Law Regarding Mental Cruelty in India

Mental health issues are a raging concern nowadays. With majority people falling into the traps of depression and becoming suicidal, the question normally arises as to what is responsible for such a situation. Mental cruelty inflicted upon a person can be more dangerous than physical cruelty as repeated acts of mental cruelty can force the victim to harm one’s own self. Mental sickness may be treated but the vicious cycle would continue if mental cruelty is not uprooted. This is the reason why every country has certain mental cruelty laws. Such laws involve both penal actions taken against the offender and mental health treatments for the victims.

What is mental cruelty?

Mental cruelty can be stated to be that type of behavior or conduct or usage of words that makes it intolerable for the victim and affects both the physical and mental health of the victim.

In the case of V. Bhagat v. D. Bhagat[1] it was held that, “Mental cruelty is that conduct which inflicts upon the other party such mental pain and suffering as would make it not possible for that party to live with the other.”

Mental cruelty can be linked to mental harassment which involves a repeated and systematic behaviour over a time period that tends to isolate a third person and demean him/her. Such a conduct would not appear to be immediately harmful but has a gradual destructive effect.[2]

What type of acts can constitute mental cruelty?

  • Acts between married couples regarding ignoring his/her spouse, or infidelity, or threats to commit suicide, or passing derogatory comments on one’s spouse and his/her family members, or keeping their child away from one’s spouse and other like acts.
  • Repetitive defamatory acts wherein a person’s reputation gets really damaged.
  • Criminal intimidation or acts of threat or acts likely to create apprehension of use of threat in the victim’s mind that could cause harm to either himself or to his reputation or to his property.
  • Extortion can also be a way of causing mental cruelty by threatening a person to do an illegal act for the purpose of getting some valuable.
  • Sexual assault or sexual harassment is an integral form of mental cruelty that can really lead to depression and suicidal thoughts. Passing lewd comments to both men and women alike can be really fatal for their mental peace.
  • Social isolation is also another way of inducing mental cruelty by ignoring the person, not allowing the person to express oneself and totally excluding him/her from communication.
  • Cyber bullying and threats to leak private photos is also a major concern today.

Can physical cruelty be linked to mental cruelty?

Both are quite connected with one another. Even regular physical acts of torture and violence will automatically inflict mental cruelty on that person. This includes negative acts which may not involve direct infliction of harm but restricting the victim’s daily needs like food, sanitation facilities and others. Physical cruelty will inevitably lead to mental cruelty but every mental cruelty need not involve physical acts of violence.[3]

Such a link can be majorly seen in marital relationships.

Even if such regular physical injury is committed by a mentally sick patient without any intention, that would make no difference. It would still be cruelty.[4]

How can mental cruelty become a reason for divorce in marital affairs?

Mental cruelty is so painful that after a threshold the possibility of the spouses living together in a marital relationship becomes nil. This threshold may be different for different parties based on their tolerating capacity. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 clearly provides cruelty as a ground of divorce.[5] This term ‘cruelty’ states both physical and mental cruelty. The Indian Divorce Act of 1869 (further amended in 2001) also provides cruelty as a ground of divorce under Section 10(1)(x)[6].

Also, such instance of mental cruelty has to be repetitive. Only on one solitary instance, divorce would not be granted.[7]

Let us look at some examples that would become a ground of filing for divorce due to mental cruelty:

  • One spouse making false allegations against the other thus harming his/her reputation.
  • Desertion for a long period (minimum 2 years is mandatory)
  • Infidelity of one of the spouses
  • One parent planning maliciously to keep child away from the other parent
  • Threats to commit suicide
  • Mental instability of one spouse leading to continuous acts of physical harm to the other and his/her family
  • Repeated requests for money from the girl’s family- may also lead to dowry death

How is mental cruelty penalized?

  • Indian Penal Code, 1860
  • Section 498A[8]: Where husband or his relative inflicts cruelty on wife
  • Section 294[9]: Utters or sings any obscene song or words in public place
  • Section 354A[10]: Sexual harassment
  • Section 509[11]: Any word or gesture that harms a woman’s modesty
  • Section 384[12]: Makes extortion punishable
  • Section 500[13]: Makes defamation a criminal offence
  • Section 506[14]: Makes criminal intimidation punishable

NOTE- No direct provision of mental cruelty or harassment. Certain provisions are for protection of women but not both men and women.

  • Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009
  • Section 17[15]: Physical punishment and mental harassment on a child is prohibited
  • The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
  • Section 3[16]: no woman to be subjected to sexual harassment at workplace
  • Section 14[17]: Provision made for malicious complaints of sexual harassment to be punishable. This also prevents mental cruelty by the woman.
  • Section 19[18]: Duties of employer properly stated. Any violation would be punishable.
  • The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
  • Section 3[19]: Penalties for giving and taking dowry.
  • Section 4[20]: Punishment for repetitive demands of dowry, both from bride or bridegroom.
  • Information Technology Act, 2000
  • Section 67[21]: Punishment in case any obscene material has been published or transmitted in electronic form.
  • Section 67A[22]: Punishment in case any explicit sexual act has been published or transmitted in electronic form.

