“It is a treatable, manageable disease, on par with hypertension and diabetes”

Temporary ill-health including schizophrenia, a mental illness, which is curable, cannot be a ground for divorce under Section 13 (1) (iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, the Supreme Court has held.

A Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and V. Gopala Gowda, quoting Vedic scriptures, said, “Under Hindu law, marriage is an institution, a meeting of two hearts and minds and is something that cannot be taken lightly.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Gowda: said “Marriage is highly revered in India and we are a nation that prides itself on the strong foundation of our marriages, come hell or high water, rain or sunshine…” The partners “must weather storms and embrace sunshine with equanimity. Any person may have bad health, this is not their fault and most times, it is not within their control, as in the present case [in which], the respondent [Kollam Padma Latha] was unwell and was taking treatment. The illness had its fair share of problems. [But] can this be a reason for the appellant [Kollam Chandra Sekhar] to abandon her and seek dissolution of marriage after a child is born out of their union?” Their marriage was solemnised on May 31, 1995 in Kakinada as per Hindu rites and customs.

Dr. Chandra Sekhar’s appeal is directed against the September 28, 2006 common judgment and order passed by the Andhra Pradesh High Court, setting aside the judgment and decree of divorce granted in his favour by the trial court. The High Court held that there was no positive evidence to show that the respondent had suffered from schizophrenia and even if she had suffered from some form of schizophrenia, it could not be said she was suffering from such a serious ailment. “Schizophrenia is a treatable, manageable disease, which can be put on a par with hypertension and diabetes,” it said after examining evidence.

Accepting this verdict, the Bench said: “The High Court has thus rightly set aside the decree of dissolution of marriage and granted a decree of restitution of conjugal rights in favour of the respondent by allowing her petition.”

Pointing out that the respondent had not only completed MBBS but also had done a postgraduate diploma in Medicine and that she was continuously working as a Government Medical Officer, the Bench said: “Had she been suffering from any serious kind of mental disorder, particularly, acute type of schizophrenia, it would have been impossible for her to work in the post. The appellant-husband cannot simply abandon his wife because she is suffering from sickness.” If he felt that she “is still suffering, then she must be given the right treatment. The respondent must stick to her treatment plan and make the best attempts to get better.” Grant of a decree or dissolution of marriage “is not in the best interests of either the respondent or her daughter, who is said to be of adolescent age.” 

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