Supreme Court in the case namely Shobha Rani vs. Madhukar Reddi, decided on 12.11.1987 (MANU / SC / 0419 / 1987 =  1 SCR 1010) dealt with the extent of “cruelty” as provided in the Section 13(1)(ia) of the Hindu Marriage Act (Act). In the instant matter a decree of divorce was sought by the wife from her husband on the ground of cruelty caused as a result of dowry demands.
The Court in the present matter observed that uses the words “treated the petitioner with cruelty”. The word “cruelty” though not defined in the Act has been used in relation to human conduct or human behaviour. It is the conduct in relation to or in respect of matrimonial duties and obligations.
If it is physical cruelty the court will have no problem to determine it as it then would be a question of fact and degree, but if cruelty is mental, the problem presents difficulty. First, the enquiry must begin as to the nature of the cruel treatment and secondly, the impact of such treatment in the mind of the spouse; whether it caused reasonable apprehension that it would be harmful or injurious to live with the other? Ultimately, it would be a matter of inference to be drawn by taking into account the nature of the conduct and its effect on the complaining spouse. There may, however, be cases where the conduct complained of itself is bad enough and per se unlawful or illegal. Then the impact or the injurious effect on the other spouse need not be enquired into or considered. In such cases, the cruelty will be established if the conduct itself is proved or admitted.
Section 13(1)(i-a) of the Hindu Marriage Act provides that the party has after solemnization of the marriage treated the petitioner with cruelty. The cruelty has to be seen in relation to the conduct of parties to a marriage. That conduct which is complained of as cruelty by one spouse may not be so for the other spouse. There may be instances of cruelty by the unintentional but inexcusable conduct of any party. The cruel treatment may also result by the cultural conflict of the spouses. In such cases, even if the act of cruelty is established, the intention to commit cannot be established and the aggrieved party may not get relief.
The word ‘cruelty’ has to be understood in the ordinary sense of the term in matrimonial affairs. If the intention to harm, harass or hurt could be inferred by the nature of the conduct or brutal act complained of, cruelty could be easily established. But the absence of intention should not make any difference in the case, if by ordinary sense in human affairs, that act complained of could otherwise be regarded as cruelty. The relief to the party cannot be denied on the ground that there has been no deliberate or wilful ill-treatment.
Like in the instance case the demand for dowry is prohibited under law and that by itself is bad enough and thus amounts to cruelty entitling the wife to get a decree for dissolution of marriage.