India's Supreme Court decriminalizes adultery in landmark judgment

India's Supreme Court struck down section 479 a controversial colonial-era law regarding adultery
India's Supreme Court struck down section 479 a controversial colonial-era law regarding adultery
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28 September, 2018

A 5-judge Constitution bench headed by CJI Mishra on Wednesday read his judgment on the over 150-year-old adultery law that punishes only a man and not a married woman for an affair by treating her as a victim and not as an abettor of the offence.

The law basically said that, whoever has sexual intercourse with someone else's wife, without the husband's consent, is guilty of the offence of adultery. "Women should be treated with equality along with men", Chief Justice Dipak Misra said earlier in the day.

Reasons for scrapping Section 497 This particular section of the IPC has been controversial because it deprived married women of their own consent and autonomy.

In December 2016, the apex court had agreed to hear the petition seeking to examine the constitutional validity of the law on adultery that has "gender discriminatory provision".

In our intervention application before the Court, we relied upon different grounds to suggest why this section should be made gender-neutral.

However, India is largely a conservative country where Hindu identity is considered by majority as necessary to national identity. "In a way, you have given an open general license to the people of this country to be in marriages but at the same time have illegitimate relationships", she said.

"This is precisely why political parties and governments pass the buck to courts", said Krishnan.

Kavita Krishnan, Secretary, All India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA) and a CPI (ML) Polit Bureau member said decriminalising adultery is welcome and was long overdue.

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The top court observed that parameters of Fundamental Rights should include the rights of women and that individual dignity is important in a sanctified society.

Adultery should not be a criminal offence: CJI. This judgment, passed by a bench of five judges, struck down the section 497 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 along with section 198 of Cr.P.C.as unconstitutional, thereby decriminalizing the offence of adultery.

Last August, Joseph Shine, a 41-year-old Indian businessman living in Italy, petitioned the Supreme Court to strike down the law, according to BBC.

Under the adultery law, only the husband of the woman had the right to file case against the man with whom she commits adultery, but this law won't prevail now.

He said that the Section 497 (Adultery) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) is unconstitutional.

Couples can not use adultery as a ground for divorce if they lived together as a couple for six months after the infidelity was known about. Long criticized as archaic and sexist, it made it illegal for a man to have sex with a married woman without the permission of her husband.

The son had done it in August a year ago too when he had over-ruled another of his father's judgment while delivering the verdict on the issue of privacy.


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