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Adultery is no longer a criminal affair


158 years on, adultery is no longer a criminal affair

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New Delhi:The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down as unconstitutional the 158-year-old Section 497 of IPC that punished a married man for adultery if he had sexual relations with a married woman “without the consent or connivance of her husband”, but said adultery could continue to be a ground for divorce.

While saying that adultery could continue to be a ground aggrieved spouses to seek divorce, the court said if one of the spouses committed suicide because of the adulterous nature of her/his partner, then the culprit could be proceeded against for the criminal offence of abetting suicide.The SC tested Section 497 on the touchstone of constitutional provisions dealing with right to equality and guarantees against arbitrariness and discrimination, with Justices Chandrachud and Malhotra using privacy, individual’s autonomy and personal choice as yardsticks of legality.The decision rejected a conception of women as actors with no agency of their own—mere “chattel”. Thursday’s decision puts India on a par with many European countries, China, Japan, Australia and Brazil where adultery is not a criminal offence.CJI Misra, writing the judgment for himself and Justice Khanwilkar, said Section 497 violated right to equality as it punished only the married man while exonerating the ‘partner in crime’, the married woman, who could not be punished for being the abettor.The section also treated the woman, with whom the married man had sexual intercourse, as a chattel of her husband as it was not an offence of adultery if the latter consented or connived for his wife’s adulterous relationship, the CJI said. Refusing to buy the Centre’s argument to uphold validity of the provision on the ground that it was to protect the sanctity of marriage, the CJI said the section did not punish married men for adultery if they had sexual relationship outside the marriage with unmarried women, divorcees or widows.

Chandrachud overrules ex-CJI dad again

Justice D Y Chandrachud on Thursday became the only SC judge to have overruled his father, ex-CJI Y V Chandrachud, not once but twice in a year. When Justice Chandrachud, in his separate judgment that concurred with others on a five-judge bench, struck down Section 497 and overruled the 1985 verdict in Sowmithri Vishnu case, he overruled the father for the second time. P 13

Clause was only a tool in legal battles

Criminal lawyers were hard pressed to recall a single conviction of a man for adultery under section 497 IPC, a clause now decriminalised by the Supreme Court. NCRB doesn’t maintain data on cases or convictions, primarily because the number of offences is negligible. It’s usually warring couples trying to get an upper hand in a legal battle who used this section, said lawyers. P 13

There can’t be husband’s monarchy over wife: CJIMoreover, the provision specifying that only the husband of the married woman could be the aggrieved person to file complaint of adultery against the adulterous married man made the SC say, “The offence and the deeming definition of an aggrieved person, as we find, is absolutely and manifestly arbitrary as it does not even appear to be rational and it can be stated with emphasis that it confers a licence on the husband to deal with life as he likes which is extremely excessive and disproportionate.”“That women are treated as subordinate to men inasmuch as it lays down that there is connivance or consent of the man, there is no offence. This treats the woman as a chattel. It treats her as the property of man and totally subservient to the will of the master. It is a reflection of the social dominance that was prevalent when the penal provision was drafted (in 1860),” the CJI said.Hoping to bring about a change in the societal mindset, CJI Misra said, “We are of the view that there cannot be a patriarchal monarchy over the daughter or, for that matter, husband’s monarchy over wife. That apart, there cannot be a community exposition of masculine dominance.”Justice Nariman rescinded Section 497 because it said it was not adultery if the married woman’s husband approved her adulterous relationship with another married man. “This can only be on the paternalistic notion of a woman being likened to chattel, for if one is to use the chattel or is licensed to use the chattel by the ‘licensor’, namely the husband, no offence is committed,” he said.“This archaic law has long outlived its purpose and does not square with today’s constitutional morality, in that the very object with which it was made has since become manifestly arbitrary, having lost its rationale long ago and having become in today’s day utterly irrational. On this basis alone, the law deserves to be struck down,” he added.Justice Chandrachud took a broader view and said, “This court has recognised sexual privacy as a natural right, protected under the Constitution. To shackle the sexual freedom of a woman and allow the criminalisation of consensual relationships is denial of this right. Section 497 denudes a married woman of her agency and identity, employing force of law to preserve a patriarchal conception of marriage which is at odds with constitutional morality.” He added that marriage could not force an individual to cede her sexual autonomy to others.


The Supreme Court’s judgement which on Thursday scrapped the penal provision on adultery received kudos from leading women advocates who dubbed it as a “strong” and “progressive” decision on gender equality.

