Adultery not a criminal offence: SC

NC Network
The Supreme Court on Thursday DE-criminalized adultery and struck-down the anti-adultery law calling it unconstitutional because it dented the individuality of women and treated them as "chattel of husbands".

The judgement was given by a bench of five-judges comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra and they were unanimous in striking Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)  dealing with the offence of adultery and holding it as manifestly arbitrary, archaic law which is violative of the rights to equality and equal opportunity to women.

Section 497 of the IPC says: "Whoever has sexual intercourse with a person who is and whom he knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of another man, without the consent or connivance of that man, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape, is guilty of the offence of adultery." 

Adultery was a  punishable offence by a maximum five years in jail or fine or both. The bench said that unequal treatment of women invites the wrath of the Constitution.

Supreme Court  held adultery as a relic of the past and  said that the autonomy is intrinsic in dignified human existence and Section 497 denudes women from making choices.

Justice Speaks
  • "We declare Section 497 IPC and Section 198 of CrPC dealing with prosecution of offences against marriage as unconstitutional," said the Chief Justice, who wrote the judgement for himself and Justice Khanwilkar, adding that any provision treating women with inequality is not constitutional and it's time to say that "husband is not the master of woman".
  • Section 497 is clear violation of fundamental rights granted in the Constitution and there is no justification for continuation of the provision, said  Justice Malhotra.
  • Justice Nariman termed Section 497 as archaic law and concurred with the CJI and Justice Khanwilkar, saying that the penal provision is violative of the rights to equality and equal opportunity to women.
  • Justice Chandrachud said Section 497 destroys and deprives women of dignity and is destructive of women's dignity, self-respect as it treats women as "chattel of husbands".
  • The CJI said adultery dents the individuality of women and it is not a crime in countries like China, Japan and Australia.
  • Adultery might not be cause of unhappy marriage, it could be result of an unhappy marriage, Justice Misra said.
  • The CJI began reading the judgement by saying the beauty of the Constitution is that it includes "the I, me and you".
  • He said equality is the governing parameter of the Constitution and section 497 of the IPC is manifestly arbitrary the way it deals with women.
  • The bench said  that adultery can be treated as civil wrong for dissolution of marriage.There can't be any social licence which destroys a home, the CJI said, but added that adultery should not be a criminal offence.

  • The court said adultery can be a ground for civil wrong, a ground for divorce but not a criminal offence.
  •  Autonomy is intrinsic in dignified human existence and Section 497 denudes women from making choices and held adultery as a relic of past, said Justice Chandrachud. 
  • Legislature has imposed a condition on sexuality of women by making adultery as offence, he said, adding that section 497 is denial of substance of equality.
  • The CJI and Justice Khanwilkar said mere adultery cannot be a crime, but if any aggrieved spouse commits suicide because of life partner's adulterous relation, then if evidence is produced, it could be treated as an abatement to suicide.

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