Narayan Ganesh Dastane v. Sucheta Narayan Dastane: Case Study



The Case Before The Supreme Court of India
Narayan Ganesh Dastane V. Sucheta Narayan Dastane 
A.I.R 1975 S.C. 1534

Introduction:

The concerned case primarily dealt with the offence of cruelty, which in India is under § 10(1)(b) and § 23(1) of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 in the marriage relation. The concepts discussed in the concerned case are identifying elements of cruelty, who has the burden of proof in the matrimonial matters, and the conditional nature of condonation or whether the sexual intercourse between the couple will amount to condonation not. This paper's primary purpose is to critically analyze the concerned case and study the law's roadmap concerning the current position regarding it. 

Study of relevant facts and summary of the case:

This case was brought in the Supreme Court of India against Bombay High court's order by the Appellant Dr Narayan Ganesh Dastane, a well educated, learned man who has a doctorate in irrigation research. The Respondent is Sucheta, who hailed from Nagpur and is currently working under the Central Government. The marriage ceremony between the Appellant and the Respondent was arranged successfully in April 1956. At that time, the Appellant was 27 years of age, and the Respondent was a 21-year-old girl. Before marriage, the Respondent's (Sucheta) Father wrote a couple of letters to the Appellant's Father regarding the bride's mental condition. The first letter mentioned that the Respondent had suffered from a terrible sunstroke attack in the past by her misfortune, which consequently turned her mental illness a bit unstable. The following letter, which was received two days later, mentioned "cerebral malaria," which was also the factor causing her mental condition to be not normal. In the letter, the Respondent's Father also said that his daughter is now cured after a treatment course and is now as you see her. Regarding this, the Appellant's and the Respondent's Father went to the Doctor to confirm the same to get Sucheta married to Narayan. After the Doctor's confirmation, the Appellant's Father also didn't try to get it enquired anywhere else again. [1]

After the marriage, the couple started to live at Arbhavi, where they stayed for typically five months. In November 1956, the couple moved to Poona after the transfer of the Appellant. In 1957 the Respondent gave birth to a girl in Delhi named Subha. In March 1959, when the couple was living in Delhi since the Appellant changed his job, the Respondent gave birth to a newborn Vibha. When the Respondent in 1961 went to Poona to attend the Appellant's brother's marriage ceremony and about 14 days after that, the Appellant got the Respondent checked by a psychiatrist Dr. Seth at Yervada Hospital. Dr Seth asked the Respondent to have quite a few sittings to get adequate checkup data. The Respondent was not happy with this and was against to give herself underway that kind of scrutiny, after which Dr. Seth was not consulted. In Court, the Appellant said that the Respondent thought that the Appellant was creating a trap by a false report of her being of unsound mind. While this, the Respondent was three months pregnant, the child then born between their marital spat and was named Pratibha; during this time, the Appellant wrote to police regarding the fear of threat to life from his wife's relatives and parents. The Respondent then wrote a letter to the secretary, Ministry of Food and Agriculture said that the Appellant is left her alone now. She was treated with extreme cruelty by him and therefore requested the Government for the separate, regarding this letter ASP, recorded the Respondent's statement.[2]

The suit was brought in 1962 before the Court of law that the consent of marriage from the Appellant was obtained by fraud by telling the Appellant and his family a lie about the Respondent's mental condition. Therefore, he demanded marriage annulment under § 12 (1) (c) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.[3] He also asserted that the Respondent had treatment for Schizophrenia and not sunstroke at Yervada Hospital. Additionally, the Appellant also asked the Court for divorce under § 13 (1) (iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, on the ground, that the Respondent was of unsound mind. He also requested the judicial separation under  § 10(1) (b) of the Hindu Marriage Act on the ground of cruelty faced by the Appellant.

Issues of the present case in front of the Supreme Court of India:

§  On whom does the burden of proof of cruelty lie in the case of marital offences?

§  How far the facts need to be established beyond the reasonable doubt in cases such as this?

§  Having sexual intercourse with the marital partner amounts to the condonation of cruelty?



Procedural History Of the Case: 

§ Trial Court:

The Trial Court's opinion was that the cruelty was done on the part of the Respondent to the Appellant but rejected the claims of fraud by the Respondent regarding the marriage and the unsoundness of mind. The Court subsequently ordered for the judicial separation of the couple. 

§ District court:

The appeal was brought in district court by both parties to the case, wherein the Respondent's appeal was favoured, and the Appellant's appeal was rejected.

§ High Court:

The Appellant again filed an appeal in the High Court, which was declined by a single judge bench. Still, the judge granted a special leave petition of appeal to the Respondent, which just contained the query concerning the Judicial Separation only based on cruelty and not on the ground of unsoundness of mind or the consent for marriage obtained by fraud. On the Respondent's part, the presumption of proof was made; thus, the judgment was in favour of the Respondent. The Appellant then appealed to the Indian Supreme Court under Article 136 of the Indian Constitution. 

