence of condonation consists here in the fact that the spouses led a normal sexual life despite the respondent’s Acts of cruelty. The intent to forgive and restore the offending spouse to the original status may be reasonably inferred as the parties lead a life of intimacy which represents a normal matrimonial relationship, uninfluenced by the Respondent’s conduct.

Held

In the present case, the Appellant’s contention regarding his wife being of unsound mind was fabricated by him. The contention regarding the Respondent inflicting cruelty on the Appellant has been proven to exist, but the Appellant’s act of engaging in sexual intercourse with the Respondent amounts to condonation of cruelty in the eyes of law. After the acts of cruelty have been condoned, for the Appellant’s claims regarding cruelty to have held ground, the Respondent’s subsequent conduct had to be as grave or to the degree of her previous acts of cruelty. The Respondent was willing to make amends and return to the household shared by both parties and she realised her mistakes. The Appellant condoned the Respondent after which she did not act in the manner she did before the condonation. The Respondent will not be held liable for cruelty.