When Words Become Weapons

Rashi has been married to Mohun for nearly three years. They do not have a child. Although he has not been physically violent, Mohun subjects Rashi to constant sarcasm and tongue-lashing. He does not respect her parents, and taunts her about her dark complexion and her inefficiency in cooking and keeping house. Do these qualify as mental cruelty? If yes, how can Rashi prove this in court? What are her legal options? 

Eminent Delhi advocate Asutosh Lohia says the issue of mental cruelty is delicate and complex. His advice:

Rashi and Mohun’s problem appears to be more a social malaise than a legal issue. Marriage is a unique relationship, with its peculiar code of conduct and set of expectations. In many cases, men still seem to be hung up on age-old notions of how a wife should behave. They expect her to make sacrifices and be the lesser party in the marriage. As a result, compatibility dips, trust whittles and respect for each other starts to fade. And when you fail to communicate, the sense of hurt and distance only deepens.  

It is apparent that Rashi and Mohun need to communicate so that they can start fresh.  So, instead of suggesting an out right legal separation arising from or leading to a criminal complaint and/or proceedings under The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act or any other legal proceedings, I would recommend that the two have a few sessions with a qualified counsellor. Maybe Mohun should rethink what he expects from Rashi, and Rashi should step up her contribution and take a firm stand on what is not acceptable to her.  

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If, despite conuselling, Rashi feels that she would be better advised to explore her options in a court of law, here’s what she can do:

If Mohun subjects Rashi to constant  sarcasm, tongue lashing, taunts and disrespect, she is a victim of (mental) cruelty as we understand it U/s. 498-A of the Indian Penal Code and Sec. 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act. 

Verbal abuse, taunts and/or snide remarks do not necessarily have to pertain to dowry demands (in cash or in kind) or for that matter be accompanied by some physical abuse as well, in order to be classified as “cruelty”. 

All humanity (and in particular the citizens of India who have a guarantee under the Constitution of India) are believed to have a fundamental right to life and personal liberty. This right to life encompasses in itself the right to a dignified life and no person (including a spouse) has a right to disrespect the other or to subject the other to “cruelty” (mental or physical). 

Rashi should try and record – either on audio or on video- in a discreet manner (with the help of electronic devices and apparatus available in the market), the instances and episodes of cruelty suffered by her in order to be able to prove the cruelty endured by her.  

She can also write letters to her parents, friends and other well wishers (preferably on Inland letters) detailing the treatment meted out to her, which would come handy for proving her assertions in a court of law, at a later stage. 

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Rashi can also address complaints to the National Commission for Women or the (concerned) State chapter of the Women’s Commission.  Alternatively, she can file a complaint under the Domestic Violence Act and even involve the Crime against Women Cell (of the Police).  

I would also advise her to seek all the support she can—financial or social—from people and groups. 

Women have a legal right to maintenance and boarding/lodging from their husbands under several provisions of law including The Hindu Marriage Act, The Indian Penal Code as well as under The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act.  

Asutosh Lohia can be reached at lasutosh@gmail.com

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