In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court of India scrapped the 150-year old adultery law as unconstitutional. Reading out the judgement, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra clearly stated that equality is the need of the hour. He also added that time has come when the husband should not be considered the master. Legal sovereignty of one sex over another is wrong. Supreme Court unanimously declares Section 497 IPC as unconstitutional.
A five-judge constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, had reserved its verdict in August. The hearing in the case by the bench, which also comprised justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, went on for six days and had begun on August 1.
A woman cannot be asked to think how a man or society desires. Her husband is not her master. We are not commenting on an ideal situation, merely looking at whether it should be criminalised.” CJI Misra and Justice Khanwilkar said in their observation.
Adultery can be ground for civil issues including dissolution of marriage but it cannot be a criminal offence. Adultery dents the individuality of women, CJI and Justice Khanwilkar said.
The court said any provision treating women with inequality is not constitutional and it’s time to say that husband is not the master of woman. Adultery will remain a ground for divorce, the bench added. Referring to other countries like China, South Korea, Japan where adultery is no longer a crime, CJI Misra said, “Adultery law is arbitrary, creates dent on the individuality of women”. There can’t be any social license that destroys the matrimonial home, but adultery should not be a criminal offence.” He also declared Adultery unconstitutional.
Section 497 is based on gender stereotypes of the role women. The provision is unconstitutional, says Justuce Chandrachud concurring with the judgment of CJI Misra, and Justices R F Nariman and Khanwilkar
Law deprives married women the agency of consent. A woman loses her voice, autonomy after entering marriage and manifest arbitrariness is writ large in Section 497. Section 497 offends sexual freedom of women: Justice Chandrachud
The centre had, in its defence, claimed that the law should remain valid as it protects the sanctity of marriage. The petition filed against the law was done so on the premise that the law does not treat men and women equally.
Adultery is no longer a crime in India but could be a ground for divorce, the Supreme Court ruled today while scrapping an archaic law that punished a man but not the woman for adultery. Take a look at where other countries stand. A man having extra marital relationship with a married woman is no longer a criminal offence.
I welcome this judgment by the Supreme Court. It was an outdated law which should have been removed long back. This is a law from British era. Although the British had done away with it long back, we were still stuck with it: NCW chief Rekha Sharma to ANI
Senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan called the verdict a fine judgment. He tweeted, “Another fine judgement by the SC striking down the antiquated law in Sec 497 of Penal code, which treats women as property of husbands & criminalises adultery (only of man who sleeps with someone’s wife). Adultery can be ground for divorce but not criminal.”
Lastly, a women living under the shadow of husbands have gone.