Appellant’s Argument:

The Appellant's primary arguments at the Trial Court and the High Court was that to obtain the consent for the marriage from Appellant's family, the Father of the Respondent falsely told them that the treatment of the Respondent was for Sunstroke at Yeravada Mental Hospital. He further contended that, in reality, this was for Schizophrenia and the Father of the Respondent deceptively addressed to the Appellant's family that the state of her mind is all right and is now well. This argument was made only in the Trial and the High Court because both the Courts rejected this argument.

In the Supreme Court, only the contentions mentioned above were concerned. It was argued that it was common that the Respondent used to humiliate the Appellant's family in front of everyone in public after losing her temper and would later be apologetic about it. At times, she would say, "you are no a man at all," this was indicated in the letters written to the Appellant, and she gave her husband warnings that she would put kerosene oil on herself and die.[4]

Apart from this, the Respondent mistreated both her daughters and her husband, and she used to treat her daughters with cruelty by putting chillies in their eyes. The Appellant also pressed on the point that the Respondent's mental condition can be pointed out in her letters written to the Appellant and his family, in which she used to mention a handful of abuses for the worth, decency, etc.

Respondent’s Argument:

The Respondent in the Supreme Court alleged that those letters which the Appellant is talking about were written under coercion by her.

Secondly, she argued that the Appellant is trying to take advantage of his own wrong, which is an essential condition mentioned in § 23(1), Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.[5]The Respondent's counsel gave importance to the fact that the Appellant's strict domestic behaviour led to his wife being responding in such a manner which was entirely not what she used to behave like, but only because of her husband she did.

The third contention of the Respondent's counsel was that the sexual intercourse happened between both. The couple resulted in condonation of cruelty if it existed and made the Respondent three months after leaving her home.

The fourth and the last argument by the Respondent's counsel was that if the standards and the level of cruelty is so small and broad, then the structure of marriage itself would be attacked as in the stock condition of the inconsistency of behaviour are same in a marriage.[6]

Critical Analysis of The Judgment:

The bench of 3 judges of India's Supreme Court gave the judgment, including Justice P.K. Goswami, Justice N.L. Untwalia and Justice Y.V. Chandrachaud. Hon'ble Justice Y.V. Chandrachaud gave the foremost part of the decision in the present case. 

For the first issue regarding the burden of proof, the Hon'ble Court opined that the flaws which the High Court had in giving its reasoning, as it is much easy to prove the fact by asserting it as against in denying such facts by saying a negative testimonial. The Court for the present case held that the onus to verify that the Appellant was treated with cruelty by the Respondent is with the petitioner. 

For the second issue, the Court said in concern of the limits of proving a particular case. The Court cleared out again that High Court's flaw in its decision, proving a case beyond the Appellant's reasonable doubt, is problematic on its own. Because the law of the land which governs the civil proceedings says that the fact established has to be proved by "Preponderance of liabilities."[7]

By virtue of § 4 of the Indian Evidence Act, an assertion is said to have been proved in a civil suit if, in the practice of its cognitive function, the Court is of the opinion that the fact persists or believes that it is strongly likely to be true. There's also a method that can be ascertained in two phases. The first stage of the process is to resolve all odds, which means removing all unlikely events that are not possible. Through the second stage, these specified outcomes are to be measured, i.e., they are obtained by eliminating all unlikely events and processed further to arrive at the most suitable, rational, and credible evidence. The decision here is obtained by a preponderance of liabilities. And hence, by the Supreme Court's norms, the Appellant has to prove his side with a similar standard as settled for the civil suits.

For the third issue related to the question of cruelty is mentioned under § 10(1)(b), Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. The Court said the criterion needed to determine whether or not the behaviour of the Respondent essentially amounts to cruelty is not assessed on the grounds of a fair or prudent man test but based on whether or not a specific action has harmed the accused, i.e., the assessment of cruelty is based on a subjective instead of an objective test.

Justice Y.V. Chandrachaud said that the standard test for the determination of cruelty is stated in the judgment and the facts have been identified and proved by a preponderance of probabilities. All of the Respondent's conduct and her temperament during her marriage engagement qualify for cruelty mentioned under § 10(1)(b), Hindu Marriage Act,1955 as reasonable apprehension was created in the Appellant's mind.

Condonation is basically when a person in matrimonial arrangements make an offence, and the other person forgives that offence and restores the situation as it was before the offence was actually committed.

The condonation must be for a minimum phase required by the statutory norms and must be serious enough and substantive in order to prevail over the cruelty restriction.[8] As regards the issue of condoning cruelty through the sexual intercourse between the concerned couple, it is observed by the Supreme The court that the Appellant has done restoration here and has also forgiven the woman. The fact that both the husband and wife had sexual intercourse in further life even after the Respondent's acts of cruelty illustrates the proof of condonation in the present suit. The aim to forgive and return the guilty partner to the previous status can be fairly concluded as the partners lead a life of sexual relation that reflects a regular marriage relationship uninfluenced by the Respondent's behaviour. On March 19, 1961, the event that took place was too petty to be deemed to prevail over the threshold of condoning cruelty.

