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Dr. Narayan Ganesh Dastane Vs Sucheta Narayan Dastane

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Citations: Dr. Narayan Ganesh Dastane Vs Sucheta Narayan Dastane, AIR 1975 SC 1534.

Date of Judgment: 19/03/1975

Equivalent Citations: 1975 SCR (3) 967; 1975 SCC (2) 326.

Case No: Civil Appeal no. 2224 of 1970

Case Type: Civil Appeal

Petitioner: Dr. Narayan Ganesh Dastane.

Respondent: Sucheta Narayan Dastane.

Bench:  Y.VS Chandrachud, P.K. Goswami, N.L. Untwalia, Hon’ble J.J.

Statutes Referred:

  • Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; Sections 10(1)(b), 23(1)(a)(b) ,12(1) (c)
  • Indian Evidence Act, 1872; Sections 3 and 10
  • Indian Constitution, 1950; Art. 72 and 136
  • Code of Civil Procedure,1908; Sections 100 and 103.
  • Matrimonial Causes Act, 1963; Section 3

Cases Referred:

  • Blyth Vs Blyth 1966 I AII ER 524, 336;
  • Wright Vs Wright (1948) 77 CLR 191, 210;
  • Horton Vs Horton 1904 P 187;
  • Gollins Vs Gollins 1963 2 AII ER 966, 970;
  • Moonshee Bazloor Rubeem Vs Shamsoonnissa Begum (1867)11 MIA 551.

Facts:

  • The Appellant, in this case, is Dr. Narayan Ganesh Dastane, a well-educated and qualified man who has his doctorate in irrigation research. The Respondent, here is, Sucheta, who is a well-educated woman, has obtained a Master’s Degree in Social Work and her father works as an Under Secretary in the Commerce Ministry of the Government of India.
  •  In this case, the marriage between the Appellant and the Respondent was arranged by Sucheta’s parents in April 1956. At the time of marriage, the Appellant was 27 and the Respondent was of 21 years
  •  But, before their marriage, through a couple of letters addressed to the Appellant, the father of the Respondent informed him about the medical state of the respondent.
  • Respondent’s father, B.R Abhayankar essentially informed the Appellant about the incident where Respondent suffered from a bad attack of sunstroke that affected her mental health, from which she later recovered and also informed that ‘cerebral malaria’, is the reason behind her deteriorated health.
  • To maintain transparency, he informed the Appellant about the Yeravada Mental Hospital where the Respondent was treated and suggested the Appellant confirm the same. After confirming the queries, the Appellant consented to the marriage.
  • On 13.05.1956 marriage took place between them and out of their wedlock they had two daughters namely, Shubha and Vibha.
  • In January 1961, when the Respondent went to Poona to attend the appellant’s brother’s marriage, the Appellant got her examined by a psychiatrist Dr. Seth at Yeravada Hospital. When the Respondent was asked to have a few more sessions with the psychiatrist, she believed that the Appellant was intending to conclude a case of unsound mind against her.
  •  The couple lived together until February 1961and at the time of separation Sucheta was three months pregnant with the third child. During his time in Delhi, the Appellant wrote a letter seeking protection from the police against Respondent’s parents and relatives.
  • Interaction between the parties did no good and the Appellant renewed the protection.
  • Moreover, the Respondent also wrote an application to the head of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, stating that she has been deserted and treated with cruelty by her husband, and seeking provision for her maintenance.
  •  Accordingly, the statements of Respondent ‘about her ill treatment was recorded by an Assistant Superintendent of Police. The cross-complaints and the statements recorded were of no use and did not bear any result.
  • Finally, the parties moved to the court. On 19.02.1962, proceedings got instituted in the trial court where the Appellant asked for annulment of his marriage under Section 12(1)(c) of Hindu Marriage Act (Act no 25 of 1955) on the ground that his consent was fraudulently obtained by respondent’s
  •  Thereafter, the Appellant requested the court to grant him divorce under Section 13(1)(iii) of the said act on ground of Respondent being of unsound mind and alternatively claimed for judicial separation under Section 10(1)(b) of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 on the ground of ‘cruelty’, that created reasonable apprehension in the mind of the Appellant to stay with her.
  • As a result, the trial court granted the decree for judicial separation, declaring the wife guilty of cruelty under Section 10(1)(b) of Hindu Marriage Act 1955 but dismissed the plea regarding the fact of fraud and unsoundness of mind.
  •  In response to the judgement of the trial court, the first appeal in the district court was filed by both parties to the case, wherein the judgement was given in favour of the Respondent.
  • Subsequently, a second appeal in the High Court of Bombay, was made by the Appellant that was further dismissed by the court, but with a special leave to appeal to the Appellant and restricted only to the question of judicial separation.
  • The High Court’s decision on the questions related to fraudulent consent and Respondent’s unsound mind were treated as final. Lastly, an appeal against the order of the Bombay High Court was filed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.

