While highlighting that the question of mental cruelty must be considered in the light of the norms of marital ties of the society to which the parties belong, their social values, status, and the environment in which they live, the Calcutta High Court held that mental cruelty is a state of mind.

Finding that there was no willful conduct on the part of the appellant 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, the High Court acquitted the appellant of the charges under Section 498A of IPC.

A Single Judge Bench of Justice Shampa Dutt observed that “The conduct of the concerned party should be grave and substantial and it must be much more serious than the ordinary wear and tear of daily life. Mental cruelty can vary depending upon, the respective matrimonial cases”.

So, the Bench clarified that it is impossible to have a uniform standard to decide ‘mental cruelty’ in different cases as facts and circumstances are not the same.

Advocate Pratip Kumar Chatterjee appeared for the Petitioner, whereas Advocate Rita Datta appeared for the Respondent.

The brief facts of the case were that in the year 2004, one Swarnalata Bittar lodged a written complaint alleging that for twelve years ago she was married with the appellant according to Hindu rites and customs abiding all the demands. She alleged that after some years of marriage, her mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and husband started mental and physical torture upon her. She alleged that her husband created pressure upon her to bring Rs.10,000/- from her mother and for non-fulfilment of such demand the degree of torture increased and they conspired to kill her. She somehow escaped, but her mother-in-law and sister-in-law forcibly took her daughter from her possession. The complainant returned to her mother's place and since then she is staying with her mother in starvation. In the meantime, her husband married one Pinki Dhara of Bandel and brought her to the matrimonial house and started leading conjugal life. Later, the police registered a case under Sections 498A/307/34 of the IPC. The additional Session Judge framed charges against the appellant and one Gayatri Bittar to which they pleaded not guilty. During the trial, the appellant was found guilty of a charge under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code and sentenced accordingly.

After considering the submission, the Bench found that the dispute started after the alleged second marriage of Hira Bittar and the defacto complainant/wife was physically and mentally tortured by the appellant and his family members.

Though the witness has stated that she was assaulted by the appellant and his family members and suffered bleeding injuries, there are no medical papers nor any injury report on record, added the Bench.

The Bench further observed that as per Section 13(i)(a) of the Hindu Marriage Act, mental cruelty is broadly defined as that moment when either party causes mental pain, agony, or suffering of such a magnitude that it severs the bond between the wife and husband and as a result of which it becomes impossible for the party who has suffered to live with the other party.

Therefore, finding that there is absolutely no evidence/proof on record of any physical cruelty, neither there is any evidence to prove that the appellant married for the second time, the High Court set aside the order of the Trial Court convicting the appellant for the commission of an offence punishable under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code and sentencing him to suffer simple imprisonment for one year and also to pay a fine of Rs.1,00,000/-.

Cause Title: Hira Bittar v. State of West Bengal

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