In another historical judgement, the Supreme Court of India scrapped section 497 of the Indian Penal Code dealing with adultery.
The court in majority said, “Section 497 is manifestly arbitrary, offends dignity of women.” It also observed that, “Mere adultery cannot be a crime and adultery cannot be a cause of an unhappy marriage, but a result of it.”
The law earlier stated that, a woman cannot be punished for the offence of adultery. Only a man who has consensual sexual intercourse with the wife of another man without his consent can be punished under this offence in India.
Along with quashing this 150-year-old penal law on adultery, the court also declared Section 198 (2) of the Cr PC (Code of Criminal Procedure) which deals with adultery as unconstitutional, fencing out women from the stream of prosecution.
The apex court maintained that the law violated the fundamental right of equality guaranteed under Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution.
“Section 497 is manifestly arbitrary, offends dignity of women,” Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said. Section 497 IPC affects the right to life of a woman under Article 21 of the constitution of India, the court added.
Speaking about the latest verdict on the law, Anwesha Pathak, Asst. Prof, Law College, says, “Adultery was an offence and those convicted may be sentenced to five-year jail term. Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) defines adultery as offence committed by a man against a married man if the former engages in sexual intercourse with the latter’s wife.
“The law has come under sharp criticism for treating women as possession of men. The argument was made to reject the contention that the adultery law was discriminatory against men. However, despite declaring women as “victim only” in the occurrence of the crime of adultery, the court did not allow them to file a complaint.
The Supreme Court held that men were not allowed to prosecute their wives for the offence of adultery in order to protect the sanctity of marriage. For the same reason, women could not be allowed to prosecute their husbands. The judgment retained the offence of adultery as a crime committed by a man against another man.
“It was Justice DY Chandrachud, who made the observation that women could not be treated as commodity by leaving them to the discretion of their husbands in giving consent in matters of adultery. The Supreme Court said in August this year that Section 497 as anti-women to dismiss the argument that the adultery law discriminated against men,” adds Pathak.
The Court, however, said that adultery is a civil wrong and will be a ground for divorce. It was also stated that “if an act of adultery leads the aggrieved spouse to suicide, the adulterous partner could be prosecuted for abatement of suicide under Section 306 of the IPC,” according to reports.
But Shreya Lamba, an entrepreneur, believes that decriminalising the law will open doors for perpetrators who can use this for their own benefit.
The courts and the police administration are from where people expect justice in cases like these.
“People in India are not that literate to keep their personal issues within the four boundaries, hence the courts have to intervene in such matters. Women are divorced every day, blamed for adultery and any trivial allegations and so are men. I believe the law should have been retained but with a more unbiased and unfair clause so that people respect marriages and maintain its sanctity and not just take it as a joke,” adds Lamba.
“I am progressive enough to agree to the fact that if a man can indulge in relationships outside of his marriage, without the consent of his wife, so can a women,” says Santosh Pai, a real estate agent.
“I am glad that this law has been scrapped on account of discrimination. Both men and women are important and laws should be made, providing justice to both the genders,” he adds.
Rajeshwari Mahapatra, currently a home maker, thinks that the law that discriminates against men and women should not be overlooked.
The law earlier allowed the husband of a married woman who was in adulterous relationship to file a complaint. But the same right is not available to a wife if her husband is found to be in an adulterous relationship. This was very unfair on women.
“However, I also believe that the law should have been updated rather than scrapped. Both man and a woman should be prosecuted if they are found indulging in any extra-marital affair. The law would then have created a fear among them and restrain them cheating on their spouses.”
#All views are those of the respondent’s and Pune365 does not necessarily sunscribe to them.
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