SC scraps 150-year-old adultery law

New Delhi: File photo of Justice Dipak Misra who will be the next Chief Justice of India. Misra will take over from incumbent J S Khehar, who will retire on August 27. PTI Photo(PTI8_8_2017_000127B)

In one of the most crucial judgments that could change the way the Indian society functions, the Supreme Court today struck down the archaic adultery law. It ruled the adultery law as unconstitutional.

One on the 19th century adultery law in which, under penal code’s section 497, it is an offence if a married man has sex with the wife of another married man without his “connivance” or “consent”. But only men, and not women, can be prosecuted under the adultery law. Adultery is the only provision in the penal code that treats men and women differently, for one, because it treats a married woman as the ‘property’ of their husband.

The Supreme Court ruled that adultery is not a criminal offence. The top court declared adultery offence punishable under Section 497 the Indian Penal Code as unconstitutional for being arbitrary and oppressive against women.

The apex court said that adultery cannot be the cause of breaking marriage, sometimes it is the result of broken marriage. This is choice of a person as part of their privacy and sexual autonomy, the 5-judge bench said. Autonomy is recognised in man alone and not in women as only husband can complain. It treats women as chattel, the top court added.

Earlier, while reading out the verdict, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra made certain observations regarding the Victorian law.  He said that equality is the governing principle of a system. Husband is not the master of the wife.

The CJI while reading out the verdict on the petition challenging the validity of Section 497 (Adultery) of IPC said that the Parameters of fundamental rights should include rights of women. Individual dignity important in a sanctified society. System can’t treat women unequally. Women can’t be asked to think what a society desires.

The legal subordination of one sex by another is wrong. Social progression of women & views of Justice Nariman in Triple Talaq case considered. Adultery can be grounds for dissolution of marriage, the CJI said. He also said that mere adultery can’t be a crime, unless it attracts the scope of Section 306 (abatement to suicide) of the IPC.The Thursday’s landmark verdict is a unanimous verdict by five judges who have given four separate orders.

For Local News and Immediate Delivery, download our Android App