India Welcomes SC Verdict – Adultery No Longer A Criminal Offence!

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On 27 September, 2018, the Supreme Court struck down the 158-year-old adultery law. The  five-bench judge comprising of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices – AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and RF Nariman gave took the unanimous decision to decriminalise adultery by declaring Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code as unconstitutional. This profound step was taken by the apex court for the betterment of the Indian society.

Here are the takeaways from the judgement

  • The Section 497 violated Articles 14 – Right to equality  and Articles 21 – Right to life and personal liberty
  • Both genders deserve equality, thus women cannot be treated as legal subordinates of men. The husband is not the master of the wife according to the governing principle of equality.
  • A provision that treats women differently from men is not Constitutional
  • Though adultery can be a ground for civil wrong, it should not be a criminal offence
  • Adultery may not be the reason of unhappy marriage, but could be a result of it.
  • Age old beliefs of man being the seducer and a woman being the victim do not hold good anymore.

The law was added to the constitution during the British Era. However, Britain threw out the law long ago. The Supreme Court’s verdict for this law confirms how India is becoming more forward.

Who challenged the 158-year old law?

In August 2017, Joseph Shine, an Indian businessman residing in Italy sent a 45 page petition to the Supreme Court to strike off the law. In this petition he argued that the law treated women like objects and discriminated men by holding them the only one responsible for extra-marital relationships. In this petition he included quotes about gender equality and the rights of women by American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, women’s rights activist Mary Wollstonecraft and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

When can adultery be used in judgements?

  • Adultery will still be considered as a ground for divorce.
  • Adultery will be considered a criminal offence if it’s the cause for abetment to suicide.