Days after the historic decision on LGBTQ, the Supreme Court strikes again with yet another significant decision as Adultery is no longer a crime in India on Thursday. “The husband is not the master of the wife,” said a five-judge constitution bench, unanimously sticking up for gender justice and calling out the Victorian adultery law – Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code – as arbitrary.

While reading out the judgment on adultery, Chief Justice Dipak Misra said that while it could be grounds for civil issues like divorce, “it cannot be a criminal offense”, striking down a 158-year law that punished a man for an affair but not the woman, treating her as her husband’s property.

According to the adultery law, a man can be punished for having a sexual relationship with a married woman without the consent of her husband. The petitioners want Section 497 of the IPC to be made gender neutral. In India, adultery is a crime and the punishment for the same can be imprisonment for five years, or fine, or both.

Gender equality

Last year, Joseph Shine, a 41-year-old Indian businessman living in Italy, petitioned the Supreme Court to abolish the law. He argued that it discriminated against men by only holding them liable for extra-marital relationships while treating women like objects.

“Married women are not a special case for prosecution for adultery. They are not in any way situated differently than men,” his petition said.

The law, Mr. Shine said, also “indirectly discriminates against women by holding an erroneous presumption that women are the property of men”.

However, India’s ruling BJP government had opposed the petition, insisting that adultery should remain a criminal offense.

“Diluting adultery laws will impact the sanctity of marriages. Making adultery legal will hurt marriage bonds,” a government counsel told the court, adding that “Indian ethos gives paramount importance to the institution and sanctity of marriage”

constitution-497-and-SC

The five-judge Constitution bench, led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and comprising Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud, and Indu Malhotra took the bold decision towards the progress of new India.

Many people were not even aware such a law existed. However, after Thursday’s ruling, people have been largely supportive of the verdict.

 

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