Adultery no more a crime | Timeline

Adultery a ground for divorce but not a crime SC

Adultery a ground for divorce but not a crime SC

India's top court has ruled that adultery is no longer a crime, declaring the colonial-era law that punished the offence unconstitutional and discriminatory.

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.

The court said the law deprived women of dignity and individual choice, and treated them as the property of men.

A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra in a unanimous judgement gave the historical verdict.

"Being antithetical to the constitutional guarantees of liberty, dignity and equality, section 497 does not pass constitutional muster", Justice Chandrachud said.

The ministry also referred to a judgment passed by the Supreme Court in the 1985 Smt.

He also noted that no recourse was provided to a woman against her husband who engages in sexual relations outside marriage.

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.

Whenever there are matrimonial discords or claims for maintenance, belligerent husbands have used "malicious prosecution on the ground of adultery", Raj said.




Women could not file a complaint under the archaic law nor be held liable for adultery themselves, making it exclusively the realm of men.

"We may repeat at the cost of repetition that if it is treated as a crime, there would be vast intrusion into the extreme privacy of the matrimonial sphere".

In fact, in its first judgement in 1954 it had stated that women could only be a "victim" of adultery and not a perpetrator in the "crime". And, it is time to say that a husband is not the master. "You exact fidelity from a woman but not from a man?"

Under the law, a wife doesn't enjoy any right to prosecute the adulterous husband, or the woman who has indulged in sexual intercourse with the husband. She however said that adultery is a moral wrong.

"It is a big victory for women's status and position within marriage and within families" said Jayna Kothari, an attorney and the executive director of the Center for Law and Policy Research in Bangalore. Adultery presently entails imprisonment for a term which may extend up to five years, or fine, or both.

"Protecting marriage is the responsibility of the couple involved".

Misra is stepping down as chief justice next week when he turns 65, the mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court judges. Some northern states in Nigeria practise capital punishment for adultery, rape and homosexuality. Hon'ble Supreme Court should have thought that this decision would end up the institution of marriage.

"The stability of marriage is not an ideal to be scorned", a judge said in 1985.

"Dichotomy is manifest (in Section 497)" as "husband can only have control over his emotion and cannot ask wife to do this or that", it had told the Centre's counsel, Pinki Anand.

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