NOTE: This Act is important to prevent cyber bullying that is a major cause of mental cruelty infliction.

  • Mental Healthcare Act, 2017
  • Section 19[23]: Right of a mentally ill person to not be continuously segregated from society.
  • Section 20[24]: Right of a mentally ill person to have a dignified life.
  • Section 21[25]: Right of a mentally ill person to be equally treated with others.

NOTE: These provisions are important as violation of the above can be treated as mental cruelty shown towards mentally ill persons.

  • The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005
  • Section 3[26]: Defines ‘domestic violence’ as any force or threat to use force (like in cases of demand of dowry) that causes MENTAL or PHYSICAL harm to the aggrieved.
  • Section 9[27]: Duties of the Protection Officers to assist the aggrieved person to file application under the Act, get admitted in shelter homes, undergo medical procedures, provide legal aid, give monetary relief.
  • Section 20[28]: Monetary reliefs given to the aggrieved due to loss of money by damage of property, medical facilities and others.

What are some international conventions ratified by India that may be applied?

  • UN Convention on Protection of Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2008
  • Article 14[29]: No deprivation of liberty of disabled persons. Such will fall under mental cruelty.
  • Article 15[30]: Forced medication is also a form of mental cruelty.
  • CEDAW, 1981[31]
  • Enforces absence of discrimination against women and hence promotes their mental health.
  • Geneva Convention IV, 1950
  • Article 27[32]: Any indecent assault on women affecting their dignity prohibited.
  • There is also talk that India should ratify the UN Convention against Torture as that can be a major device against mental cruelty.

How can the Indian Constitution be applied in this respect?

  • Preamble: Clearly provides protection of dignity, liberty and equality of individual. Restriction of any of these can fall under mental cruelty.
  • Article 14[33]: Equality before law and equal protection of law. Essential to provide relief to the aggrieved person and punishment to the offender.
  • Article 15[34]: Preventing any sort of discrimination. Discriminatory practices are an integral form of mental cruelty.
  • Article 17[35]: Untouchability made an offence.
  • Article 21[36]: Right to life that would mean a dignified life free from mental cruelty.
  • Article 23 and 24[37]: Dealing against exploitative practices that can inflict mental and physical harm on the person.
  • Article 25-28[38]: Right given to every individual to freely practice their religion. Restrictions on this by any individual by force will also amount to mental cruelty.

Hence, to conclude it can be stated that mental cruelty and its impact on mental health should be an important concern. There are several national and international instruments available in this regard but its proper application and execution is integral as without that mental cruelty will be hard to defeat.


[1] V. Bhagat v. D. Bhagat, (1994) 1 SCC 337.

[2] Psychological Harassment or Mobbing, A Definition, EPFL (May 24, 2021, 11:54 AM), https://www.epfl.ch/about/respect/harassment-situations/what-is-harassment/psychological-harassment-or-mobbing-a-definition/.

[3] Maya Devi v. Jagdish Prasad, AIR 2007 SC 1426.

[4] Naveen Kohli v. Neelu Kohli, (2006) 4 SCC 558.

[5] Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 Section 13.

[6] The Indian Divorce Act, 1869 (amended in 2001) Section 10(1)(x).

[7] Vimlesh v. Prakash Chand Sharma, AIR 1992 All 261.

[8] Indian Penal Code, 1860 Section 498A.

[9] Ibid, Section 294.

[10] Ibid, Section 354A.

[11] Ibid, Section 509.

[12] Ibid, Section 384.

[13] Ibid, Section 500.

[14] Ibid, Section 506.                                                                                

[15] Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 Section 17.

[16] The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 Section 3.

[17] Ibid, Section 14.

[18] Ibid, Section 19.

[19] The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 Section 3.

[20] Ibid, Section 4.

[21] Information Technology Act, 2000 Section 67.

[22] Ibid, Section 67A.

[23] Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 Section 19.                 

[24] Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 Section 20.

[25] Ibid, Section 21.

[26] The protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 Section 3.

[27] Ibid, Section 9.

[28] Ibid, Section 20.

[29] UN Convention on Protection of Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2008 art. 14.

[30] Ibid, art. 15.

[31] Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1981.

[32] Geneva Convention IV Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons, 1950 art. 27.                                                                         

[33] INDIA CONST. art 14.

[34] Ibid, art. 15.

[35] Ibid, art. 17.

[36] Ibid, art. 21.

[37] Ibid, art. 23, 24.

[38] Ibid, art. 25-28.


Author: Sriradha Rai Choudhuri from HNLU, Raipur.


                                                                                     

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