Adultery verdict: Supreme Court declares Section 497 unconstitutional

Supreme Court of India
Supreme Court of India, File Photo

New Delhi, Sep 27 : The Supreme Court on Thursday decriminalised adultery after striking down a British era law, Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, terming it as unconstitutional, archaic and manifestly arbitrary, with one judge saying women can’t be treated as “chattel”.

“Mere adultery cannot be a crime, unless it attracts the scope of Section 306 (abetment to suicide) of the IPC and equality is the governing principle of a system. Husband is not the master of the wife,”Chief Justice Dipak Misra said while reading out the verdict on the petition challenging the validity of Section 497 (Adultery) of IPC.

“Mere adultery can’t be a criminal offence. It is a matter of privacy. Husband is not the master of wife. Women should be treated with equality along with men,” Chief Justice Dipak Misra said.

Most countries have abolished adultery as a crime. “It shouldn’t be a criminal offence, other people are also involved in it,” Misra said, reading out the judgement, also on behalf of Justice A.M. Khanwilkar.

The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, an adultery law dating to the British era, terming it unconstitutional, archaic and manifestly arbitrary, with one judge saying women can’t be treated as “cattle”.

The Constitution Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, along with Justices Rohinton Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra pronounced the judgment on the validity of Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which penalises married men for adultery if they have a sexual relationship with a married woman without the consent or connivance of her husband.

“If Act is treated as an offence it would amount to punish those unhappy in marital relationship. England has never regarded adultery as a crime except for a period of ten years.. Thinking of adultery from a point of view of criminality is a retrogade step.Declare 497 as unconstitutional. Section gives a license to the husband to use the woman as a chattel,” the Supreme Court said.

The Supreme Court said that mere adultery can’t be a crime.

“Adulteror is made the culprit. Command goes into the core of privacy. It’s discriminatory. Adultery as a crime is not more relevant in China, Brazil and European countries.When parties to marriage lose moral commitment in a relationship it creates a dent on marriage. Matter of privacy. Theories of deterrent will not save the situation. Adultery in situations may not be a cause of unhappy marriage, it may be the result,” CJI Misra said.

“Equality is the governing principle of a system. Husband is not the master of the wife: CJI Dipak Misra reading out the verdict on the petition challenging the validity of Section 497 (Adultery) of IPC

Legal subordination of one sex by another is wrong. Social progression of women & views of Justice Nariman in Triple Talaq case considered. Adultery can be grounds for dissolution of marriage: CJI reading verdict on petition challenging validity of Section 497 (Adultery) of IPC

Parameters of fundamental rights should include rights of women. Individual dignity important in a sanctified society.System can’t treat women unequally. Women can’t be asked to think what a society desires, CJI reading verdict on petition challenging validity of Sec 497 Adultery.

‘Adultery offends the dignity of a woman’
CJI Dipak Misra further said “ judges have analysed the social progression. Dealt with progressive jurisprudence on woman’s dignity. Adultery is arbitrary and it offends the dignity if a woman”. CJI further said the section “curtails the dignity of women, creates a dent on her dignity, Tantamounts to subordination of women”.

CJI starts reading verdict on adultery law
The Constitution includes you and me, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said while reading out verdict on adultery law. “Essentiality of rights of women gets requisite space in the living room of a building. Any system treating a woman with indignity invites the wrath of Constitution. Woman can’t be asked to think how a man or society desires. Husband is not the master. Equality is the governing parameter,” he said.

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A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer will pronounce the verdict, which had reserved it on July 20. If the court concludes that a larger bench needs to review the 1994 decision, the Supreme court will have to deliver this case before taking up the land dispute appeal for a final decision.

“Equality is the governing principle of a system. Husband is not the master of the wife: CJI Dipak Misra reading out the verdict on the petition challenging the validity of Section 497 (Adultery) of IPC.

In 2003, Supreme Court’s retired judge V Malimath, who was tasked to recommend reforms in the criminal justice system, told the government that adultery should be made gender-neutral. But the government did not accept the change.

Adultery wasn’t listed as a crime in the first draft of the colonial-era penal law proposed by Thomas Babington Macaulay-led panel back in 1837 but another commission, a decade later, pushed for its inclusion.

 

 

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