Issues Involved:

  • Whether the Burden of Proof of establishing cruelty beyond any reasonable doubt, lies on the Appellant or not?
  •  Whether the claims of the Appellant (the husband in this case) regarding the respondent’s (wife) unsoundness of mind under Section 13(1)(iii) and consent fraudulently obtained by the respondent’s parents under Section 12(1)(c) exists or not?
  • Whether the act of sexual intercourse with the spouse in marriage amounts to condonation of cruelty by the Appellant or not?
  • Do the facts need to be proved beyond the reasonable doubt in matrimonial disputes between the parties to any case?

Contention of Petitioner:

  • The Appellant firstly contended that he was misinformed about the health condition of the Respondent that the Respondent was treated for Schizophrenia in her past. So, the appellant’s consent to marriage was fraudulently obtained by the parents of the respondent.
  • The Respondent used to lose her temper quite frequently and insult the Appellant and family before the public. She called the mother of the Appellant as a ’boorish woman’
  • Furthermore, there were certain instances when the Respondent used to act viciously with her husband and daughters at residence too. Like, she beat her elder daughter, Shubha, while she was feverish with 104 degrees temperature.
  • It is also contended that the Respondent acted quite unusual at times, like, on the day of ‘Paksha’ (the day when ancestors are presented offerings), she abused the appellant’s ancestors and at one night she tore off her Mangal-Sutra and denied putting it again.
  • The Appellant also complained about the respondent’s behaviour of constantly nagging at his husband (the Appellant here) at midnight and on many occasions, when he used to submit helplessly before her.
  •  According to the Appellant, the mental condition of the Respondent could be made out from her act and letter addressed to the husband and his family. Hence, the acts and conduct of the Respondent created reasonable apprehension in the mind of the appellant.

Contention of Petitioner:

  • The Appellant firstly contended that he was misinformed about the health condition of the Respondent that the Respondent was treated for Schizophrenia in her past. So, the appellant’s consent to marriage was fraudulently obtained by the parents of the respondent.
  • The Respondent used to lose her temper quite frequently and insult the Appellant and family before the public. She called the mother of the Appellant as a ’boorish woman’
  • Furthermore, there were certain instances when the Respondent used to act viciously with her husband and daughters at residence too. Like, she beat her elder daughter, Shubha, while she was feverish with 104 degrees temperature.
  • It is also contended that the Respondent acted quite unusual at times, like, on the day of ‘Paksha’ (the day when ancestors are presented offerings), she abused the appellant’s ancestors and at one night she tore off her Mangal-Sutra and denied putting it again.
  • The Appellant also complained about the respondent’s behaviour of constantly nagging at his husband (the Appellant here) at midnight and on many occasions, when he used to submit helplessly before her.
  •  According to the Appellant, the mental condition of the Respondent could be made out from her act and letter addressed to the husband and his family. Hence, the acts and conduct of the Respondent created reasonable apprehension in the mind of the appellant.

