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Indian Case Summary

Dr. N.G. Dastane vs Mrs. S. Dastane on 19 March, 1975 – Case Summary

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In the case of Dr. N.G. Dastane vs Mrs. S. Dastane on 19 March, 1975, the Supreme Court of India was presented with a complex matrimonial dispute. The case was brought forward by the appellant, Dr. Narayan Ganesh Dastane, who sought the annulment of his marriage with the respondent, Mrs. Sucheta Dastane, or alternatively, a divorce or judicial separation. The grounds for these requests were fraud, unsoundness of mind, and cruelty, respectively.

Facts of the Case

Dr. Dastane and Mrs. Dastane were both highly educated individuals with respectable social standings. They were married in May 1956, when Dr. Dastane was 27 and Mrs. Dastane was 21. Prior to the marriage, Mrs. Dastane’s father had informed Dr. Dastane’s father that she had previously suffered from sunstroke and cerebral malaria, which had affected her mental condition temporarily. However, she had been treated and was now cured. The couple lived together in various locations due to Dr. Dastane’s work commitments and had three daughters.

The marital discord began to surface in 1961, with both parties alleging ill-treatment by the other. The appellant alleged that the respondent had treated him with cruelty, causing him to fear for his life. The respondent, on the other hand, accused the appellant of desertion and extreme cruelty. The appellant filed for a judicial separation in February 1962.

Issues Raised

The appellant sought annulment of the marriage on the grounds of fraud, alleging that the respondent had been treated for schizophrenia prior to their marriage, not sunstroke and cerebral malaria as had been represented to him. He also sought divorce on the grounds of the respondent’s alleged unsoundness of mind and judicial separation on the grounds of cruelty.

Court’s Observations

The court, in its judgment, rejected the appellant’s claims of fraud and unsoundness of mind. However, it held that the respondent was guilty of cruelty and granted a decree for judicial separation. Both parties appealed this decision to the District Court, which dismissed the appellant’s appeal and allowed the respondent’s, resulting in the dismissal of the appellant’s petition.

The appellant then appealed to the Bombay High Court, which also dismissed his appeal. The Supreme Court granted special leave to appeal, limited to the question of judicial separation on the grounds of cruelty.

The Supreme Court found that the High Court had erred in its approach to the case, particularly in its application of the standard of proof required in matrimonial cases. The court clarified that the standard of proof in civil cases, including matrimonial cases, is a preponderance of probabilities, not beyond a reasonable doubt as the High Court had held.

The Supreme Court also clarified the meaning of “cruelty” under Section 10(1)(b) of the Hindu Marriage Act, stating that it must be of such a character as to cause a reasonable apprehension in the mind of the petitioner that it would be harmful or injurious for the petitioner to live with the other party.

The Supreme Court concluded that the High Court’s approach to the case was erroneous and its findings were vitiated. It undertook the task of considering the evidence in the case, which it found necessary due to the long duration of the proceedings. The Supreme Court’s decision on the matter is not stated in the provided content.