Adultery is not a crime, Section 497 of IPC unconstitutional: SC

In a victory for equality and the evolution of law, the Supreme Court on Thursday struck down the adultery law that only punished a married man for having consensual relations with another woman as being unconstitutional. The Bench comprised, Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, Justices R Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.

Until now, the 158-year-old law instigated under British rule made it an offence for a man to have sex with a married woman without her husband's consent. "In such case the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor".

Reasons for scrapping Section 497 This particular section of the IPC has been controversial because it deprived married women of their own consent and autonomy.

In our intervention application before the Court, we relied upon different grounds to suggest why this section should be made gender-neutral. "You exact fidelity from a woman but not from a man?" Husband is not the master of the wife.

Convictions for adultery are very rare because of the social stigma, and mostly families resolve matters among themselves, Supreme Court lawyer Utsav Bains told AFP.

Activists had cried foul, saying the law treated women as property with no agency of their own to speak of.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's right-wing government told a court a year ago that it believes criminalising marital rape could destabilise marriages and make men vulnerable to harassment by their wives.

As the SC said: "In case of adultery, criminal law expects people to be loyal, which is a command which gets into the realm of privacy".

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The Supreme Court has ruled that adultery is no longer a criminal act. "They are not in any way situated differently than men", his petition said.

The CJI, who wrote the judgment for himself and Justice AM Khanwilkar, said the section was "manifestly arbitrary", archaic and violative of the rights to equality and equal opportunity to women and struck it down as unconstitutional.

Last August, Joseph Shine, a 41-year-old Indian businessman living in Italy, petitioned the Supreme Court to strike down the law, according to BBC.

Noting that the law is singular in the penal code for treating men and women differently, Chief Justice Dipak Misra said "The adultery law is arbitrary and it offends the dignity of a woman".

Under Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, adultery was an offence and a convict could be sentenced to five-year-jail term and/or a fine.

From now on, the only remedy available to a man or woman who finds his partner to be in an adulterous relationship would be to go for divorce.

An unmarried woman, on the other hand, can't be prosecuted for adultery.

Parliament will need to take some steps immediately to rectify the damage done by the Supreme Court in Adultery verdict.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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