Contention of Respondent:

  • The Respondent alleged that the letters the Appellant is talking about were sent under coercion due to the Appellant’s parents.
  • It was further contended by the Respondent side that the Appellant had laid a rigid standard of behaviour for her and pressurized her to behave expectedly. Following ‘special instructions’ were given by the appellant:
    • To look after the minor after waking up in the morning.
    • Not to use brass plates, cups, or vessels for serving meals.
    • And after having served the first course of the meal, not to repeatedly question ‘what do you want? But to inform about the requirements and courses of the meal in the very beginning only.
  •  Respondent further alleged that apart from the above-stated instruction she was supposed not to work single-handedly, not to talk; to regularly apply ‘Kajal’ to herself and give him tomato juice daily.
  •  It was also stated that even after the desertion, the Appellant continued sexual relations with the Respondent leading to the birth of their third child. Thus, this act of the Appellant amounted to condoning of cruelty.
  • The counsel of the Respondent also contended that it was the strict behaviour of the Appellant that used to make the Respondent react that way. So, in a way, the Appellant was trying to take advantage of his wrong as per Section 23(1), Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

Judgement:

  • In the case of question regarding the burden of proof, the Hon’ble Supreme Court opined that in the present matter the onus to prove that the Appellant was treated with cruelty or not by the Respondent lies with the petitioner.
  • The Hon’ble Court firstly held that the contention of the Appellant regarding the respondent’s (his wife) unsoundness of mind was untrue and was forged by him.
  • Further, it was also held that the contention regarding the respondent’s cruelty on the Appellant has been proved to exist within the ambit of Section 10(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955.
  • But again, as per law, the involvement of the Appellant in sexual intercourse with the Respondent and the fact that they had given birth to their third child amounts to the condonation (forgiveness) of cruelty and desertion. So, the appellant’s claim for cruelty to be ground is not valid post condonation.
  • It is also evident that there was a willingness on the part of the Respondent to stay with her husband after the Appellant condoned her cruelty as she did not act adversely later. Accordingly, the Respondent cannot be held liable for cruelty anymore.
  • It was rightly observed by the apex court that the High Court of Bombay should not have applied the principle of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ in this case as this is not a criminal dispute. Matters of matrimonial dispute cannot be judged on such a notion.
  • Moreover, it can be said that the conduct exhibited by the Respondent was only a reaction to the strict standards expected and allegations of unsoundness by her husband and thus, the ground of cruelty as stated by the Appellant cannot be maintained.

Ratio Decidendi:

  • Hon’ble Justice Y.V. Chandrachud mentioned a test to ascertain the gravity of cruelty in the matter. To determine whether the appellant’s conduct amounted to cruelty or not, he lay the following constituents:
    • The alleged acts or claims by the Appellant regarding the cruelty should be proved as per the law of evidence.
    • There should be the existence of reasonable apprehension of actual harm or injury in the mind of the Appellant to be risky to live with the respondent.
    • The said apprehension must be rational and should be by the conduct of the respondent.
    • Advantage should not be taken of the petitioner’s position.
    • No benefit of position should be taken by the Appellant.
    • There should be any condonation of cruelty on the part of Petitioner.

‘The decision here is obtained by a Preponderance of Liabilities.’

Conclusion

Summing up the above-stated case, it can be said that cruelty whether physical or mental is a serious offence and is subjective. This means to establish cruelty as a ground for civil action under Section 10(1)(b) or 13(1)(a) of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955, the necessary facts, situations, and circumstances of the event should be taken into consideration.

In the case of N.G Dastane Vs Sucheta Dastane, the court rationally opined that in the absence of any continuity in the acts of cruelty by the Respondent and the condonation of the same by the Appellant, the charge against the Respondent is dismissed.

Drafted By: Shivani Tiwary, School of Law DAVV.

Published On: September 16, 2021, at 20:17 IST