Senior advocate Rebecca John and lawyers Aishwarya Bhati and Menaka Guruswamy, termed as correct the apex court’s observation that the adultery law dented the individuality of women and treated them as “chattel of husbands”.

While John said Section 497 (adultery) of the Indian Penal Code should have been struck down 50 years ago Bhati opined that the verdict will go a long way in ensuring that women’s rights are “strongly and robustly embedded” in the system and cannot be taken away.
Guruswamy termed the verdict as a good decision on gender equality and said that “it makes perfect sense as clearly the Supreme Court is saying that men and women within marriage are equal”.
John said: “It should never have been a part of modern India’s penal code because it was an extremely archaic patriarchal law. Too late but a welcome move.”
Bhati said the law was “one of those colonial baggages that we had to let go of as it was from an era where women were treated as chattel of men and wife was the property of the husband”
The apex court’s five-judge Constitution bench was unanimous in striking down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code dealing with the offence of adultery and holding it as manifestly arbitrary, archaic law which is violative of the rights to equality and equal opportunity to women.

Categories: Family Law, Indian Law, RelationshipTags: ,

1 thought on “Adultery is no longer a criminal affair

  1. I have gone through the highlighted text, but does not agree with the opinion of the judges to struck down the criminal provision of 497. It is truly said that in constitution, the men and women are equal. I agree that women are not chattel of their husband; men and women in marriage are equal. But this is not the way to bring them on the equal footing. For equality the wife also should be given the right equal to husband. This is like that one has 8 breads and another has nothing, so snatch those eight breads from who is having it, and now both became equal. This should not be there. If men had the right to sue that another person, same right should be given to the women to sue that another person or that women to whom his husband had adultery. This is the start of open sex by the back door. This will eliminate the family structure. The section 497 should not be struck down but should be amended, so that all are treated on the same footing. Removing the section 497 is an axe on family structure. Both husband and wife should be positive and regard the family structure and both should be faithful to their partner. But there is back door entry for the open sex and in future the marriage will not be a sacred ceremony and culture but a simple agreement which will give rise to other problems like division of property, rights of children, responsibilities, maintenance, education and over all development of the children which will hamper harmony and peace and will destroy the nation in the long run. Is it true that the women are chattel of husband in today’s era? The judges may compare these with their own homes. On one side we talk to be a human being, a good citizen and responsible to the family and on other side, we are thinking that one should enjoy one’s life, there should be no responsibility, every one is free to do what he want to do. Then why the openness is only for adultery, there should be no “reasonable restriction of law and should not be forced to obey the law. क्योकि ये दिल का मामला है, कोई घुट घुट कर क्यों जिए. अगर एक से दिल नहीं भरता और दिल दूसरी या दुसरे के लिए आहें भरता है तो क्यों न उसके पास जाए? परन्तु क्या वो दूसरा/दूसरी दूर के ढोल सुहावने जैसा नहीं है? अगर उस दुसरे या दूसरी से भी दिल न भरे तो? तीसरे या तीसरी को ढूंढे? क्या इस से व्यभिचार नहीं बढेगा? आने वाला कल तो वैश्यावृति को लीगल करने का होगा. इस के क्या नुकशान है, क्या यह किसी से छिपा है. अमेरिका में जब ऐसा कुछ हुआ था तो वहां के लोगो का भी कहना था की माता-पिता और बच्चो में एक झीना पर्दा होता है और यह रहना चाहिए. अगर बच्चा पूछता है की ये ओरल सेक्स क्या होता है तो इसका जवाब देने में तो अमेरिकी भी असहज मासुस कर रहे थे. Adultery is no more a crime, but this will remain a cause of divorce. जब परगमन अपराध ही नहीं है तो उसके आधार पर तलाक या विवाह विच्छेद क्यों? इसका मतलब तो यह निकलता है कि व्यभिचारी पसंद न हो तो तलाक ले लो और झेल सकते है तो झेलो या तुम भी व्यभिचार करो. यह कैसी सवतंत्रता है. क्योकि सुप्रीम कोर्ट का मानना है कि व्यभिचार होता क्यों हैं? इसका कारण ख़त्म करने की बजाय उसे ही बढ़ा दो और उसे अपनी मर्जी करने दो. आदमी चोरी क्यों करता है, मर्डर क्यों करता है? क्या कल इसे भी अपराध की श्रेणी से बाहर करना होगा? हम कैसे समाज की और जा रहे है!


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