When the condonation was done for the Respondent's act of cruelty, the Respondent's following actions have to be as severe, or to the degree of its prior acts of cruelty, for the Appellant's arguments about cruelty to have to be held true. It was visible from the Respondent's act that she wanted to return to the household as the Respondent realized her fault. The Respondent should not be liable for cruelty as the act of cruelty was condoned by the Appellant, and furthermore, the act was not repeated by the Respondent.

Historical Position:

In the life of a Hindu, Hindu marriage is a holy sacrament with other separate sacraments, which are considered essential for the whole life. The 'SHASTRI' Hindu law never included judicial separation and divorce as any system of law.[9] Marriage is the right way for both male and female to work together and carry out their roles, and husband-wife were taken into consideration as one in law. In the ancient period, the Hindus were not at all familiar or acquainted with the marital causes, and since the Shastras always recognized customs as the rule of law that can even stay over the things written in the sacred texts.[10]The Indian Divorce Act was passed in 1869, but it remained specific to the Hindus. The Hindu Marriage Act was passed after the Independence on 18 May 1955, which regulates all issues and circumstances related to Hindu marriages.[11]

Current Position:

When the amendment was brought in 1976 in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 the law which was laid down in Narayan Ganesh Dastane v. Sucheta Narayan Dastane was struck down by the same Court of the law in 1984 in not only the case of Ashwini Kumar Sehgal v. Swatantar[12] but also in the case of Keshav Rao[13]in which the grounds of divorce and judicial separation included cruelty, which was earlier not recognized under the law; it also included the different interpretation of cruelty[14], it has new meaning after that, which included the relationship between the married, the couple should be worst such that to an extent where living together with the same person amounts to mental pain or agony.

In the present time, the apprehension in the mind of the victim need not be only in some crucial circumstances, but it can be at any time such that the result of the accused's conduct or omission for the same which create apprehension is relevant in determining cruelty. [15]

The case of Yudhishthir Singh Vs. Smt. Sarit,[16] On the basis of cruelty, the spouse obtained an order to end the marital relationship with his wife. In the decree of the learned judge, the incidents of cruelty are identified. There were several points which the learned judge pointed out, but the evidence did not corroborate with what the husband said. And hence it was said there was no cruelty in the case.

In the judgment of Naveen Kohli vs Neelu Kohli,[17] It was said that for an act to be considered as cruel, it should be harsh and severe enough so as that it should not appear as a normal condition or situation of marriage but must be of a level beyond which the action should be considered as damaging the relation to an extent which cannot be recovered to normal condition.

Conclusion:



To say, cruelty is an act that is recognized to be "grave and serious" enough so as to conclude that the victim spouse, in a reasonable person's view is not in a position to live with the other spouse. Therefore, Cruelty is subjective in nature as it always depends upon the facts, situations, and circumstances of the event that happened; it is not a strict formulae kind of law that can be applied anywhere. In the present case, by the facts, even the cruelty was done on the husband, but the act of condonation by sexual intercourse between the couple resolves the situation between them. Also, it was noted by the Court that the further acts of the Respondent was likely to bring back the original situation between the two. Therefore in the present case, the Respondent, i.e., the wife, was held to be not guilty and was acquitted from the charge of cruelty.

Author:
Priyansh Agarwal,
2nd Year, NUJS


[1] Narayan Ganesh Dastane v. Sucheta Narayan Dastane, AIR 1975 SC 1534.

[2] Id.

[3] The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, § 12(1)(c), provides the ground for claiming nullity of marriage by saying that the consent was not free and was taken by force.

[4] Id.

[5] The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, § 23(1)(a); it says about any of the grounds which grants relief that exist and the petitioner  [except in some cases where he seeks the relief on the grounds which are specified in sub-clause (a), (b) or (c) of clause (ii) of section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955] is not taking advantage at any cost for his own wrong or her wickedness or disability for the motive such as to get the relief.

[6] Kaslefsky v. Kaslefsky, (1950) 2 All ER 398.

[7] Supra 1.

[8] Beard v. Beard, 16 Cal.2d 645.

[9] Boparai, Harinder. “THE EXPANSION OF MATRIMONIAL CRUELTY.” Journal of the Indian Law Institute, vol. 23, no. 1, 1981, pp. 34–89. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43950731. Accessed 29 Feb. 2020.

[10] Madura v. Moottoo Ramalinga, (1868) 12 MIA 397.

[11]  Avinash Gadhre, “Cruelty - as a ground for Divorce” available at http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/1900/Cruelty---as-a-ground-for-Divorce.html.

[12] Ashwini Kumar Sehgal v. Swatantar, (1984) HLR 594.

[13] Keshorao v. Nisha, AIR 1984 Bombay 413.

[14] The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, § 13(1)(a).

[15] The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, § 13.

[16] Yudhishthir Singh v. Smt. Sarita, AIR 2002 Raj. 382.

[17] Naveen Kohli v. Neelu Kohli, AIR 2004 All 1.

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