Supreme Court strikes down adultery law

India's Supreme Court rules adultery not a crime any more

Adultery a ground for divorce, but not a crime: SC

India's top court has ruled adultery is no longer a criminal offence.

The more than century-old adultery law prescribed that any man who slept with a married woman without her husband's permission had committed adultery, a crime carrying a five-year prison term in the conservative country.

The verdict came on a plea filed by Joseph Shine, an Indian citizen working overseas, who challenged the constitutional validity of Section 497 that penalised only a husband for committing adultery.

Any discrimination shall invite the wrath of the Constitution, the Chief Justice said, adding that a woman can not be asked to think about the way society desires her to do.

Reacting to the judgement, National Commission for Women (NCW) Chairperson, rekha Sharma said, "I welcome this judgement by Supreme Court".

The court also questioned the Centre's stand of defending the law of adultery, asking the latter "what public good" the penal law served as it provided that no offence would be made if the husband of a woman approves an adulterous relationship.

Aug 2: SC says matrimonial sanctity is an issue but the penal provision on adultery is apparently violative of the right to equality under the Constitution.

"Married women are not a special case for the objective of prosecution for adultery". Husband is not the master of the wife. Why should the woman take more load than the man? Further, they point out that the section also exempts sexual acts with the wife of another man, if they are performed with the consent or connivance of that man.

Justice Indu Malhotra, the only woman on the five-judge panel, which delivered the unanimous verdict, pointed out the "absurdity" of the law.

Like Chaitanya Gowda, who claimed his wife was having an affair and he had been collecting evidence against her and her lover for the last eight years.

A married woman had approached the court, demanding the right to file a complaint of adultery against her husband's unmarried lover.

As an intervener in this matter, I prayed for making section 497 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 and section 198 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 as gender neutral and not unconstitutional.

Convictions for adultery are very rare because of the social stigma, and mostly families resolve matters among themselves, Supreme Court lawyer Utsav Bains told AFP.

"The provisions of law under challenge in the present writ have been specifically created by the legislature in its wisdom, to protect and safeguard the sanctity of marriage, keeping in mind the unique structure and culture of the Indian society", the Centre's affidavit had said.

The law identifies the married man as the victim.

Prior to the verdict, the offence entailed a maximum punishment of five years, or fine, or both.

"The stability of marriage is not an ideal to be scorned", a judge said in 1985. So, while Aadhaar-PAN linking is mandatory, banks and telecom companies can not ask ask people to link their bank accounts and mobile numbers with Aadhaar.

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