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The Supreme Court Friday said married life should be assessed as a whole and few isolated incidents over a period of time would not amount to cruelty.

“Sustained unjustifiable and reprehensible conduct affecting physical and mental health of the other spouse may lead to mental cruelty,” said a bench of Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice B.S. Chauhan in their judgment.

Speaking for the bench, Justice Sathasivam said that the ill-conduct amounting to mental cruelty must be for a fairly lengthy period, thereby deteriorating the relationship to an extent where one of the spouse finds it extremely difficult to live with the other.

The order case as the court dismissed the appeal of Gurbux Singh who has accused his estranged wife Harminder Kaur of being cruel and disrespectful towards his aging parents and sought a divorce.

Both were married Nov 23, 1997 and had a tiff on their first ‘Lohri’ (Punjabi festival heralding end of winter) in January 1998 when Harminder Kaur allegedly used filthy language for her in-laws.

The couple had a child May 15, 1999 but May 10, 2002, Harminder walked out of her matrimonial house and never came back. She, in turn, accused Gurbux of being greedy and a regular drinker who used to beat her on trivial issues.

“Making certain statements on the spur of the moment and expressing certain displeasure about the behaviour of elders may not be characterized as cruelty,” the judgment said.

Justice Sathasivam said: “Mere trivial irritations, quarrels, normal wear and tear of married life which happens in day to day life in all families would not be adequate for grant of divorce on the ground of cruelty”.

“An isolated friction on some occasion like festival of Lohri even in the presence of others cannot be a valid ground for dissolving the marriage.”

Earlier, Gurbux Singh’s plea for divorce was rejected by the Amritsar additional district judge and subsequently by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

On the question of law, the judgment said that Gurbux has sought dissolution of marriage under Section 13 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and in the petition, he only talks about the cruelty being meted out to him and his parents. It noted that cruelty has not been defined in the law and an act which might be cruel in one instance may not be so in another.

Thus, there could be no presumption that a certain act would be cruel in all circumstances, it said.

“We have verified all the averments in the petitions, reply statements, written submissions as well as the evidence of both parties. We are satisfied that on the basis of such instances, the marriage cannot be dissolved,” the judgment said.

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