The Supreme Court has ruled that adultery is no longer a criminal act. With the historic ruling, a five-judge bench of the court has unanimously overturned a 158-year-old law that said any man who had sex with a married woman without the consent of her husband was guilty of the criminal offence of adultery.
The court struck down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, declaring that it offends the dignity of women and that it is tantamount to subordination of women. Chief Justice Dipak Misra, who read the judgement, said, “Adultery can be ground for civil issues including dissolution of marriage but it cannot be a criminal offence.”
This is the second law harking back to the colonial era that the Supreme Court has struck down this month. The court also repealed a 157-year-old law that criminalised gay sex in India.
A man accused of adultery could be sent to a prison for a maximum of five years, made to pay a fine, or both, reported BBC India.
Though Section 497 made only a man liable to be punished for adultery, it did not give right to a woman to prosecute her adulterous husband for the offence. In this backdrop, the petition — filed last August by a man named Joseph Shine — prompted the court to revisit whether the Section was liable to be struck down for being violative of gender equality, according to legal website BarandBench.
Besides Justice Misra, the judgment was delivered by a bench comprising Justices Rohinton Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.
Justice Nariman termed Section 497 as archaic law and concurred with the CJI. Justice Khanwilkar said Section 497 is violative of right to equality and right to equal opportunity to women.
Justice Chandrachud said under 497, a married woman is treated as the property of the husband and added that it denudes a woman of making fundamental choice of sexuality.
The only woman judge, Justice Indu Malhotra said the “time of women living in the shadows of husbands in long gone”. “A law that perpetuates such patriarchy has no place in the constitution,” she said, adding that adultery is a valid ground for divorce, but cannot be made a criminal offence.
With inputs from PTI