ADULTERY – NOT A CRIME SUPREME COURT
22, Sep 2018
Prelims level : Mains level : GS – Paper II Role of Women & Associated issues
- India’s top court has ruled, that adultery is no longer a crime. Declaring a colonial-era law that punished the offence with jail time unconstitutional and discriminatory against women.
- A five-judge Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, finally transported India into the company of countries that no longer consider adultery an offence, only a ground for divorce.
- The Supreme Court struck down and removed the archaic Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) due to its “manifest arbitrariness” in punishing only men for adultery and for treating a woman as her husband’s property.
- The CJI declared that the husband is neither master of his wife, nor does he have legal sovereignty over her. He observed that “any system treating a woman with indignity invites the wrath of the Constitution.
- According to Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), a man who has sex with a woman “whom he knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of another man, without the consent or connivance of that man, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape, is guilty of the offence of adultery”.
- Section 497 treats a woman as a property of her husband and criminalizes adultery through patriarchal control over women’s bodies.
- Section 497 under the IPC implied that a woman’s body is not her own and, on a whole, it denied women the right to her body in the form of agency, autonomy and independence; and to object of desire and sexual autonomy. This section further violated a woman’s dignity by preventing her from exercising her freedom and agency to formulate choices for herself, which is otherwise guaranteed by the Constitution.
- Section 497 violative of Article 14 (equality) and Article 15 as it discriminated on grounds of sex and punishes just men. Justice Malhotra observed that Section 497 institutionalised discrimination and was “replete with anomalies and incongruities”, such as an adulterous relationship not constituting an offence if a married woman had her husband’s consent.
- Referring to “ancient notions” of the man being the seducer and the woman being the victim, is no longer the case today.