The Supreme Court on Thursday quashed adultery as a criminal offence in India. A Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra declared by unanimity Section 497 in the Indian Penal Code as unconstitutional and being violative of gender equality.
The court underlined that Section 497 treats women as properties of their husbands and is hence manifestly discriminatory. It trashed the central government’s defense of Section 497 that it protects sanctity of marriages.
The court noted that sanctity of marriage goes out of the window in various situations, including the one where a married man has sexual intercourse with an unmarried woman, but the legislature has criminalized only one instance.
It also emphasized that each partner to a marriage is equally responsible to keep the sanctity of marriage intact. Adultery will henceforth only remain a civil wrong and a ground for divorce.
Section 497 makes adultery an offence only with respect to a man who has a relationship with somebody’s wife. The wife is considered neither adulterous nor an abettor in law, while the man faces a jail term of up to five years.
Another peculiar aspect of Section 497 is the fact that the fulcrum of the offence is gone if consent or connivance of the husband can be established. On a petition by Joseph Shine, the Constitution bench is examining the validity of Section 497.
Replying to the plea, the central government has filed its affidavit, saying that the provision punishing adultery “supports safeguards and protects the institution of marriage”.