Adultery no longer a crime as Supreme Court strikes down Section 497

Adultery no longer a crime as Supreme Court strikes down Section 497

Adultery no longer a crime as Supreme Court strikes down Section 497

India's top court has ruled that adultery is no longer a crime, declaring that the colonial-era law is unconstitutional and discriminatory against women. In such cases, the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor.

Adultery as an offence treats a woman as "chattel" and "dents" her individual dignity as it emphasises that the husband's connivance or consent to her extramarital relationship does not result in a crime, wrote Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra on Thursday.

He said equality is the governing parameter of the Constitution and Section 497 of the IPC is manifestly arbitrary in the way it deals with women. The government as well as several men's rights groups have filed petitions against scrapping the marriage exception.

The court had taken a prima facie view that though the criminal law proceeded on "gender neutrality", the concept was absent in Section 497.

On the streets of New Delhi it is not common to see men and women holding hands or displaying affection, and if they do, they're likely married.

Reading out the judgement, Misra stated that equality is the need of the hour and that its time to make it clear that the husband should not be considered the master of his wife.

Adultery can be treated as civil wrong for dissolution of marriage. The system can not treat women unequally.

In simple words, adultery is defined as a person having sex with a man's wife without taking prior consent from the husband.

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Concurring with the judgment CJI Dipak Misra and Justice Khanwilkar, Justice RF Nariman termed Section 497 as an archaic provision which is unconstitutional and struck it down.

"...where is the "collective good" in Section 497 of IPC?" the court had asked.

Raj submitted that in the 2012 judgment in W. Kalyani v. State, the apex court had observed that provisions of Section 497 had come under criticism for gender bias, insofar that only men could be prosecuted for adultery, while women were immune.

An Indian businessman living in Italy petitioned the court to ditch the law, saying it treated "women like objects", and discriminated against men by making them the only ones criminally responsible in the event of an affair.

On the other hand, during the last hearing, ASG Pinky Anand had submitted that adultery is a public problem which injures or causes harm and hence, it contains the elements of a criminal offence.

Thirty-three years after his father, the then Chief Justice, had upheld the validity of adultery law, Justice D Y Chandrachud overruled it Thursday saying the earlier view can not be regarded as "correct exposition" of the constitutional position.

Earlier only a Christian man could file for divorce on the grounds of adultery.

In 2017, in a major verdict, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to privacy is a fundamental right.

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